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August 23, 2017

Curator Gautam Vazirani On Celebrating A New Style Vocabulary

Text by Amishi Parekh. Photograph by Shubham Lodha

The fashion maven at IMG-Reliance has been at the helm of Lakmé Fashion Week for over 10 seasons and knows it like the back of his hand

For those in the thick of it, the days leading up to Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) can be an endless blur with the single goal of pulling off yet another smashing show. But for Gautam Vazirani, the man who’s been at the helm for over 10 seasons now, every minute is crystal clear. He landed his role as fashion curator at IMG-Reliance after doing the rounds of PR firms and corporates, working across marketing, branding and journalism. More than any of the events that fill up LFW, the one he looks forward to most is sustainable day, a series of activities that perfectly encapsulates his vision of what the industry can be. He knows exactly where his priorities lie — extending the fashion week far beyond the glitz of runways and, in his own words, “truly celebrating what Indians can bring to the world of fashion”.

“My initiation into fashion was through a stint at GAS Jeans. I later managed to get myself a partial scholarship from Bristol Business School in the UK. That gave me the confidence to work with brands like Versace and Corneliani in the Indian market even before I had completed my MBA. When it was time to move on, I decided to not jump into another job but slow down after working nonstop for eight years since graduation, pursuing spiritual studies in Dharamshala instead. A chance meeting with the then fashion head of IMG-Reliance in 2012 led me to explore the idea of taking on a position that entailed working with a diverse set of industry stakeholders with a developmental mindset. I quickly gravitated towards sustainability and started developing the vocabulary of handlooms and handicrafts in mainstream fashion.”

“I have a curious role where I question why we make, consume and talk about fashion the way we do in our society and industry. Everyone needs clothes to wear; it is a basic necessity. So when does necessity transform into desire? I am definitely not satisfied with it being restricted to just good design through a mix of colours, fabrics, cuts and embellishments. My search has led to various collaborative initiatives such as bringing artisans on the runway from Kutch and Assam, showcasing how handlooms can become high fashion with young design energy and how living in harmony with nature is a way of life through the sustainable man show we did last season.”

“Who makes the clothes we consume and their impact on livelihoods and the environment are as important as the latest trends and cuts. For me, it is about looking at the underlying principles and stories that designers, weavers, artisans and various stakeholders work with and stand for. I am mindful that these would not have meant anything had it not been for the massive reach of the LFW platform, which is over 85 million on social media alone. I am lucky that our disruptive collaborations have worked and they seem to be creating a level of consciousness in the industry. This has led to a new movement of celebrating our handlooms and looking at it as a source of inspiration rather than dereliction of the artisanal sector.”

“India’s win at the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week this year, where IMG-Reliance received the honour of winning the best country showcase award out of 26 other countries is something I am extremely proud of. This was the first time the company had curated an exhibition on sustainable fashion outside India. Also, two large runway presentations curated by IMG-Reliance at the recently concluded Textiles India 2017 hosted by Ministry of Textiles in Gandhinagar, Gujarat showcased the depth and width of our country’s textiles and crafts. It had stalwart designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Anita Dongre and Manish Malhotra on one end and artisans like Berulal Chippa, Kazeem Khatri and Chaman Siju on the other end. Both groups stood on an equal platform. This is was unimaginable just a couple of years back, and is truly a huge milestone for the industry.”

“Each artisan is weaving magic, translating their love for what they do into beautiful textiles. Once you come to this kind of realisation and appreciation, even the most expensive fabric made in Europe pales in comparison with an artisanal work. It becomes more compelling when you realise that weaving used to be a form of worship and art and you are supporting a tradition that has been there for generations.”

“How can I influence a 21-year-old consumer on Instagram to think that sustainability is as cool as the new Zara or H&M sale? How can people use a more cultural sensibility to decide what kind of pieces they should have in their wardrobes? How can they become aware of the significance of our textiles that come from their own background and history as opposed to adopting those that are foreign? How can we as an industry stop looking at handlooms as a cause or a trend and embrace it for its holistic benefits? How can we learn that sustainability starts at the level of the cotton crop, at the yarn, at the weaving level and not just in patterns and cuts? These are some of the challenges I have to deal with.”

“In the name of fashion, we are becoming homogenised as opposed to celebrating diversity. In India, every state and region has a different dressing style. There has never been one style of draping a sari and one fabric used for making it. I feel we were more original at the time of our forefathers than now, when everyone wants to wear white sneakers with cropped pants!”

“We are yet to independently think and establish what Indian fashion should be about. Is it just bridal or beautifully handwoven saris or is there much more to it? There is a new breed of designers who are realising that collaborations with artisans can lead to sustainable clothing that is truly rewarding. Anavila Misra has been working with her artisans in Bengal for over eight years. Santanu Das of Maku has been working with the same khadi and indigo artisans ever since he started in 2012. They represent sustainable collaborations despite several operational issues.”

“I’d like the Indian fashion industry to establish its own independent authority on what the country stands for. What does it mean to say ‘Indian contemporary’ in a way that anyone in New York, London or Tokyo can find meaningful? If we can establish this, it would have a transformative effect on the economy and lives of everyone involved in our industry.”

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