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India in Fashion

Start Date 02 April 2023
End Date 04 June 2023
Venue Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre
Location Mumbai, India
Curator Hamish Bowles
Designer Patrick Kinmonth and Rooshad Shroff

Founder Nita Ambani’s vision for the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre is one that honours India and its myriad contributions to the liberal arts. Therefore, it feels apt that the launch exhibition in the space of costume arts stems from this very thesis—a concept that is expansive and one that has never been documented in a way that does it justice. The exhibition, titled ‘India in Fashion: The Impact of Indian Dress and Textiles on the Fashionable Imagination’, aims to capture India’s relationship and influence on fashion and style from the 18th century to present day. Curated by one of fashion’s greats, the inimitable Hamish Bowles, this debut exhibition narrates the complex nuances of the country’s representation in the larger lexicon of fashion.

From the Mughal emperors who brought in crafts of chikankari and mukaish to the imperial rule that took Indian crafts to Europe—conquerors and colonists have had a deep impact on the fabric of India. Until the very recent past, though touted for excellence in craftsmanship, Indian ateliers were rarely mentioned in the context of Western fashion. As the industry evolves to be a more diverse space where everyone has a seat at the table, India is at the forefront as an equal player. The inaugural costume arts show sheds light on the complicated relationship India and its legacy of tradition and skill has on the global stage.

From a curatorial perspective, Bowles weaves a map of catalysts and moments that have culminated to the present times. The exhibition traces India’s influence on the international fashion sensibility from the 18th century until present day. Starting from the work of Jean Philippe-Worth—who headed the House of Worth that dressed royalty and celebrities at the turn of the century—to the drapes of Madame Grès and the innovative patterns of Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, it takes the viewer into the mind space of creatives and what they made of a country so rich in cultural heritage, craftsmanship and tradition. Aristocracy in India offered patronage to the arts and the resulting body of work left a lasting impact that we continue to preserve. The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in Hyde Park London, which attracted over six million visitors, is an important point of conversation for this show.

The narrative continues to explore the works of Mainbocher, Paul Poiret, Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior, Zandra Rhodes, Alexander McQueen, Dries van Noten and many others who were inspired by India in their work. Designers like Yves Saint Laurent were particularly fascinated by the country and had entire collections that drew from the vibrancy of the nation. For the first time ever, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has loaned several pieces from its collection, the largest loan in recent history, for this exhibition. Interspersed with these works are pieces from private collections and institutions in India that showcase the changing form of traditional Indian dresses.

The evolving design language of the country and the birth of the contemporary fashion industry is evident in pieces by specially commissioned pieces from veteran Indian designers including Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla, Anamika Khanna, Anuradha Vakil and Manish Malhotra. Couturier Ritu Kumar opens her archives, showcasing a legacy that is unparalleled, while designers such as Tarun Tahiliani and Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango explore the themes of the sari and the gossamer beauty of muslin. Rahul Mishra and Sabyasachi Mukherjee proudly herald a global syntax for ‘designed in India’. Themes of muslin, chintz and the sari are explored in the larger narrative.

The exhibition has been designed by the multihyphenate Patrick Kinmonth, a leader in the space of the arts, along with space and product designer, and celebrated architect Rooshad Shroff. Each space in the exhibition is evocative of the works it houses and has been inspired by a myriad of influences—from Indian art and architecture to landscapes and of course, textiles.