For deepavali, consider contemporary outfits that evoke the richness of India.
To add a hint of spice to your ensemble, cast your eyes towards India.
SAREES, sequins and shawls are the first things that come to mind when one thinks of India’s influence on the world of fashion.
What many people don’t realise is that inspiration from India has been sprinkling the visions of fashion mavens for centuries, and we’re not just talking about traditional or ethnic attire.
From paisley designs and ornate beadwork to nehru collars and peasant skirts to khadi (handspun cotton) and linen, the South Asian touch is very visible in modern fashion worldwide. And with Deepavali just two weeks away, now’s the perfect time to celebrate this trend.
Locally, however, those who crave for a bit of the Bharat in their wardrobe are often left with only a few predictable choices. One can, of course, pick up a kurti (tunic-like tops with Indian motifs) or two from the many shops and stalls around, or even go for a salwar kameez (Punjabi suit) or saree. But these are generally perceived more as “traditional wear”. What about those of us who want modern or contemporary outfits that nevertheless still evoke the rich fashion possibilities of India?
This was exactly the dilemma that inspired friends Sashikala Menon and Jegadeeswari Vijayakumar to start up their own online clothing boutique, Akhil (akhil.my).
“We got talking about how difficult it was to find modern clothes with that Indian touch here. You see a lot of kurtis, but they often look very traditional. We really wanted something more relevant,” explains Sashikala.
Starting their business in August 2010 with ready-made pieces imported from India, the duo launched clothes of their own design earlier this year, inspired by what they themselves would wear.
“We browse the Internet and various magazines for ideas, and we also look at Western designs and see how we can add some Indian elements. But most importantly, we think about what we and the women around us would want to wear,” says Sashikala. “Our main aim is to be comfortable yet contemporary, and to show that you can incorporate India into your outfit without yelling out ‘I’m Indian!’”
Having come up with the designs, Sashikala and Jegadeeswari then source for fabrics from India and work with a tailor there to get the pieces made.
Featuring dresses and tops in comfortable cotton, Akhil’s designs blend South Asian prints with elements like batik and florals to create a modern look. Taking inspiration from the kurti, their flirty tunic dress can be worn as it is or paired with tights. In other designs, modern silhouettes are enhanced by subtle gold embellishments. Bold colours like maroon, orange and teal further add adventure to casual pieces.
If couture is your cup of chai, look no further than local fashion designer Syomir Izwa. His extensive use of pleating and draping in his creations hark back to elegant Indian queens swathed in breathtaking sarees – little wonder that he even dubbed one of his lines the “Maharani collection”.
Syomir, who has been designing for eight years, debuted in the fashion industry in 2009, and has since gathered an extensive list of well-known clients, particularly for wedding couture. The designer credits his halfIndian family background for inspiring his fascination with the subcontinent, but stresses that he wants to create Indianinspired looks that are more modern and less ethnically-specific.
“The Indian inspiration can be done in many ways, it doesn’t have to just be about using saree fabric or beading,” Syomir says. “I try to explore pleating and draping.
The way the saree is draped, its movements, can be found in my dresses and even my baju kurung. I even use pleating in harem pants or dress pants to add detail.”
He also finds creative impetus in legends and stories from India; a gorgeously-draped hot orange-and-gold modern kurung, for example, is inspired by the story of Prince Siddharta. Other designs may not boast an immediate Indian connection, but hint at subtle links, such as a sultry navy blue evening gown which takes its silhouette and draping
from a saree.
Local online retailer Indifashion (indifash ion.my), on the other hand, offers outfits that boast a distinctly Indian look but with a modern flair. Most attractive are their range of versatile tunic dresses, which can also be worn with tights or jeans. Imported from India, their Indo Western range features uniquely Indian fabrics and embellishments on tops and dresses that eschew the usual kurti silhouette for more contemporary styles like baby-doll or A-line cuts.
Typically Indian detailing like metallic threads, beadwork, embroidery and busy prints, are used to jazz up the design further, such as a fawn-coloured dress in crushed art silk, embellished with green and gold fabric and metallic embroidery. In other designs, summery floral dresses are giving an Indian touch with the addition of subtle metallic fabric or embroidery.
For Leslie Variyan, designer of homegrown label Variante, the Indian influence in his creations is not a conscious effort, but rather, something that flows naturally.
“I’m Indian and I think the saree is one sexy outfit! I also want to bring a little culture into the modern world. So while my designs are not meant to look like sarees, they are often inspired by them in some way,” shares Leslie, who established Variante in 2005 after being in the local fashion industry for 14 years.
Leslie’s designs run the gamut from chic tops and pants to casual dresses to flowing evening gowns. Some boldly declare their Indian roots, like a dark green animal-print, one-shouldered gown that is obviously sareeinspired, while others whisper of ethnic touches, such as a chic teal top with orange accents and unstructured white pants.
Known for his flowy, ethereal design aesthetic, he says his inspirations from India are most apparent in his use of colour.
“My choice of colours is often bold and daring, I don’t like to stop halfway,” says Leslie, whose boutique is located in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. “I love that about India, only they are daring enough to combine turquoise and fuchsia or orange and green!”
His use of heavy beadwork, too, is reminiscent of the stone-and bead-encrusted finery of India.
“Look at Indian jewellery. It’s never just one pearl, it’s always a few things at once. Beads and jewels are often very big, and you can never have too much. I love bringing that glamour into my creations,” explains Leslie.
Festive mood: Modern kurung by Syomir Izwa that displays its Indian inspirations in its bold colour, draping and chunky beadwork.
evening dress from Syomir Izwa’s Maharani collection. (Pic right) Tunic dress from Indifashion is jazzed up with fuschia edging, colourful embroidery and funky detailing.
This animal-print gown by Leslie Variyan takes its inspiration from India with its use of chunky beadwork and draping reminiscent of a saree.
Tunic dress from online retailer Indifashion. Paired with jeans or tights, it can also be worn as a top.
blaze by online retailer akhil blends traditional batik with a funky design and typical Indian gold detailing in a cotton-cambric piece that can be worn as a dress or top.
(Pic below) dramatic red and black ensemble by Leslie Variyan.
embellished hem and quilted front add a traditional touch to this dress from Indifashion.
Gown with flowing sleeves by Leslie Variyan.
The detailing on this dress from Indifashion enhances its earthy floral print.
also from akhil, amaze
black (pic left) is a cottonviscose and cotton cambric tunic top with batik detailing and embroidered Indian paisley design on the back while
Jolie is a cotton voile top with ethnic Indian print.