COLLECTIONS Anamika Khanna
Anamika Khanna’s show at Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2015 had that buzz of an exciting cultural event coming to town. After all, she is seen as cerebral and sartorial in equal measure. Besides, her collection was to be showcased, deservedly, in the revered and cherished Bhau Daji Lad Museum, a jewel tucked within the urban mess that is Byculla.
This was meant to be a great thing. That the Kolkata-based Khanna could find a comrade in a cultural colossal like Bhau Daji Lad Museum was delightful enough. But to have a heritage government-owned building open its doors to the popular culture of fashion—an industry mocked for its fluff and seldom recognized for its cultural significance—had the possibility of creating a paradigm shift.
But of course, as we all know, few hours before the show, the infamous right wing ‘cultural police’ literally and figuratively slammed the museum door on fashion’s face. As the threat of 300 hoodlams who could vandalize the museum escalated, the fashion show moved to the lobby of the Palladium Hotel.
The fact is we don’t need to look far to see how regressive this move is. Fashion weeks in Paris, New York, London and Milan constantly engage historical public spaces, museums, galleries and opera houses to showcase top designers’ collections inside the illustrious corridors and halls of state-owned heritage behemoths. Zac Posen at Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Station; Victoria Beckham at New York Public Library, Christian Dior at Musée Rodin;
Stella McCartney at the Opera in Paris, Topshop Unique at Tate Modern and many more. Sociologists tell us that culture is a living organism that needs to mutate and adapt. But since notions of Indian culture are as divided as a hydra-headed monster, fashion is always kicked to the curb like a stepchild and bullied easily into silence. To be shown the door like you are tainting the sanctity of Indian art and culture is not only denigrating a thriving artistic community of designers, but it’s also saying— it’s OK to allow an absurd hierarchy to exist in creative disciplines.
Well, the good news is Anamika Khanna proved that good design is good design, no matter where you show it. This is the strength of this quiet designer whose fit and flounce of Indian silhouettes is an act of re-imagining the tried and tested, but within a modern context. This natural progression of reinvention is what makes Indian clothes the first choice, whether worn on the ramp, or road. Will the kaftan, sari, choli, duppatta, lehenga, etc. ever go out of flavor in India? No, not if designers like Anamika Khanna find innovative ways of playing with the accoutrements of Indian design—embellishments, texturing, draping, etc.
It takes a lot of courage to deconstruct ensembles that have pervaded our collective memory for eons. But when Khanna re-imagines a sari blouse like an embellished tee that allows the wearer to style it in the way she chooses—over a skirt or pant—it is an example of the versatility of each and every garment she presented that can be worn many times over with many types of clothes. Whether with separates, or layered with western or eastern clothes, she seems to say ‘there is no need to propagate head-to-toe Anamika Khanna’. She encourages women to inject their own unique personality into the curation of their own ensembles. Each design came from a traditional space, but lost enough restraint to make for a noticeable change.
If I had to put Khanna in an international context, I would say, imagine if Azzedine Alaia were asked to reimagine the Indian silhouettes and take those calculated risks he’s renowned for, he’d probably come up with something similar.