India’s Influence on Global Fashion on Show in Mumbai

MUMBAI — It’s not just about costume or fabric, embroidery or textiles.

In a one-of-a-kind costume exhibition in Mumbai, a 199-rupee, or about $2.50, ticket provides a glimpse into three centuries of global inspiration from Indian textiles and fabrics, bringing with it facets of geography and history. The breadth of styles stemming from this inspiration range from designers including Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior and Schiaparelli to clothes worn by royalty in different parts of the world. Christian Louboutin shoes with phulkari and different Indian inspirations are not forgotten either.

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Spread over 50,000 square feet, the exhibit also connects spatial design with a sensual play of colors and textures on walls and floors. Lights and music heighten the experience, sometimes creating ripples on the floor, at others enhancing the textile-inspired patterns on the walls.

The costumes — brought in from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Royal Ontario Museum, and various private collections — are displayed in 140 different exhibits, split into 10 zones.

This is the inaugural exhibition at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC), a multidisciplinary art space with galleries as well as a theater. The opening brought in celebrities from all over the world, including Gigi Hadid, Zendaya, Tom Holland, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, Deepika Padukone, and others.

Located at the Jio Centre, at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, the costume exhibition, titled “India in Fashion: The Impact of Indian Dress and Textiles on the Fashionable Imagination” also pays tribute to textiles that inspired the world, including chintz and muslin, each of which has a separate section, and the sari, which has the largest section with 26 displays, including a sari inspiration from Chanel in 1953, and sari-inspired dresses by Balenciaga, Givenchy, Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli, Madame Grès, Zandra Rhodes, and Jean Paul Gaultier over the years.

Curated by British fashion writer and editor Hamish Bowles, and inspired by his book of the same name, the exhibition follows the chapters of the book — rather than a chronology of time or location.

Entering the first section, titled “Fascination and Invention,” the first piece is from Alexander McQueen — a dress and leggings and the famed Armadillo boots from the late British designer’s spring 2010 Plato’s Atlantis collection, also remembered from the Lady Gaga video “Bad Romance.”

The walls here are a vivid red.

“What happens in this case is that you’re also looking at multiple brands and a very large historical period, so the beauty of this is it allows you to create different moments in time. When you go into the ideas of each of the spaces they automatically lend themselves in a unique way to create moments which are sometimes disconnected from one another, but yet work cohesively together,” says Rooshad Shroff, who is an architect and visualizer of the exhibition along with Patrick Kinmonth, having been drawn into the project two-and-a-half years ago.

A view of the exhibition. Photo by Mitsun Soni
A view of the exhibition. Photo by Mitsun Soni

“It helps you have a connection, whether it’s historical or contemporary, and also creates different points of view,” he adds.

The section about floral chintz is disarming.

With the title “Gathered in a Mughal Garden,” it is about the impression that floral chintz made on the West, and the popularity of the fabric in the 18th century; the ban on importing it from India, leading to imitations, and a greater demand for the original.

In the fifth section, titled “India’s Allure Meets The Paris Couture: The Influence of India in the Work of Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent,” three rooms show the inspiration for each of these fashion houses, each separated also by color and its architecture.

“Dior uses a lot of gray so we had the gray in there, as well as a lot of crystals. The YSL section was inspired by the Indian stepwell, so the wire mesh kind of feel, which took a lot to create, welding each of the steel pieces together,” Shroff says.

As for the Chanel designs, brocade dresses and bandhgala jackets; an eye-catching tunic and matching shorts, made with silk organza embroidered with velvet and metallic thread, trimmed with metallic braid and sequins from the fall 1968 haute couture collection, and a dress and jacket ensemble in silk and metallic brocade from the fall 1960 haute couture collection are among the many, as well as designs by Chanel’s late creative director Karl Lagerfeld that were inspired by India.

Chanel designs on display in Mumbai. Photo by Mitsun Soni
Chanel designs on display in Mumbai. Photo by Mitsun Soni

Dior had different interpretations of India, from the designer’s Soirée de Lahore evening dress of 1955, to the inspirations of subsequent creative directors Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano and Maria Grazia Chiuri.

A Valentino section with a single outfit showcases the wedding lehnga (the Indian-style gathered long skirt, popular at weddings) created for Isha Mukesh Ambani, the daughter of billionaire Mukesh Ambani, an unusual piece using thousands of crystal beads and lace that took nearly a year from initial design to final creation.

Although Shroff says red was the main color and it’s used predominantly, as is pink, the bursts of color, especially in “The Hippie Trail” section inspired by the freedom and exuberance of the ’60s and ’70s, catch the eye. There are Rudi Gernreich’s bandhani cotton-gauze from 1967; Madame Grès’ evening jumpsuit in silk taffeta from the spring 1979 couture collection, and Thea Porter’s caftan in silk chiffon and Varanasi silk brocade.

Architectural themes play the sections up further.

“The Hippie Trail” is inspired by Jantar Mantar’s observations and buildings in Jaipur and Delhi; the chintz section takes inspiration from the Mughal gardens, and, as Shroff explains, the use of blues synonymous with water, with graphics on the carpet like ripples, further enhance the exhibit.

“The Hippie Trail” section with outfits from Rudi Gernreich and Anamika Khanna. Photo by Mitsun Soni
“The Hippie Trail” section with outfits from Rudi Gernreich and Anamika Khanna. Photo by Mitsun Soni

In the muslin section, the idea of a lily pond inspired the green color.

“In the sari section, which was the boldest section, what we did — there were large vintage prints of different kinds of fabrics, most of them were brocades, different kinds of sari prints which we then blew up to a much larger scale. These were reprinted, made into the carpets and the wall claddings, again playing with the idea of the vintage textiles that are much larger than scale,” Shroff observes.

Windows that allow a juxtaposition and viewing from one section to another add interest.

“One key aspect of the exhibition was that it allowed us to have a viewing from one space into another which is unique in an exhibition layout,” Shroff explains. “Typically you have a linear walk — this one has that too, but it allows you glimpses from one moment to another; for example, like from the chintz you see the Great Exhibition, or from muslin you have a view of the sari section; you actually see another image which is the nawabs from Lucknow who had come to meet the delegates at Versailles at the time. It is the same time when they were wearing muslin clothes.”

There are many stunning visits into history over the exhibit. Two historic 20th century dresses created for Lady Mary Curzon, then Vicereine of India, which were embroidered in India and fashioned in Paris, have come back to India for the first time.

A few Indian designers are featured, too, although the focus is not on Indian designers but the impact of India on global fashion. The Indian designers in the exhibit include Rahul Mishra, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Ritu Kumar, Manish Arora, Anamika Khanna, Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, Anita Dongre, and Manish Arora.

The exhibition is on until June 4.

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