Creativity, craftsmanship and ethical fashion are at the heart of a truly unique Indian fashion pop-up store which has just opened up at Bicester Village. Running until 29th May, “Celebrating India” is curated by Sujata Assomull and includes designers such as Kashmir Loom, Behno, Huemn, Dhruv Kapoor, Pippa Small, Kanika Goyal, Khosla Jani, and Rimzim Dadu. The boutique features a unique edit of emerging and established talents from the Indian fashion and design scene, thereby demonstrating an eclectic mix all under one roof.
Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura caught up with Sujata, contributing editor of Vogue India, who said she wanted to “give a taste of everything that is designed in India,” from fashion and home to jewellery and shawls, the staples of Indian fashion.
LM: Congratulations on the Bicester Village pop-up. Tell us what does this mean to you?
SA: It is showcasing Indian fashion the way it should be in a global, dynamic and diverse environment. Bicester Village is home to every important international brand you can think of. Contemporary Indian fashion is special because it can be easily be mixed and matched with the many international labels. Contemporary Indian fashion is all about drawing from the beauty of home-grown crafts and traditions, yet has the functionality and fit that is needed to stay au courant.
Bicester Village is the perfect environment for Indian labels to gain exposure, as it has such a wide-ranging audience that has “fashion savoir-faire”. After all, it is the most visited destination in the UK after Buckingham Palace.
LM: What kind of work happens behind the scenes to put together such an event?
SA: The Bicester Village team has worked hard to ensure that “All Things India” really does celebrate all things Indian. To start with, there is Chris Caldicott’s travel photography that takes you from Kerala to Kashmir. And then there is the food – I am really looking forward to trying the Café Wolseley’s chicken curry. The afternoon tea merges British tradition with Indian touches. Not to mention the books, home design and of course the fashion. It is a 360-degree look at Indian style.
On my shopping list is Elephant Family’s handcrafted elephant sculptures that are true works of art. Elephant Family is a British based charitable organisation that has done some incredible work in protecting the Asian elephant, a beautiful animal that has been on the endangered species list for some years now.
LM: How do you select which designers will be featured for the pop-up?
SA: It’s a curated cross-selection of the new and established voices of Indian fashion. From Manish Arora to Dhruv Kapoorm these are the labels that have ensured Indian contemporary fashion always stays relevant and always has something new to offer. From kitsch to minimalism, the Subcontinent’s design language covers it all, and you will see this spectrum at the pop-up. The wide Indian aesthetic is a reflection of the diversity of the country. And it is because India has so much to offer that it will always be a point of reference for design labels all over the world. It is not only about fashion that is based in India, as there are many “International Indian” labels too. These are design houses that are headquartered out of India, yet are completely “Made in India”. Also participating at “All Things India” pop-up are London’s Beulah and New York’s Behno; both have a strong emphasis on sustainability. Ethical fashion has a long history in India – be the use of vegetable dyes, patchworking techniques to “upcycle” textiles or let’s not forget Mahatma Gandhi’s fabric of freedom Khadi, an entirely ethical way of hand looming a piece of cloth.
We all know of India’s love of jewels. Therefore, it was important to include a label that creates beautiful designs with precious materials. Pippa Small is an artisanal and ethically sourced jewellery brand that sells over the world – and one of her main workshops is in India. And what Indian fashion exhibit would be complete without the pashmina shawl? Kashmir has long been known for its fine embroidered pashmina shawls. British textile historian Jenny Housego teamed up with Asaf Ali and his brothers who come from Srinagar to start Kashmir Loom that helped revive this age-old textile, but also gave it a new and very modern point of view. The pop-up has been curated to ensure you really are able to have a good dip into the vastness and the beauty of contemporary Indian style.
LM: And do tell us briefly about some of those designers – how do they differ from each other?
SA: One of the labels showing at the “All Things India” boutique is Khosla Jani. Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla are one of India’s best-known fashion houses and pioneers of high fashion. When they started over 30 years ago, they were among first designers to show collections on the runway and to present seasonal collections. In the 90s they were known as “The Boys”, they gave many traditional embroideries form a new lease of life. Showcasing at Bicester Village’s “All Things India” is Khosla Jani, their international label.
And there is Manish Arora, probably Indian’s best-known designer internationally. Manish spends time between Paris and Delhi and has been showing at Paris Fashion Week since 2007 – he loves to celebrate the more colourful and dramatic side of Indian fashion. His fashion shows are true theatre. His distinct flamboyance that is rooted in India’s love of all things bold and beautiful has meant the designer has over 60 collaborations under his belt ranging from MAC to Reebok.
Then as I mentioned are the young guns, the ones to watch for. These include Dhruv Kapoor and Huemn, both recent winners of Vogue India’s Fashion Fund and Kanika Goyal who just appeared on Forbes India “30 under 30” list. I call them the cool kids of India – their fashion is more street-style.
I am excited to meet Shivam Puniya, the New York-based founder of Behno. He started this label after the 2013 Rana Plaza garment tragedy in Bangladesh and is all about responsible fashion. Behno has a very pared down and elegant take on fashion.
LM: Where does Indian fashion stand with the rest of the world? Is it unique?
SA: It really is unique. It of course well known for its textiles and craftsmanship which is why European fashion houses such as Gucci and Valentino rely on the Indian artisans for their creations. Thanks to this heritage of fine embroideries and textiles, India acts as a muse to many international fashion brands, and do look out for the collections by Temperley and Ba&sh that are inspired by Indian prints at their stores in Bicester Village.
But what makes India unique is that it one of the few countries left in the world where traditional fashion is still part of your everyday wardrobe and costume. That is because Indian fashion evolves. From the zip-up sari to the kurta-tunic top, “Indian Modern” fashion is all about clothes that are relevant to today’s lifestyle, but still draw from the fabulous heritage of India.
LM: Do tell us about your own fashion journey and how you got involved?
SA: I went to India having being brought up in England for a “gap” year after finishing my Masters in journalism from City University, London and ended up staying for almost twenty years. I actually started as a business journalist and used to spend my weekends scouring the textile markets of Mumbai. I fell in love with textile and craftsmanship that you find in India. It was the stories behind the textiles and craft that intrigued me. This prompted me to leave my first job at a business magazine join a daily newspaper. I started at Indian Express as a staff writer and left as the paper’s fashion columnist, and was one of the first journalists to specialise in fashion in India.
I worked at various publications after that including ELLE, the first international fashion magazine to launch in India and even crossed over to PR working with brands such as Gucci and Jimmy Choo before becoming the founding editor of Harper’s Bazaar India. In between all of this, I took almost a year out to take some fashion courses at New York’s FIT, to ensure I knew the fundamentals of fashion.
LM: What do you hope Celebrating India will achieve?
SA: I would love to see it become a regular feature on the Bicester Village calendar. India has so much to offer this really is just a “tasting menu”.
Bicester Village – Where and How?
Bicester Village is located at 50 Pingle Drive, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX26 6WD, United Kingdom.