When fashion gets a viral
After upending the luxury world from Paris to Milan, it's now Indian designers who are pondering local sourcing territory and online retail to keep going in the face of COVID-19
From all revved up, designer Gaurav Jai Gupta has slipped into what he calls "chill mode". On March 2, he took to Instagram to say he was ready to launch a new collection called The Sky is Mine at the upcoming India Fashion Week (IFW) in Delhi. On March 5, he posted again, this time with a statement from the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) that coordinates the bi-annual event, about its postponement due to growing concerns around the coronavirus spread. It was a missed opportunity for Jai Gupta, not just to open IFW for the first time with a solo show, but also return to it from a three-year hiatus. "The momentum has slowed down," he says about the fashion industry in the country.
The collection that would have been showcased on March 11 explores 28 variations of the colour blue. It was three years ago, during a trip to Paris that he visited the Centre Pompidou, and came across Yves Klein's work, his patented blue gouaches piercing a white canvas. "The first thought to flash across my mind was Neel [washing powder]. Like so many other Indian children, my white school uniform was never crisp enough if my mother hadn't dipped it in Neel," he says nostalgically. The familiar shade of azure took him on a pursuit since he didn't wish to indulge India's definition of blue, which is typically Indigo. "After some back and forth, I was finally able to crack the blue I wanted in Mubarakpur, Uttar Pradesh. The village is known for its significant weaver and dyer community."
Gaurav Jai Gupta
Jai Gupta will wait to showcase "whenever that happens" because launching the collection digitally would be a disservice to a show he calls an emotional investment.
Meanwhile in Mumbai, Payal Singhal called off her travel to London. She was meant to attend an exhibition-cum-sale, planned between March 6 and March 8, of her freshly minted spring/resort 2020 collection as part of Pernia's Pop-Up Studio at Mayfair. "My mother threw a fit [when she heard about my trip to London]," she says. Although it was business as usual since customers shopped from her ready-to-wear collection, Singhal says that bridal-wear sales took a hit because of her absence. "The invitation said, 'come, meet the designer' but the designer couldn't be there." International exhibitions are a big deal for Indian designers, she admits. "Considering February is one of the important months in the wedding shopping calendar, I lost out on meeting the brides, which typically helps with sales. Shopping now will move to our online store."
Payal Singhal says her bridal-wear sales were impacted because she couldn't attend the exhibition in London in March. She sources crepe silk from China but is now looking at India for alternative options
That's not to say that Singhal is not anxious. Crepe silk for her resort-inclined, luxe garments is imported from China. "I use a lot of crepe silk for the western finish garments. It's not available in India," she says. The Indian suppliers of China-made fabrics are anticipating a 30 per cent hike in prices. "The smart thing to do is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Mindful manufacturing is one way of dealing with a crisis of this nature. I'm also exploring alternative Indian crepe silk options," she shares.
In Bandra, Troy Costa is plotting his next step. "My factory might be in Bandra, but a bulk of the sourcing for menswear fabrics happens in Italy. I have stock to last me eight months, but I don't know what I am going to do after that."
Reports of the virus hitting Italy coincided with the end of Milan Fashion Week on February 24, leading to the cancellation of several runway shows and events. Giorgio Armani skipped the timetabled runway show, and filmed his brand's women's fall/winter show in an empty theatre and posted the video on the brand's website and social media. In Italy, prime minister Giuseppe Conte extended the lockdown restrictions from the north to the entire country on March 9, banning all public gatherings and activities other than work and emergencies. "It is our darkest hour, but we will make it," he told La Repubblica.
Costa's work riffs on masculinity. The designer has tailored for prime minister Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan, Virat Kohli and Hrithik Roshan. The enduring glamour of Italian menswear is what takes Costa back to Italy. Como is known for luxurious silks, and Naples for wool and ceremonial fabrics. The latter also enjoys a good reputation for manufacturing sneakers and leather footwear. "To survive in the menswear market, you have to work in Italy. In fact, I am also registering my company there," Costa confirms.
A pair of made in Italy tasselled loafers by Troy Costa
Though cutting a mean tuxedo or ceremonial jacket is Costa's joy, his current project is Cruz Troy Costa—an athleisure line of denims, T-shirts and jackets, and Italian sneakers. "I've been working on it for the last seven months, and the plan was to introduce the label in tandem with the launch of my new store at Bandra this June. I'm not sure when this will be possible. Perhaps, it is God's way of telling me to design womenswear!" he laughs.
The impact of the virus spread across the world, and India, is not limited to designer fashion. Retailers like Azmina Rahimtoola of Atosa, Bandra's multi-designer boutique, expect a slow down in sales. "Store owners depend on NRI clientele who fly down to Mumbai between February and mid-May to shop for bridal wear. But with travel restrictions, I don't see that happening. Our sales are likely to be affected by 25 per cent," she says.
Eina Ahluwalia says that the China outbreak has not affected business since her label is made in India
Of the many industry stories we hear, it is Kolkata-based Eina Ahluwalia's who leaves us with food for thought. "Not really," she says about the impact of the outbreak in China on her business. "We are a Made in India label, and retail exclusively online."
She says the hits that the economy has taken since demonitisation in 2016 has impacted the customer's desire to spend, but because her jewellery is rooted in personal reminders, "people continue to buy them in difficult times".
Gaurav Gupta: We may see a shift in economics. China has long enjoyed the position of being a strong global player. We source silk georgette and silk dupion from China, but that's because we just can't find that quality in India. I hope the positive outcome of this is that local industries step up their manufacturing.
Nachiket Barve: Maybe, this is nature's way of telling us to slow down. New opportunities can emerge from this crisis, starting with a shift in sourcing. We don't source raw fabrics, but we do get our trimmings like hooks, zippers, eye clasps, buttons etc., from China. If the crisis persists, we'll see an impact in a few months. It will compel designers to scale down and adapt. Maybe, I'll start making anti-fit slip dresses!
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