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Fashion
March 20, 2019

3 Stalwart Designers Reimagine Their Classic ’90s Designs For A New Age Woman

Text by Rushmika Banerjee

The lingua franca of Indian fashion started taking shape in the early ’90s when designers from different parts of the country began to move out of their cocooned boutiques into the mass retail landscape, where they conceptualised exclusive brands that were built on a quintessentially Indian aesthetic. Rushmika Banerjee reaches out to three industry stalwarts, who started their careers in the same decade, and has them reimagine one of their classic designs for a contemporary buyer

Nostalgia is a recurrent theme in fashion, and one that continues to drive trends. In 2015 the whole world got into the free-spirited mood of the ’70s; in 2016 a wave of ’80s power dressing took over the runways; in 2017 ’80s excess shone brightly throughout the global Fashion Weeks, and ’90s laid-back grunge was on many sartorial wish lists for 2018.

Sartorial ‘blasts from the past’ that have gripped style-hunters everywhere take us back to the year 1988, which was an exciting time for Indian fashion — the country’s foremost multi-designer store, Ensemble, organised its first fashion show at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel’s ballroom in Mumbai that year, to celebrate the nation’s creative visionaries and rich textile heritage.

The late ’80s into the early ’90s was also a defining period for the Indian fashion industry. The first fashion school, the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), was established in New Delhi in 1986 by the Government of India’s Ministry of Textiles. A year later, Ensemble opened in Bombay. Founded by couturier Tarun Tahiliani and his wife Sailaja, with the support of the late designer Rohit Khosla, this venture was instrumental in bringing together homegrown design geniuses on one platform. And by 1998, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) had been established to propagate the business of fashion.

Along with Tahiliani and Khosla, other designers such as Suneet Varma, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, and Rohit Bal, who launched their eponymous labels in the late ’80s, were at the vanguard of this burgeoning industry. The first few graduating batches of NIFT included stalwarts like JJ Valaya, Ritu Beri, Ashish Soni, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Arora and Namrata Joshipura. At that point, these young labels were trying to gain a foothold in fashion’s fickle terrain by introducing a modern sartorial language that not only catered to the lucrative bridal wear market, but was also aligned with the needs of the masses and fair trade practices. It included a holistic production cycle, reviving age-old textile techniques to support the weaver community and educating the consumer about the true value of a ‘Made in India’ product. Today, after nearly three decades, these labels have been able to sustain themselves by creating diverse brands which have placed an Indian design aesthetic on a global platform.

We asked three designers to dig into their archives and identify a classic piece that they could refashion into an It-product for today’s market. Their labels have been instrumental in shaping three distinctive creative visions — Wendell Rodricks for minimalism, Anita Dongre for sustainable fashion and Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla for traditional grandeur.

Wendell Rodricks

White Backless Resort Gown Inspired By The Choli (1994)
“When I first conceived the design for a resortwear crinkle choli that was backless and went to the floor, and paired it with fluid palazzo trousers that had 40-inch hems (a Westernised take on the sharara), the combination created a new fashion statement — a modern version of a traditional indian outfit. To make it relevant for this season, I moved the choli higher to a mini length and teamed it with sparkling hot pants and thigh-high turquoise shimmer boots. This spin on a classic Wendell Rodricks uses all the fashion oomph that made the image of Malaika Arora shot by Farrokh Chothia so iconic. The hair and make-up was by Jojo Edward Mendonça, and if done today, I am sure he would spin the hair to a modern Mohawk ponytail and infuse the look with a contemporary twist.”

Anita Dongre

White Linen Pantsuit (1994)
“This unbleached cotton-linen set was one of the first pieces we created at AND. It is organic, sustainable and as relevant today as it was 24 years ago. We have partly modified this look; the flared bottoms teamed with a vibrant red top and the timeless jacket makes this comfortable yet stylish. At AND, we’ve always strived to create pieces that stand the test of time.”

Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla

Black Sequinned Kaftan Dress (1988)
“We have always been passionate about art and jewellery, and India has been our eternal muse. We started using miniature jewels in our collections in 1988 on jackets and kurtas. This particular image of a model in the black miniature kaftan (from our archives) was shot in 2011 by London-based photographer Ram Shergill in Rajasthan for our book India Fantastique. Last year, we decided to revisit the miniature when designing for Sonam Kapoor Ahuja in the movie Veere di Wedding — we wanted to reinvent our expression. The illustration is of the miniature blouse worn by Kapoor Ahuja, which has been paired with a pair of multicoloured beadwork pants and a detailed organza skirt.”

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