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The State of Fashion in Kerala

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A look at Kerala’s shifting sensibilities of fashion, moving towards an appreciation of native craftsmanship

Text Credits: Alan Alexander Kaleekal

Every so often, there is a shift in the winds, a palpable change in the air and a sense of urgency to open our doors wide to the new and unknown. As the dust settles and change drifts in alongside the winds, we are made witness to the birth of something new; terraforming, a much-needed change in the landscape.

For the better half of a decade, the fashion industry in Kerala has been going through a phase of self-discovery and soul searching that has seen a shift in not just the way we dress, but far more importantly, the way we look at ourselves. The change has been slow but sure and the process largely silent, and somewhere down the line, without much fanfare, requiems were surely being written for the past.

In 2009, when I left the country to study fashion in Paris, the fashion scene here was nearly non-existent and what little there was, seemed stagnant at best; there was not much that was conducive to the growth of a career in fashion. There were no seasons or trends, just rehashes of the old and stale, and the majority of the population seemed content the way things were. We have been largely a practical crowd and when it came to fashion, a little went a long way; clothes, like much else in our lives, were strictly functional up until a few years ago. Around six years later, when I returned home in 2015, I could feel a difference in the air. We were eager to usher in the future and the stage was being meticulously set for a new wave to crash against our shores.

A tectonic shift
Fashion, once an afterthought, was slowly taking centre stage, becoming a priority for a majority of the population. The recent buzz around boutiques and designer stores mushrooming across the state and the subsequent burgeoning of the fashion business here has brought a younger crop of designers to the fore. And it was not just fashion that went through a revival, the new-found interest in design studios, art cafés, fashion weeks, film festivals, and biennales has brought back art, design, music, cinema, and fashion into our daily lives. At the vanguard of this revolution are a bunch of dedicated entrepreneurs, designers, stylists, editors, image makers, and visual thinkers who have brought about a tectonic shift in our perception of all things fashion and design.

To presume, however, our tryst with fashion to be a very recent one would be a gaffe. As a designer, I believe much of what I naturally gravitate towards and what is largely reflected in the way I design and think fashion is an extension of our clothing culture in Kerala. Take for instance the buzzwords of contemporary fashion like minimalism, organic clothing and sustainable fashion; these trends have been doing the rounds for the past several seasons but little do we realise that these are design values that are intrinsically a part of the fabrics and garments of our state.

Simply standing apart
Think India, think colours. When the rest of India is known for their riot of colours and embroideries, Kerala stands apart in the fact that our traditional garments feature simple off-white cottons and plain gold borders. Unlike the rest of the country we have always shied away from unnecessary surface ornamentations and loud colours, opting instead for a stark minimalism long before minimalism was in vogue. When it comes to organic clothing, our weavers are masters in hand-weaving organic cotton, a staple of our handloom industry for centuries. We were pioneers in natural fabric dyeing too; the artisans around Balaramapuram took the art of dyeing a step further and introduced Ayurvedic medicinal dyes, giving birth to Ayurvastra, a lesser known and under-explored branch of wellness clothing. And at a time when designers all over the world are wracking their brains over the next big trend in sustainability, we are home to the best examples of zero waste designing in the garment industry, the humble saree and mundu. There is not a single garment in the entire lexicon of fashion that can boast of absolute zero wastage like a saree or a mundu; not a single thread needs to be wasted, no pattern cutting or fabric manipulation is required and every inch of the fabric is utilised without fail.

Lost pioneers
When such rich weaving tradition and artisanal crafts abound all around us, the question that begs to be asked is why we needed the aforementioned fashion renaissance in the first place. What restricted us from realising that when we were busy looking to the west for inspiration, our craftsmen were desperately seeking patronage? Far too often we tend to be hyperopic and fail to see what is right before us. We hesitate to take ownership of our inheritance, reluctant to acknowledge what was passed down to us over generations. Way before the ‘Make in India’ campaign was touted to be the next big revolutionary idea, European designers and Western retail giants including Carrefour and IKEA saw the merit in our weaves and relied on weavers of northern Kerala for their fabrics. While international designers kept our crafts alive, even closer home we needed North Indian designers like Rahul Mishra to champion our fabrics and envision their global appeal. Our failure to appreciate our crafts has not been without consequences. There are weavers’ societies in our state that weave handloom fabrics predominantly for European clients and shy away from Indian customers; our own artisans alienated from us due to a lack of trust and bad consumer relationships. The weaving of the famed Cannanore Crepe, once the pride of Kannur, is believed to be lost to us due to a lack of patronage and today what is woven and sold under the same name is a pale imitation of the original. A few swatches of the original Cannanore crepe cotton, hunted down from the far corners of the state adorn my fabric board as prized possessions today; perhaps the only reminders of what is lost to us.

Eschewing colonised fashion
For the past few seasons, I, like many of my contemporaries, have been working with different handloom societies and grassroots level artisan clusters across Kerala in an attempt to revive our weaves, to not only support the local artisans but also provide continued sustenance to our crafts. Each day spent with our weavers is a masterclass in fabric and fashion history, a history that needs retelling lest it be reduced to just stories for future generations. Much of what we perceive to be fashion history today is popular European and American fashion, and despite our love for the over-abused words like ‘Indo-Western’ and ‘fusion’ in our industry, most of what we know and perceive to be contemporary fashion originates from the West. The history of our fabrics and garments can only be retold through revival and patronage, and for that to happen it is not just design that needs to be updated, consumption needs to be equally self-aware and responsible to the society. If we as consumers fail to support and nurture our local talents, we fail as a society in the upkeep of our crafts. The lesson that needs to be learned here is that everything we need to go global is right here, waiting for us to take ownership; all we need to do is acknowledge, appreciate and support.

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Fashion

Why péro Should Be Your Go-To Brand This Summer

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Images from: Facebook (@ilovepero)

péro by Aneeth Arora has made its mark globally, being sold in 20 countries, and small wonder. With its cutesy, whimsical aesthetic and its light, airy fabrics, péro, this summer, is a dream

Our tropical summers call for thin, airy fabrics, light to touch, cool to wear, and quick to dry. Brand péro by Aneeth Arora does not forget this important detail in their Spring Summer 2018 collection. In whites, pinks and red gingham, the dresses are delightful combination of rustic and cute.

péro in white, pink and red gingham

Staying true to their whimsical aesthetic, péro has incorporated delicate floral and ladybug embroidery into rustic lace dresses.

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Upcycling like usual, péro has also created adorable footwear with archival fabric. This is particular seems to lend a childlike air of innocence to the entire collection.

A post shared by p é r o ® (@ilovepero) on

And the quaint headgear really brings the rustic element home.

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Whether you’re enjoying a cool drink in the shade of a sheltering tree, or gliding from room to room in your dusky, curtained home, whether dozing in the sultry afternoon heat or even venturing out into the glaring light, these lacy confections seem perfect for any and all scenarios.

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Entertainment

The Raja Kumari Is Looking To Make Music In Bollywood

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RajaKumari
Image from genius.com

Grammy nominee Raja Kumari, dropped into the Indian music scene with her single, “City Slums”, a collaboration with rapper, Divine. Now, she’s planning to make Bollywood her playing field too.

Text Credit: Rheanna Mathews

American born Svetha Rao, known globally as Raja Kumari, has been living in Mumbai for around a year now. She dropped into the Indian music scene with her hit single, “City Slums”. The song, which she created in collaboration with Mumbai rapper, Divine, has had over six million views on YouTube so far.

Raja Kumari: hit single debut, "City Slums"

Source: lyricsmania.com

A child of privilege, maybe she isn’t qualified to talk about the “hard knock” life in Indian slums, but she certainly can talk about Indian culture. She has a degree in Ancient Indian History, studied Ancient Religious Studies in college, has learnt Sanskrit and three different forms of Indian dance. And if she draws on her cultural heritage to make spectacular fashion statements, well, nobody’s complaining (too busy drooling over the jewellery, we suppose).

Raja Kumari: always at her ethnic best

Source: Twitter (@TheRajaKumari)

Raja Kumari is known for her unique style and the niche she has claimed in the music world. But she had her start as a songwriter for other famous artists like Iggy Azalea and Fall Out Boy…an award-winning songwriter. Small wonder that she has already been signed by Sony Music Entertainment, here in India.

Raja Kumari: Indian rapper princess

Source: Twitter (@TheRajaKumari)

Having already worked on the music for a number of South Indian films, she has set her cap for Bollywood because of the “great impact”it has on the world. “I want to use my time in India wisely and explore the opportunities and try something new. I want to do more stuff in Hindi films. It (Bollywood) has such a great impact on the entire world. The idea that something I write can reach so many more people, that’s exciting for me as a musician”, said the artiste, who dreams of bridging the East and the West.

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Fashion

Manjulakshmi Bharathan Treads The Highway To Fashion

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Manjulakshmi Bharathan
Images from Gills Manjulaksh

The designer with her label Gills Manjulakshmi became the first Malayali designer to showcase her collections at New York Fashion Week this February

From God’s Own Country to the fashion capital of the world, Manjulakshmi Bharathan’s journey has been one of determination, hard work, and success. Earlier this year, she became the first South Indian fashion designer to display her works at the prestigious New York Fashion Week. In an exclusive interview with FWD Life, Manjulakshmi tells us all about her journey and her dreams.

1

How was the experience, showcasing your designs at New York Fashion Week?

New York Fashion Week was a totally different experience. It’s a city that welcomes fashion, where designers work together and the whole city was in a festive mood. Fashion is a part of everyday living there. It’s a most prestigious event where we get to meet international celebrities, high profile professionals, and established and emerging artists. They all work under one roof without any conflict.

Tell us about the collection that you exhibited.

I exhibited 40 outfits including three of my collections from both womens and menswear, each were themed differently and according to the styles and fabrics used. There were three categories: ‘I love the Roses Red’, which comprised hand worked and embroidered 3D roses, colours of reds, kohl blacks and butter creamed organza silks. All were composed in vintage frames and romantic cuts focusing more on evening wear. Corset cuts were the main highlights. The second group was about ‘Sun To Moon, All The Things I Love’. This collection was more of elegant women’s wear with bridal and haute couture dresses which featured colours from milky whites to deep navy blues coordinating the flow of time from sunrise to the night sky. The third section was called ‘My birds are humming your name’. This collection focused on the despair of waiting for love, the changing seasons, how colours changed from Spring to Autumn and how the humming birds played the music of love. Each dress was cultivated in pastel tones embellished with golden humming birds in its different moods. There was also menswear which was composed of themes ranging from stars in the sky to the deep underwater life of fish and turtles with metallic tunes and hand worked details, use of linen and taffetas and use of cuts from Middle Eastern menswear.

Do you work around sustainable fashion? How do you incorporate it into your designs?

Yes I have been in love with everything natural from my first collection and due to that pursued passion I have been continuing my research studies on organic fabrics including linen, silk, and wool. I had even started an awareness program ‘Think Pink Wear Green’, by taking a small promise from everyone with their thumb impression to wear anything natural once a week. Dedicated to natural fabrics, label Gills Manjulakshmi has started a new line named AADIMA BY GILLS MANJULAKSHMI.

Do you include any elements from God’s Own Country in your designs?

Yes, every collection of mine has been connected to my roots; the use of silks and handlooms have been a never ceasing part in my design collections.

What are your inspirations for your work?

Love in its every form has always been the inspiration for my work and textiles, and its aura has always inspired me. Apart from that, histories and places are my other pathways. I do have a collection of vintage fabrics and textiles collected during my travels which I have treasured.

Tell us about your mother’s role in your work.

My mother instilled in me the love for textiles and its drapes. From childhood, she used to design for me dresses with different cuts from the trends of the time. She is a great designer herself and has a special eye for textiles, its flow and colour mixes, and my passion grew more into designing and making and styling when we started designing costumes for the dances choreographed thematically. She used to study the character and substitute colors, fabrics and styling for it.

What do you aim for as a designer?

I would like to bring new perspectives into the use of textiles, its forms, and how people could associate fashion easily with their personality and everyday life. I would like to see the future of fashion applied with sustainability and value for its existence. Fashion has been used as a tool to express ourselves and it has been the easiest way to convey messages to the public. I love vintage and reviving fashion and textiles that have proved as brands themselves. I would like to establish a fashion which is timeless and can be passed on for another generation and develop a fashion styled community.

How difficult is it for an Indian designer from India to showcase at international fashion weeks?

I would not use the word difficult but there are a lot of criteria to go through when a brand is selected for showcasing at the international fashion week. The whole fashion scenario is different from buyers to users, the styles have to be researched and adapted to its demand to meet the competition.

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