What does fashion mean for us now?

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“We are actually showing IRL!!” said David Abraham in a message in the lead-up to the live staging of the Abraham & Thakore show on October 8. Oh, the joy of exclamation marks! Experiencing the delight of once again watching a fashion show in person was mixed with mild confusion about what “normal” actually means to us now. Do we keep the mask, and carry on?

Around the same time last week, Paris Fashion Week closed with Extinction Rebellion activist Marie Cohuet gatecrashing the Louis Vuitton catwalk show holding a banner that read: Overconsumption = Extinction. “It is not easy to get into a place where the powerful enact the codes. But the urgency is too great. The fashion industry cannot deny the ecological crisis,” wrote Cohuet in a Twitter post after the show, referring to the snowballing climate crisis. This example is merely the latest in a series of contemplations that have left everybody in fashion in a funk.

A greater emphasis on transparent supply chains is compelling us to look at India’s traditional crafts and the hands that kept them around. In a so-called resistance movement, homegrown labels sprung up overnight, claiming to do right in craft clusters. While the ideas of morality and altruism became synonyms for an obsessive call to crafts action on one hand, bridal couture collections—universally revered for handmade, slow-made craftsmanship—were rated like bingeable TV shows.

This apparent contradiction highlights an important question: what does fashion actually mean in a post-pandemic world? As economies slowly open up, escapist dressing is tempting, and naturally, people are looking at updating their wardrobe. Can sustainability and consumption co-exist?

It’s all about perspective. The standout shows at the recently concluded FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week applied a mixture of imagination, necessity and answers to how we feel and connect to our present lives via what we wear.

“Nobody is coming to help me,” Shweta Gupta admits on the phone from Delhi. Founded in 2018, Gupta’s SWGT quickly became a label to watch. Like Gupta, 34, many young designers have come to this conclusion after Coronavirus crushed smaller, independently run businesses with nowhere to turn for funds or guidance. “I don’t come from a business family, I belong to the service class.” Desperate to save her label, she reached out to textile and fashion agencies in India, but found little success. The only morsel of advice offered freely was to start designing Indian wear. Adamant to stand her ground, she began researching and contacting international and Indian buyers while working on launching her own e-commerce site. Thankfully, she managed to bag a few orders. “These orders helped sustain my small army of craftspeople in Chanderi.”

This season, she was named the winner of Nexa’s The Spotlight programme along with Naushad Ali, and showcased a digital show that she chose to shoot in the Himalayas. She used cotton Chanderi blends, and collaborated with weaver clusters in Murshidabad to introduce Mulberry silk. The clothes were beautifully made—rarely solemn or loaded with gimmicks. But the highlights dwelled elsewhere; in the nuanced surfaces of intricate smocked embroidery with glass beads, pin-tuck pleats and hand crochet.

“[This is] little happiness I am catching on to… I love working on looms, developing my own fabrics and yarn dyes. Pattern cutting is my forte and I hope to keep championing it through my clothes,” she says.

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