The first question anyone wants to ask FDCI Chairman Sunil Sethi right now is how it feels to finally host a physical edition of India Couture Week (ICW), following a break from the format during the pandemic. To his credit, Sethi answers the question with full enthusiasm when I bring this up to him at the beginning of our conversation, excitedly mentioning the palpable shift in the energy of designers and the council who are over the moon at the possibility of presenting their collections in a tangible way. “I’m not going to discard digital formats of runway shows. But I feel the need of the moment is to get back to normal, for the fraternity to feel good about business, and for more people to get jobs. The need of the hour is to be upbeat. How long can we stay at home and work out of our laptops and phones,” he says.
This time around, the week has extended to 10 days of designers showing what we can expect from the coming seasons. The lineup includes Tarun Tahiliani, JJ Valaya, Rahul Mishra, Suneet Varma, Falguni Shane Peacock, Amit Aggarwal, Anamika Khanna, Anju Modi, Dolly J, Kunal Rawal, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna, Siddartha Tytler, and Varun Bahl.
He asserts, again, that he has nothing against digital or virtual fashion showcases, he even believes they’re going to be the future of runway shows, but the scale and grandeur of an actual, live show cannot be translated in its true spirit within a few thousand pixels.
“It’s a mix of both things this time. Only a selected number of people will be present at the venue and all the shows will be streamed online and available to be watched later too.”
This hybrid model of business, while a bit shaky and unsure of its bearings at the moment, seems to be one of the subtle shifts that would be required to adapt in a post-pandemic world. Sethi agrees, and also adds that he senses a renewed sense of vigour and optimism with the way the industry has progressed over the tumultuous past few years. “The thing that really makes the difference is the customer. If clients are coming and business is happening, then everything is hunky dory,” he says. According to him, the Indian fashion designer has understood this and evolved in a way that the industry now has something for everybody, “Whether it’s for bridal wear, or streetwear, or couture, or red carpet, or everyday wear, I think the Indian designer has really come to the fore to offer that. As far as I’m concerned, this feeling of being in demand is a very good thing. If the designer is busy, then the craftsmen will also get a lot of work. All in all it’s something that’s very optimistic. After being in the doldrum and gloom and doom scenarios of the past few years, it’s heartening to see this state right now.”
Speaking of moving forward with vigour and spark, the ICW is now 15-years-old. What started with a small group of designers, focused only in Mumbai, has become a phenomenon that attracts couturiers and customers from, not only all over the country, but different parts of the world too. “I’ve seen people from abroad actually take note of the dates the ICW is going to happen on and fly down to India just to attend it. It’s amazing,” says Sethi. The FDCI chairman credits this to the illustrious history of the event and the legacy it has amassed. Ever since its inception in 2008, ICW has played an important role in shaping the Indian fashion landscape in remarkable ways, “When it comes to weddings and other related events, lots of people started wearing things that were away from the traditional garments and that began with ICW. This is because designers used this platform to cater to a younger audience. They explored new colour palettes, materials, and silhouettes that were never seen before.”
One of the key moments that still remains a highlight in Sethi’s mind is when Salman Khan launched his lifestyle brand Being Human at Couture Week in 2009 with eight leading ladies of Bollywood as models for the clothes, “It’s never happened that eight top actors of a time would come togther like that,” he exclaims.
When I mention that our fashion industry is unique in its intermeshing with the film industry, especially Bollywood, Sethi agrees that it’s unusual and something absolutely unique to our country. But he adds that, despite Bollywood celebrities taking center stage as showstoppers on the runway, it’s the designer’s garment that remains the hero of the show.
“Even without a showstopper, there is enough strength and merit in the designer’s garments to stand on its own.”
This gives me the perfect segue into asking him to reveal a little bit about what we can expect from the 13 designers showcasing this time around, but he laughs and says he doesn’t think the designers would like having him spill the beans on their shows. “All I can tell you is that the format is very different from designer to designer, the sets will be different from show to show, and we will be covering a myriad of categories.”
When it seems like that’s all I could get out of him on the subject, I figured it was time to ask the other pertinent question of the moment. What would he do right after Couture Week is over?
“Invariably after every Couture Week I take off for a holiday, but this time the whole year is packed with events!” the delight in his voice betraying the lack of disappointment in the change of vacation plans,“There’s so much of activities at FDCI after a two year lull that there’s no stopping!”