Sunday, 7 March 2010

Lakme Fashion Week, Mumbai: Little Shilpa, Lecoanet Hemant

Little Shilpa

Little Shilpa is not a name that would get you very far as a designer in the West, you might think, but here this physically tiny designer (hence the name) has a cult following. Ostensibly a milliner (she trained with Philip Treacy), her skills stretch much further. She creates jewellery and accessories but she should really be concentrating on sculpted and architectural works. Her show of brightly coloured perspex headpieces based on bikers' helmets and native American headdress was exhilarating but, in fashion terms, pure fantasy. The accompanying jewellery was predictable. There seems to me to be valuable talent in the wrong bed here. Her work should be in galleries, not on catwalks. Such a waste.

Another label showing here with a Western connection is Lecoanet Hemant, a half-French, half-Indian duo who have moved to India after many seasons of showing in Paris. Their clothes are traditional but not in an Indian sense. Just not what is currently seen as fashion in the West. But their handwriting is strong and their techniques show their background. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that they have factories spread across Asia. They balance the luxe of Paris with the richness of India to make clothes in which wealthy, worldly Indian women – and there are a lot – feel at ease. Their design approach goes some way towards resolving the eternal conundrum for women across India (and the millions across the globe) who want the dreamable to be wearable as well.

At the end of the second day of Indian fashion week, there are questions. Foremost is how far can Indian designers go? Is it worth the risk of weakening – and probably eventually destroying – a vibrant, ages-old culture of dress merely to jump on the roundabout of international fashion? Is it possible to keep the essence of that culture and still create clothes with an international appeal? Should ethnic be seen as a synonym for obsolescent? Only India can decide that. But, on the evidence I have so far seen, if the designers showing in Mumbai are hoping to break into the bigger pond they have to be much better prepared than they are now. A designer label comes with certain expectations, pre-eminently that the designer has his or her own point of view independent of what others are doing and wishes to present it at the highest level possible. He or she must ensure that fabrics are good quality and the manufacture is to a high standard. I have seen far too many very cheap fabrics on the runways here – the quality that students buy in Berwick Street – and more uneven, badly sewn hemlines than would be acceptable in a woman's sewing group in a sheltered accommodation home.

The taste level is a much more problematical question, linked inextricably to mental and cultural attitudes. Here in India, I feel it might reduce to a straightforward clash between the social and the cerebral. I don't think any outsider has the right to comment on that except when the designer is working in an ostensibly Western framework. But standards of quality are universal and must be addressed by all who are interested in making an international mark for themselves. I just have the feeling that there are few designers in the gentle middle-class world of Mumbai fashionable life who are really interested in the fashion world beyond. And why should they be? They are making money in a rapidly growing internal market that they understand. Why risk stepping out of their own limelight into unlit territory where the only certain thing is the level of competition?

Lecoanet Hemant


Shrivan Narresh


  1. Hey am a big fan of Littleshilpa

    She does fashion shows for kicks... you will be suprised..

    Check out her work at galleries like Nature Morte Bose Pacia BmB

  2. Colin does Mumbai, and Scarfe does Colin. How brilliant!