Desi glam at NYFW

Abid Haque | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 16, 2016







At the recently concluded New York Fashion Week, two designers make ‘Indian-American’ a style mantra, and not just an identity

Thousands of miles away from the highly intricate lehengas, saris, and anarkalis of home, Indian-American designers in New York City are steadily gaining ground (and critical acclaim) as they present their highly sought after Western-wear collections. With clients ranging from Michelle Obama to Freida Pinto, Indian designers like Naeem Khan and Bibhu Mohapatra continue to encounter great success across the ocean whilst working round-the-clock on their upcoming collections, the most recent of which – Autumn/Winter 2016 – debuted this February at the New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

Keeping it glam

NYFW veteran and industry heavyweight Naeem Khan has had an eventful few years; the red carpet staple and Michelle Obama-favourite presented his Ready-to-Wear collection while simultaneously working towards establishing his new business headquarters in Miami. The Indian-born Khan attributes a significant part of all his collections to his Indian roots, and this upcoming one is no different. “Most of my collection is embroidery, and most of that embroidery is made in India.” The show’s opening look was accentuated by custom-embroidered Louboutin boots. When I spoke to Khan a few weeks before his show, he was reluctant to share details. Avoiding the risk of ruining the surprise for his many adoring fans and customers, he didn’t share many specifics about his collection. “I am very excited. It is a homage to the heritage of New York, the history of New York, and the great social women of New York,” he stated.

It didn’t disappoint. Gorgeous gowns in myriad colours made from the most luxurious fabrics made Khan’s show seem like a fairytale. Speaking about his inspiration, Khan mentions how a lot of it comes from his “rich culture” and his family’s century-long history in the embroidery business, which he continues to work with.

And the showstopper? Trinity Faith Moran, an eleven-year-old girl battling a life-threatening illness, whose dream was to walk the runway during Fashion Week. Khan designed a custom dress with Moran, had it made, and she strutted down the runway alongside Khan to rounds of applause. As 2016 progresses, Khan plans to build on his growing popularity in South America but even as he takes his brand to those far shores, he mentions that he’s constantly keeping an eye out for the right strategic partner for expanding his business to India. It may just only be a matter of time before we see Khan surprising us with his jaw-dropping designs at Lakme Fashion Week.

To China and back

Immediately after Khan’s noontime show was that of fellow Indian-American, Bibhu Mohapatra, and the inspiration of choice was the last Chinese empress Cixi, and the dragonfly. Unlike Khan’s refined, feminine offering, Mohapatra’s outfits were distinctly more aggressive. Attempting to follow the trend of merging femininity with power dressing, Mohapatra’s offering was quite the mix of outfits. Fur coats, high slits, and chokers all made their debut on his runway, alongside Forevermark Jewellers from India. Many of the models, wearing the famous red-soled Louboutins, sported standout black leather chokers and “skin graft hosiery”. While there were no direct ‘Indian’ influences on the outfits, Mohapatra’s collection of 42 looks featured breathtaking embroidery work and exotic furs.

Furs in shades of blue, military inspired dresses in green, and black lace sleeves made Mohapatra's garments ideal for the woman who's ready to take a fresh, new approach to Fall. And the crowd favourite? His colour block pieces. They debuted to audible wows and gasps of wonderment.

Also in attendance was fellow Indian-American (jewellery) designer, Waris Ahluwalia, and author Salman Rushdie.

With close to $900 million in economic impact and over 230,00 visitors, NYFW is one of the world’s most anticipated events and the first week of fashion shows in the now highly Instagrammed ‘Fashion Month’. As we, members of the general public, eagerly scroll through the countless Fashion Week photos from our favourite social media sources such as Facebook and Instagram, remember to look for the breathtaking work of these Indian designers; their heritage will shine through.

Yes the clothes are western and have a broad spectrum of influences, but their customer is international. With bold colours, unique silhouettes, and superior craftsmanship, each Indian-American designer’s collection is genuine. And why? Because they remain true to their Indian roots – they work with their families; they visit India often, and they don’t deliberate about how they incorporate India into their lives, it’s seamless. So these designers are much like their clothes: American by day, but with a dash of India at all times.

Abid Haque is a writer based in Washington, D.C.

Published on March 16, 2016
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