Indian Couturiers Continue To Ignore Size Inclusivity On The Ramp. What Will It Take To Move The Needle?

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Conversations around size, inclusivity and diversity aren’t a recent phenomenon in the Indian fashion industry. Over the last couple of years, dialogues around this subject have taken social media by storm. The result? We saw an obvious shift in the way the design fraternity approached their collections as well as campaigns. From full-figured and gender-neutral models like Varshita Thatvarthi, Appoorva Rampal and Rabanne Victor leading the charge for Sabyasachi to jewellery designer and body positivity champion Nitya Arora becoming the poster girl for couturier Gaurav Gupta—the change was set in motion.

Last season, after over 2 years of being confined to digital shows, FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week returned to a physical format. While making a big and splashy comeback, the platform consciously opened the door for individuals who didn’t fit the cookie-cutter mould of what a model is supposed to look like. It was refreshing to see individuals of various sizes, all ages, of every colour, height and gender being represented, as opposed to watching an unrealistic pool of perfect-looking models with chiselled jawlines and abs parading in designer clothes that bear zero resemblance with to real people and the one with the buying power.

 

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Recently, India Couture Week completed 15 years in the industry. In the lieu of this milestone celebration, 13 leading design houses, showcased their latest couture collections. After making a collective wave with Lakmé Fashion Week under the ready-to-wear segment, a similar reflective change was anticipated during couture week. But to everyone’s disappointment (especially mine), inclusivity was missing- a glaring misstep in today’s time where fashion houses hope (and claim) to be democratic. Barring a few exceptions- designers like Kunal Rawal, Amit Aggarwal and Siddartha Tytler walked the talk- representation on the ramp was sorely missed.

Influencer Sakshi Sindhwani became the first inclusive model to walk the runway for India Couture Week in 15 years. She took the centre stage for 3 designers—Amit Aggarwal, Siddartha Tytler and Rohit Gandhi Rahul Khanna. After watching Sindhwani alone being cast in multiple shows, we reached out to a wider group of models for a comment on their absence from the catwalk. Turns out, inclusivity in during couture shows might have been mere lip service, a bandwagon that has chugged past its purpose of garnering eyeballs and now is being ignored.  Most models we spoke to (wary of disclosing their names, of course) said they weren’t even approached in the first place.

Curious about this tokenistic spectacle, we spoke to the girl-of-the-moment for her view on the matter and were pleasantly surprised. “As per my understanding, regular fashion weeks and couture weeks are planned differently, but yes, we do lack representation. Since couture week has been looked at differently for so long, the changes will take time. But for me, even this small step is a big win in the right direction. Owing to my large social media following, I was brave enough to approach the designers to let me walk for their show and it took me to break those initial barriers, which I was more than happy to do,” shared Sindhwani. Props to the social media star for initiating this change, but should the onus of inclusive representation have fallen on the shoulders of the model, as opposed to the organisers and the designers? The question remains.

Credits where it’s due, Sindhwani shed the light on how she wasn’t the only flag bearer of representation this season, as designer Amit Aggarwal beautifully integrated the LGBTQ+ community in his magnificent couture show. Drag artists and gender binaries like Prateek Sachdeva (bettanaanstop) and Sushant Divgikr (Rani KoHEnur) were dressed in his iridescent couture, giving them a spot in the limelight.

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Celebrating a decade in the industry, the couturier pushed the envelope in terms of technique, design and choice of muses. “When I create for Amit Aggarwal, I don’t think I have a typical image of a muse in my mind. There is certainly an ideology and understanding which transcends from the form of the human body to their preferences to how they define themselves. The undefined nature of things also excites me and that brings a new life to what we create as a brand. Another reason for the diverse casting was also to experiment with how variables of clothing with the variables of the ever-evolving human race, bring fashion to new light,” added Amit.

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Known for dressing Bollywood’s dapper debonair, Kunal Rawal is one of the few designers who redefined the meaning of inclusive when it comes to menswear and genderless couture. His presentation this season mirrored real people and real body types. The lineup included body-positive men, sans the shredded frame. “I take inspiration from people around me, and it needs to reflect in my clothes. A Kunal Rawal model is anyone and everyone who has the confidence to carry my designs—then why limit it to a certain section of the society? It’s about time we make couture that is less aspirational and more wearable for everyone,” expressed Kunal, when asked about his vision for the brand during our telephonic interview a few months ago.

 

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Some may argue, that two steps forwards and one step backwards is still one step forward in the right direction. But how do we get out of a constant conversation loop if we don’t see it materialising in action? According to Forbes India, the plus-size market is predicted to account for 12% of the overall fashion segment and is expected to increase at a rate of 25% per year for the next five years. While e-commerce giants like Myntra and Nykaa are making the most of it, couture design houses are yet to play catch up. A year ago, Dr. Tanya (@dr_cueterus) more popularly known as the millennial doctor spoke about the dilemma of being a plus-size bride and the lack of options in the bridal market. Ever since, many young girls have come forward with similar problems while bridal shopping, in addition to paying something called the ‘fat tax’—the extra amount paid for an outfit beyond a certain size.

Today, if 10 out of the 13 designers showcasing at couture week choose to display their designs on only a certain kind of women/model, what overall message does this give to young women? You may custom-design for a bride catering to her size, but you’re taking away the option from her to choose because all your existing ensembles are of a certain sample size. Entering a large sprawling store and not being able to wear a single outfit due to lack of size is not a problem we need to have in 2022. If neither the fear of a social media uproar nor the guarantee of it being a commercially viable decision can convince designers to broaden their horizons, what will it take for them to move the needle?

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