How Hyderabad secretly became India’s newest fashion hub

You’d think that in the world of constant change that is fashion, few things would catch us off guard, least of all the emergence of a new city as a major market. Yet, here is Hyderabad, suddenly centre stage, without ever really having given luxury insiders a word of its arrival.

There has always been chatter about Hyderabad’s potential as a big luxury market, but it grew so quietly, that no one even noticed. Burberry arrived in 2010, so did Zegna, but things paused there for the next few years. Then came a slow dribble of Indian couturiers: Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, Shantanu & Nikhil, Raghavendra Rathore. Local designers started to flourish as well: Anand Kabra, Suhani Pittie, Gaurang Shah, Asmita Marwa, Archana Rao, Anushree Reddy, Jayanti Reddy, Shriya Bhupal—Lakmé Fashion Week was awash with Hyderabadis. This March, Ogaan, one of India’s best-known multi-designer fashion destinations, opened in the city.

The Hyderabad story, then, had been in the works for almost a decade, and it took Ogaan a broad sweep of its new market, observing both younger and legacy labels fly off the shelves, to alert the industry to it. Hyderabad had come of age as a fashion market and deserved our attention. 

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On Deepti: Organza sari and blouse, Rs 1,23,200, Anamika Khanna at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Leather heels, Deepti’s own.

It’s a fact borne out by some of the city’s influencers. Deepti Reddy has been at the forefront of change since 2002, when she launched Hyderabad’s most successful city magazine, Wow! Hyderabad. A design aficionado, she also founded fashion and design store The Project, and was responsible for the design hotel Avasa. “The shift started five years ago, but there has been a detectable acceptance of trendier clothing and a broadening of the fashion canvas in the past two years. That’s what’s fun for us. Earlier, we would have to wear either a sari or a salwar kameez; and God forbid, our ankles or collarbones showed! But the new acceptance of a little more skin-show allows us to have a greater variety of silhouettes and therefore, many different designers,” says Deepti.

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From left, on Jayanti: Cotton and silk dress, Rs 19,950, Payal Pratap at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Sequinned shoes, Jayanti’s own. On Dia: Cotton dress, Rs 13,800, Bodice by Ruchika Sachdeva at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Suede shoes and gold bracelets; all Dia’s own.

The wedding market has been a surprising avenue of this change. First, huge wedding spends have brought the couture market to the city. Second, there are now a whole new set of events—the cocktail party, the friends’ night and even destination nuptials with their beach-y dress codes—that beg dresses and gowns. Western wear, as a result, is now legitimate occasion wear. “Hyderabad is slowly catching up with Delhi and Mumbai,” says Jayanti Reddy. The self-taught designer who set up her label six years ago and regularly shows her signature modern mix of Indian textile and craft at Lakmé Fashion Week, reveals another dimension to the city’s fashion revolution. “Today, everybody is well-travelled and picking up ideas and trends from all over the world. As a result, people are now far more comfortable experimenting with cutting-edge fashion.”

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From left, on Konidela: Silk pleated cover-up, Rs 15,500, Kiran Uttam Ghosh at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Leather heels, Konidela’s own. On Shriya: Cotton Lycra dress, Rs 13,500, Love Birds at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Suede heels and gold bracelet; both Shriya’s own

Sreeja Konidela, the daughter of movie star and politician Chiranjeevi, studied abroad for years and travels the country frequently. You might imagine she has a wardrobe full of finds from her journeys, but that isn’t the case. “Hyderabad has so many multi-designer stores and still more popping up, that especially for Indian wear, I don’t need to even get out of the city anymore. Earlier, I would travel to Delhi or Mumbai, but now the need to travel to shop is reducing.”

Artist Dia Bhupal appears on many of the country’s most stylish lists, but it’s her presence on the global art scene that is significant. This year, the immersive photographs she takes of elaborate life-sized sets that she creates entirely from recycled paper, have been showcased at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Art Basel in Switzerland, and will be on display at the Lyon Biennale in France this month. She moved from Mumbai to Hyderabad after she got married in 2010. According to her, in Hyderabad, “Fashion consciousness has penetrated everybody’s lives. People are more aware of themselves today. I think of fashion as an extension of my personality—people are now wearing exactly what they like.” 

Social media is one of the key drivers of this new fashion awareness, believes designer Shriya Bhupal. The Parsons School of Design alumna, who has been showing her label Shriya Som at Lakmé Fashion Week since 2015, and is one of the few in the city to do western wear, says, “With Instagram and Facebook, whatever you wear is open for public viewing. Unlike earlier generations, now there’s no hiding your personality.” Along with making the city more fashion-conscious, social media has also provided a platform for its designers.

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From left, on Raju: Net and georgette lehenga (set), Rs 61,600, Arpita Mehta at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Earrings and rings, Raju’s own. On Anushree: Net and georgette kurta, net jacket; both, Rs 2,800, Zoraya at Ogaan, Hyderabad. Earrings, Anushree’s own

According to Anushree Reddy, whose seamless mix of English florals, French colours and Indian design has made her one of the country’s bestselling labels, “If you start a label today, you can showcase yourself through many different avenues. So, as business expands, Hyderabad’s designers are slowly making their mark.” Anushree, whose designs draw inspiration from the city’s rich heritage and skilled craftsmen, believes that Hyderabad is now very fashion-forward. “Everybody knows their designers and collections. You can’t pass off last season’s prints here anymore.”

An example of a Hyderabadi who likes to experiment is Kuchipudi danseuse, actor and businesswoman Sandhya Raju. The classical dancer from Chennai who moved to the city in 2006 after getting married, experiments with her kuchipudi costumes—traditionally strictly prescribed and unchanging ensembles—choosing monotones, pastels and other unusual palettes and silhouettes. “For me, it’s all about looking very effortless, very unique, and trying to find my own personality, which is what I think everybody is trying to do. You could say I’m part of the change.”

Even as we speak, Manish Malhotra is set to open a flagship store in the city, Indian prêt brands like AM:PM have made Hyderabad their market, and international brands like Louis Vuitton are exploring the trunk-show format. Earlier in the year, Cartier held its Concours d’Elegance at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, outside of Delhi and Mumbai for the first time in its nine-year history in the country. According to a report in The Times Of India this March, projected luxury car sales will soon have Hyderabad leading the south Indian market, and will be right behind Delhi and Mumbai on a national scale. And design mammoth Ikea’s first store in India will also debut here next year. So is Hyderabad India’s next fashion capital? “Not the ‘next’,” says Deepti, “It’s already arrived.” 

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