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Quiet Couture

Blurb: Indian fashion, much like our festivals, are larger than life, full of colour, celebration and noise, except, a quiet breed of designers are indulging in bold simplicity with an unapologetic nod towards practical and minimalist design. Edited excerpts from the story.

Autumn-Winter 2015. Image Courtesy of Bodice. Instagram: @bodicebodice

It is not uncommon to describe clothes using auditory metaphors as if they are sounds meant for our ears to savour as opposed to material objects that we see, touch, and feel. Described in this way, clothes ‘can speak volumes’ about their wearer, ‘scream out for attention’, or, at times, be criticised for being ‘too loud’.

This is certainly true for fashion in India, where we have come to expect our clothes to do much more than just appeal to a single sense. When placed within such multi-sensory sartorial soundscapes, the notion of finding silence seems like a novel and impossible feat. What could the absence of discernable noise and stimulation or ‘silence’ translate to in the visual and material language of clothing?

Earlier this year I was reminded through an engaging lecture on the sari by Rta Kapur Chisti that the minimalism I am hinting towards in this piece is very much at the core of textile crafts and clothing in India. Rta ji prefaced her talk by saying that the current aesthetic of bling was in her experience (and observation) at odds with much of our textile heritage and traditional dress practices that have evolved over generations in keeping with the function they help perform.

Ikat Overlay Coat by Raag. Image Courtesy of Beej and Kora Studio LLP

It is this respect for form that follows function that drew me to Rina Singh’s label Eka. I was intrigued and refreshed to see her unassuming yet wholesome garments on a sale rack at Ogaan a few years ago that made a strong statement – not through embellishments or complex detailing, but through their bold simplicity and unapologetic nod towards practical and minimalist design.

Of course, when you strip away all the extra clutter and noise from such garments it becomes critical for other elements to speak up. All of a sudden the cut of a pocket, the placement and finish of a seam, the number of pleats, or the proportions and lengths of each layer worn together gain centrestage.

Orchestrating the harmonies between such elements is clearly a strength that Ruchika Sachdev explores with her label Bodice. Her single colour or monochromatic ensembles appear perfectly balanced. The austerity and restraint in her garments (that shun all superfluous details and fussy embellishments) seem to visually echo themes pertaining to material restraint and fiscal responsibility that were drilled into middle-class mindsets prior to India’s liberalisation.

Through circling back to key value systems that emerged at a time when India itself was a young nation, Ruchika and Rina’s work inevitably references Gandhian principles as well as the recommendations put forth by Charles and Ray Eames in their seminal [Eames] India Report (commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru and completed in 1958) that called for design education and designers to take into consideration ‘some of the values that exist in commonplace things’, the history of the country, its weather and local resources, as well as ‘share a concern for the quality of things’.

Arti Sandhu is an Associate Professor of Fashion Design at Columbia College Chicago and the author of the book Indian Fashion: Tradition, Innovation, Style.

To read the full article, click here.

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