We got some of the biggest names in the Indian fashion industry to talk about the ultimate love affair: fashion and art, coming together in the form of inspiration, collaborations, and delightful details.
“Art is very important to us. It doesn’t just inspire the clothes that we create, but because of our innate passion for it, we started our own gallery, too (Palette Art Gallery in New Delhi). It’s a contemporary space with a modern tone, aimed at giving a voice to emerging talent. Fashion today has become more of a conversation-starter, and a garment inspired by modernism or abstract and contemporary art, presented in a structured-yet-fluid form is worthy of being called an artwork. In the past, we have launched collections inspired by artists like Jackson Pollock and George Martin, and they were very successful. The greatest thing about fashion is that it allows you to give shape to your imagination, to things that have inspired you. We like to play with muted tones, and lend a bit of an androgynous vibe to regular silhouettes. A signature Rohit + Rahul garment would be a meticulously cut dress in either grey or black, featuring subtle metallic work or embellishment—it’s classic!”
On Rikee: dress, CUE by Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna; boots, H&M
Gauri Karan and Nainika Karan
“Fashion and art have been intertwined since they came about. And art has hugely influenced our work. When we are looking for inspiration, we go back to history—the 16th or 18th century paintings, Greek and Roman sculptures, or the works of famous artists. Absorbing it all really strikes our imagination. You’ll see that a lot of shapes and motifs that we play with have an artistic element that stands out. When people think of our brand, they think of ruffles (which has become our signature). It’s synonymous with our brand because ever since we’ve started, we’ve used ruffles in a way that really skims the body and looks flattering. We add drama and volume at the right places to empower the wearer and feel like the best versions of themselves. That’s why the art of cuts and detailing plays such an important role in design.”
High-low dress, Gauri & Nainika; block heels, Christian Louboutin
Ashish n Soni
“I don’t think there’s any difference between fashion and art—it’s difficult to disconnect one from the other. I’ve always felt that there’s a deep, inter-layering connection between calling designers artists, or the other way around. What we do is our own way of expression, which is extremely artistic. And our medium, instead of canvas, is fabric. All of it emerges from a thought that turns into a product, and that particular creation would be considered art by some, and rubbish by others. As a designer, I’m extremely influenced by art. In fact, over the last few years, I have dabbled in it myself. When it comes to celebrating any milestones for my brand, I turn to art installations to display the garments. As fashion has changed so much in the last decade, the shelf life of a good creation has drastically reduced—there’s very little regard for the fact that a designer has spent months working on a piece.
When conceptualising a line, I stick to the three Fs: fabric, fit, and form. All of them kind of tie into each other. Impeccably constructed garments is what my brand is known for, and to nail that right, I’d say, is certainly an art.”
Pantsuit and coat, both Ashish N Soni; boots, Aldo
Shantanu Mehra and Nikhil Mehra
“One of the correlations between fashion and art is that both processes are about telling a story. And if you look at the intent of a designer, their creations are no less than art. We get inspired by emotions and that itself is the most artistic value human beings present on a daily basis. Once the emotion sets in, you get inspired and weave a story around it. And finally, when you present your collection on the runway, the entire process of building a set, the choreography, music, make-up, models, and everything in between, prepares the stage for fashion in the form of art. This narrative is what defines our brand. Structured silhouettes with standout sartorial finishes, embroideries, and textures are the techniques synonymous with our brand. A signature Shantanu & Nikhil garment features three key elements: the drape with a sense of romanticism; the structure (our garments are constructed in a way that it flatters a certain part of the body); and sartorial shapes and silhouettes (marrying heritage with a very distinct contemporary aesthetic, where minimalism is the new admiral).”
Gown and gloves, both Shantanu & Nikhil
“Fashion has had a long-standing love affair with art—it’s something we wear, and that makes it as much a lifestyle subject as music, art, or theatre. The greatest thing about fashion is that it has the ability to transform itself with changing times, and blend cultural differences. India, in particular, is such a textile-rich country, and many of our textiles come from a balance between art and crafts.
I think our brand has been very fortunate because we initiated the revival of the crafts in India—when the British left, there were no crafts left, and we were buying imported fabrics. The one thing you’ll always find in our garments is an organic root—whether it’s the textiles, techniques, or indigenous patterning. We brought back hand-block printing, and then revived the lost art of zardozi—two very strong disciplines which have seen us through all these years. And then, of course, handlooms like khadi. I don’t think there’s any other country in the world that boasts of such rare crafts with fashion as its stance.”
Ikat suit and jewellery, all Ritu Kumar
“Fashion and art, to me, are the same thing. One is wearable art and the other might be decorative. I think art is the basis of every creative process, because it’s something that adds beauty and a lot of substance to an otherwise regular world that we live in. Whenever we research for an upcoming collection, we turn to art, followed by architecture, and then probably the smells and sounds of the place we’re getting inspired by. I’d like to think of our brand as the ‘royal nomads’—everything we do is crafted with a lot of surface ornamentation. I believe that couture is an investment, it doesn’t rely on fads. We create clothes, which we hope will be treasured by people, and will be worn by the next couple of generations as well. That is the most important aspect...the timelessness and perseverance of doing something beautiful. After 27 years of being in the business, we’ve come to a point where I can say that we are no longer a fashion house...we’re more of a luxury house. Whether it’s garments, decor, or photography, it’s all art—that’s the common denominator that runs right through.”
Sari and belt, both JJ Valaya
“The segregation of fashion and art is a very Western concept. In India, the word kala is a blanket term for all forms of arts. So I find it extremely polarising to explain whether or not fashion is a form of art. My work is an amalgamation of many things—art, textile, fashion, objects, and music. And that’s exactly what we are trying to do...putting different mediums together to create wearable art. Design has many layers to it. When I started working with textiles, over a decade ago, I didn’t do so thinking that there’ll be a huge market for it in the coming years. I did it for a different reason... I wanted to know what my contribution is going to be for my country. What was my role in the Indian design industry. How my designs were going to be understood by people in cities like Kanpur, Patna, or Lucknow. My focus has been very domestic. 10 years ago, I could have never imagined that fashion weeks would have an entire day dedicated to Indian textiles, or that the sari’s image would be revamped. As for techniques, I don’t think a brand should really stick to one. I believe in innovating constantly and presenting our work in myriad ways. There’s no strict formula—I feel stereotyping or putting yourself in a box isn’t healthy. The only key elements of my garments are: identity, culture and craftsmanship.”
Lehenga and shoes, both Raw Mango
“In my opinion, fashion and art are two distinct identities—though they can definitely feed off each other. When it comes to design, I’m inspired by architecture—-some would say that architecture is also a form of art—and it’s more than evident in all my creations. Colours from art could still travel into things that I do, but my designs draw heavily from architecture. My pieces feature a synonymous integrity of fluidity with structure—bringing in opposing terminologies or concepts together has been the DNA of the brand. Plus, using recycled materials, of different kinds, has been something that we’ve been consistently working on. When I think of the key strengths of our designs, something that will instantly strike you as an Amit Aggarwal piece is how it morphs from rigid to fluid, metallic to almost holographic, and sheer to almost hard-edged. These philosophies travel through every single outfit that we create.”
Gown, Amit Aggarwal
Styling: Zunaili Malik; Photographs: Hormis Antony Tharakan; Interviews: Meghna Sharma