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From ramp to Rashtrapati Bhavan

When designer Wendell Rodricks' Padma Shri honour was announced on the eve of our 65th Republic Day, the news caused a flutter in Indian fashion circles. Basking in the deluge of congratulatory messages on social networking sites, Rodricks couldn't hold the tears back, while on a faraway cruise. Can the Indian fashion fraternity savour this accolade as another positive step towards greater credibility for the entire industry?

"I did get teary many times on the first day. I was in a state of ‘this isn't happening to me. They are talking about someone else'. But now, I have accepted the fact. Personally, I did not believe I would get it, so I'm humbled, honoured and happy." This was Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks' reaction when we spoke to him after he was announced as the recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award, this year.


Designer Wendell Rodricks during one of his previous shows. File pic

This is only the second time that a mainstream designer has received the fourth highest civilian award of the country, the first being veteran Delhi-based designer Ritu Kumar, who received the same last year.

Priyadarshini Rao, fashion designer

Time for support
The members of the fraternity, who often receive less to zero support from the government, are hailing the consistent attention towards the work put in by fashion designers as a welcome change.

"This is a big step. Ritu deserved this long ago. But now, with a mainstream designer getting the honour, I'm sure it will affect government, the fashion industry and the public's perception of fashion," expresses Rodricks, who has not just worked on his collections in a career spanning more than 20 years, but has also penned books like Moda Goa and Green Room, apart from being a revivalist, working extensively in his home state of Goa.

Changing perceptions
Sunil Sethi, President of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), the apex body of fashion design in India, helps us chart the progress. "For two-three years, everyone has seen that fashion weeks have become serious B2B (Business To Business) events. So, gradually the government has started collaborating with designers on various projects, much more than what was done earlier. This has helped the fraternity get credibility in their eyes," he analyses.

Tina Tahiliani Parikh, Executive Director, Ensemble

The FDCI President adds that this development gives him immense happiness because he can see active participation of the government with the fashion industry, which is highly welcome. "In India, it's only recently that you get to see MPs or ministers showing seriousness in seeing someone's creations. Earlier, they would shy away from such events considering them frivolous, but now perceptions are changing," he shares, adding, "It's good that the government has realised that our industry has substance. We are not just about page 3 parties. We work hard to create collections. So, now the message is loud and clear on what we're getting to the table."

Sethi's words hold meaning as witnessed in collaborations in the last couple of seasons of Indian fashion weeks, with governments of Manipur and other states of the North East, and Maharashtra, apart from others.

Inspiration for young Turks
These awards act as major morale booster for other designers as well and go a long way in instilling optimism in the industry. "The fashion fraternity will now, hopefully, gain the esteem and adulation it deserves," shares designer Nikhil Thampi, stressing that in India, even today, a large number of people do not even consider fashion designing as a respectable profession, which he hopes will change with the bestowing of the Padma Shri on designers.

He elaborates, "It's extremely inspirational as a young designer to see your seniors being felicitated and appreciated for their work. It's a benchmark set for all us aspirants to continuously better ourselves."

Putting another point of view in place, designer Priyadarshini Rao states, "I believe the awards for the two stalwarts are for their efforts in taking the small-scale industry of weaving and hand printing to a fashion level. It is important to understand that the awards commemorate their contribution and thus bring fashion into the radar of serious industries."

Sunil Sethi, President, FDCI

Business sense
As far as the benefits of these awards on the business of fashion are concerned, Sethi puts things into perspective and explains that a medal from the President will definitely help business. "People will take the collection of those designers more seriously and will be willing to pay a price. Credibility will increase," he predicts.

Tina Tahiliani-Parikh, Executive Director of multi-designer store Ensemble, brings the worldwide stand in the picture and informs that to be recognised in the arts category goes to prove that fashion in our country has finally been elevated to an art form. "Today, people are appreciating fashion far more consciously and seriously than they were in the past. Awards are a way of recognising talent and it definitely helps boost the way the fashion industry is seen the world over,"  she maintains.

But has it all taken too long to come by? While most from the industry feel it did take a long time, the answer was unanimous — "better late, than never".

Nikhil Thampi, fashion designer

Wish list for Indian Fashion
Ritu Kumar: The fashion industry in India needs to be seen as a creative field, one which addresses an organic need to create textiles and clothing rooted in our own ethos and traditions. There is an urgent need to support allied fields which give India its USP in fashion, like encouraging of handicrafts, khadi and handlooms.

Wendell Rodricks: We need to be recognised as an industry. I feel terrible that we have to pay entertainment tax even for student graduation shows.
I can understand that a liquor fashion tour must pay entertainment tax. But, students and fashion weeks? That needs to be rectified.

Sunil Sethi: We are still a nascent industry. There are very few designers who have been here for more than 20 years. I feel along with people who are doing great domestic work, the ones who are popularising Indian fashion abroad, should also be considered.

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