Mar 13, 2008
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India's fashion designers seek to cash in on global interest

Mar 13, 2008

NEW DELHI, March 13, 2008 (AFP) - Growing international interest in India because of its booming economy has infused a new confidence among local designers showcasing the country's crafts at the ongoing fashion week.

Manish Arora fall-winter 2008/2009 - Photo : Pierre Verdy/AFP

More than 80 Indian fashion designers are offering autumn-winter fashion trends to international and domestic buyers at the five-day style extravaganza that ends Sunday with a grand show titled 'Mode in India'.

"Ten years ago, if people saw a 'Made in India' label in an international store, they would be put off," said top designer Ashish Soni, whose minimal clothes earned him acclaim at New York's recent fashion week.

"Today a 'Made in India' dress can fetch a big price," added Soni, who will unveil a line of clothes with extensive use of traditional crafts and techniques on the final day.

Another top designer, Rohit Bal, said each piece of his well-received collection was a celebration of "Indianness."

In one of the most watched shows by India's A-list celebrities, Bal paraded his models in clothes that had Western silhouettes but were handcrafted with extensive surface texturing using Indian techniques.

"Every single thing -- from the thread to the fabrics and technique -- was Indian," said Bal, sporting trendy Jodhpur pants and a pink vest from his own line.

India's young fashion industry is estimated to be worth up to 250 million dollars, and has long been criticised for generating more hype than business.

But young designers are increasingly finding acclaim overseas, drawing international interest and buyers to the fashion week, now in its ninth year.

Just last month, Manish Arora and Rajesh Pratap Singh created a buzz in Paris with their vastly different styles -- both of which drew heavily from traditional Indian needlework.

This "Indianness" can provide an edge to the country's designers to take on international labels increasingly moving into the country, fashion watchers say.

Designer brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, and high street chains such as Esprit and French Connection, have recently set up shop in Indian cities with an eye on the growing retail market.

"I am worried that Indian women will start wearing white pintuck shirts and black pants," said designer Suneet Varma.

"Why should we be embarrassed of bringing out the colour, the Indianness in our clothes? We must push our crafts or else these labels will take the sensuousness out of our fashion," Varma said.

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