Fashion had the unlikeliest of muses in 2015. It courted the ancient city of Benaras. Famous for its beautiful brocades, this seat of learning and culture has found itself in the forefront of news ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his Make in India campaign. It seemed almost a given that his constituency would be the launch pad for the textile revival movement. But the fervour with which the industry would embrace this trend was unprecedented. And unexpected. Indian design has clearly found its new black and it is rooted in craft and colour.
Nothing established its status as a national treasure better than two of India's most prominent fashion events paying tribute to its traditions. Both Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) and Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW) gave the city star billing in their latest seasons. LFW Winter/Festive 2015 themed its Indian Handloom and Textile Day 'Re-invent Benaras'. The lineup had younger designers showcasing their version of fine silks as jumpsuits and jackets. Sarees came in pop colours and lighter weaves. Bollywood celebrities made an appearance as show stoppers. But the headlining show of the day was by Ritu Kumar.
The grand dame of Indian fashion had the industry stand up and take notice with her white-on-white cutwork and brocade sarees. Her revivalist skills were clearly on display. And reiterated at an exhibition held at Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, during the same time. Titled 'Woven Wonders of Varanasi', sarees by master craftsmen were displayed along with contemporary interpretations of the textile by marque names of Indian fashion like Krishna Mehta, Varun Bahl, Narendra Kumar Ahmed, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Payal Pratap, Gaurav Gupta, Rohit Bal, Raghavendra Rathore, Anita Dongre, Raw Mango By Sanjay Garg and Manish Malhotra, to name a few.
A few months later, Benaras stole the show again at Amazon India Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016 when 16 designers were asked to showcase their version of the craft for the finale. Against an elaborate backdrop of the Ganga ghats, the country's finest displayed three garments each. The span included the traditional mastery of Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Tarun Tahiliani, the exaggerated silhouettes of Alpana & Neeraj, Atsu's modernistic interpretation, Arjun Saluja's androgyny and A&T and Rajesh Pratap Singh's pared down sophistication.
This heavyweight display was perhaps one of the finest examples of the range and depth of Indian fashion's involvement with craft. If that was not enough the opening show for AIFW Spring/Summer 2016 was by fashion's It boy Sanjay Garg. His collection celebrated the made in Benaras ethos and while the silhouettes were simple, the workmanship created a wow moment with every single garment. Critical acclaim was there for everyone to witness with his front row which was packed with the intellect of heavyweights such as Deepti Naval and Konkona Sen Sharma. The final nod came when Masaba Gupta wore his clothes for her sangeet ceremony in November.