It was something of a historical moment for Lakme Fashion Week last Tuesday night when the runway lights shone on not one but two of India’s emerging design labels, husband and wife design duo Pankaj & Nidhi and ethno-grunge kid Kallol Datta. Season after season LFW has promised an extravagant, exorbitantly expensive, ostentatious and outrageous grand finale show put on by a parade of the country’s most celebrated senior designers but this Winter Festive 2012 season, the reigns were passed on from fashion’s most fortunate to fashion’s most promising.
LFW has garnered a reputation for its ability to nurture and launch the careers of talented young designers, indeed, this has become the hallmark of a fashion week that is so often compared to Delhi’s (where more senior designers loom large) but despite its commitment to showcase new designers throughout the week, the coveted evening shows and certainly the grand finale have remained far beyond their reach.
Is this a real turning point for Mumbai’s fashion week? Has it resolved its identity crisis, its seeming inability to fully embrace a focus on emerging rather than established designers? And if it has, what does that mean for marquee sponsorships deals and cozy alliances with Bollywood? By completely coming into its own will it render itself irrelevant or will it finally step up to bat for young designers in a country whose consumers so passionately prove their allegiance to senior designers who focus on Indian bridal wear?
A LAUNCHPAD TO THE BIG LEAGUES | LFW A PLATFORM FOR YOUNG DESIGNERS
Though there are many who would like to see India return to having one main fashion week in Delhi, there appears to be a real consensus among industry insiders about the vital role LFW plays, not only in the lives of young designers struggling to build a career but also as a necessary ancillary to Delhi fashion week, which simply cannot accommodate the number of new designers that show in Bombay, never mind properly promote them.
Editor-in-chief of Vogue India Priya Tanna believes LFW is the best place for designers to get their start, “for a newcomer, to have access to buyers, media and customers in one arena is critical for their career to take off,” she says. It’s what LFW has come to be known for, says popular Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks, who has shown in both Bombay and Delhi. “LFW has developed a reputation, and justifiably so, for showing new, exciting young designers,” says Rodricks.
At the heart of LFW’s focus on young designers is Gen Next, a program that every season, selects seven young designers from hundreds of applicants and grooms them for their very first fashion show — and hopefully, a career in fashion. It’s an ideal place from which to launch a design career — and many careers have been launched here: Rahul Mishra, Nachiket Barve, Masaba Gupta and Kallol Datta, to name a few. “The Gen Next show is really the signature of Lakme Fashion Week,” says Fern Mallis, the former Senior VP of IMG fashion who spent ten yearsnurturing LFW from the very beginning and after a one year absence, was present at LFW this season. “It’s one of the best things about the week,” said the woman credited with starting New York Fashion Week, “discovering and finding new talent.” Sujata Assomull-Sippy, founding editor of Harper’s Bazaar India and fashion journalist echoes the sentiment, “Gen Next is the differentiating factor of LFW to other fashion weeks,” she says proudly.
In an attempt to offer the current crop of Gen Nexters even more guidance and industry knowledge than was given to those in season’s past, organizers put together a workshop with buyers, members of the Elle Indiateam (the magazine recently began publishing a full editorial with Gen Next garments each season) and other industry figures. Anjana Sharma, fashion director at IMG Reliance (IMG runs LFW with beauty brand Lakme,) conceived of the workshop to help guide them: “how to be prepped, how to negotiate, how to capitalize on the noise value of fashion week, what to be ready with at their stalls,” but she admits, “there’s only so much as organizers we can do.” She’d like to do something akin to London’s Fashion Fringe (a competitive fashion business award that revolves around mentorship) but needs “someone to see the vision in that.” Currently she’s working on finding a sponsor so she can introduce a six-month program. Assomull-Sippy, who is on the LFW Advisory Board, thinks the workshop is “a very smart move — the more help we can give them on how to get it right, then maybe they will become more commercial and people can buy their first season’s collection.” She believes the right kind of sponsors is key, that this could happen if a retail chain like Shopper’s Stop, Lifestyle or Debenhams got on board. However, until a deal like this is brokered, organizers appear to be prepping the designers as best they can, something which this season’s Gen Next hopefuls reported to be grateful for, calling the workshop both “eye opening” and incredibly helpful.
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