August 8, 2019 Asmita Aggarwal

Wizards of Design

Live piano, six style gurus, fame, awards and a whole lot of mingling made the first historic Couture Hall of Fame awards, by FDCI, a runaway success 

By Asmita Aggarwal

It had all the makings of a blockbuster, film stars, awards, glittering guest list, and a replay of designers embroidered lives with milestone-worthy achievements brought in the spotlight. That’s why the Couture Hall of Fame Awards, the brainchild of the Fashion Design Council of India’s Chairman Sunil Sethi, is one-of-its-kind. It honoured six of India’s finest couturiers from Abu-Sandeep, Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, Shahab Durazi, Suneet Varma to Ritu Kumar.

Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, (the latter is also known for his wry humour with a rather impressive Instagram following), who with their humble offerings of chikankari and swathes of silk, wowed one of the most prominent film families —- the Bachchans. From the youngest Navya Naveli, to the oldest Amitabh Bachchan and everyone in between Aishwarya, Shweta to Abhishek, they all have been AJSK devotees. It seemed apt that the matriarch of the anointed blue bloods Jaya Bachchan gave them the trophy.

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On a night that saw some of the finest names from the fashion world, on a table set for a princely dinner, with Varun Bahl’s four-year-old design company “Aurum” curating the stage for couture presentation along with Sunil Sethi Design Alliance (origami in a glass cube on each table was his idea along with the trophy design). The FDCI Board of Governors held hectic consultations over a month to put the show on the road. “We employed draping techniques used on mannequins onto iron structures to offer grandeur and reflect what is done on a dress or human form in haute couture,” explains Varun Bahl.

It took around 10-15 days, for Aurum (meaning gold) Varun’s event company to create pieces using strands, tassels, chandeliers with silk bows, reminiscent of how yesteryear couturiers like Christian Dior and Balenciaga played with tie-ups. “The decor had to blend with the term couture,” he says, adding, “I love designing spaces, it is quite challenging. Aurum somehow rhymed with Varun and I liked the way it flowed, it seemed so apt. There was a lot of responsibility, we really pushed the envelope, and made sure it didn’t look like a shaadi, but haute couture sit-down, hi-end dinner.”

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As champagne flowed, the “gentleman” designer from Mumbai, who stayed away from both showstoppers in reel and real life, made a quiet entry into public memory, Shahab Durazi. The FIT graduate began his sojourn in the 80s with monochromatic minimalism and the man of few words let Ensemble’s Tina Tahiliani “answer all the questions” by new-mother and emcee Neha Dhupia, who often turned her gaze towards doting husband Angad Bedi sitting in attendance.

And where there are design heads, who have steadily put India on the global map, there has to be some light-hearted banter. Tarun cheekily compared his bank balance to his waistline; Rohit Bal called Mr. Sethi “rock of Gibraltar”, while Sandeep claimed Jaya has been the most gracious client and muse over the years as he steadfastly escaped the questions on who was the toughest Bachchan to dress? Suneet Varma, probably the humblest of them all, remembered buying his mom a sari from Rohit Bal, when he had no money back in the day. Niti Aayog Chairman, the dapper Amitabh Kant proposed a museum of Indian embroideries handing over the award, it was surely a night of travelling down memory’s sequinned lane.

The woman who dressed Ms. Indias to heady aspirants of designer clothing in a high-income middle class fuelled economy, Ritu Kumar, the block print veteran, reviving a lost legacy of crafts, rightly led the country to a design revolution. And no award ceremony is complete without a fashion presentation, so 21 ensembles made their way between white linen, dimly lit, tables of leading luminaries of the fashion universe on the sounds of live piano.

The boy who studied economics worked as an investment banker in New York, gave it all up for Western music and his love for “keys” made sure the guests swayed to his melodies. Like all anxious Indian parents, who aspire for a stable paycheck, his path was made easier to choose when his older brother decided to become a filmmaker. Meet Sahil Vasudeva, son of an intrepid lawyer and textile designer, who remembers being taken to concerts, trips to Delhi School of Music, and waking up listening to Beethoven, thanks to his mom. “I’ve played at fashion week previously in a quartet, but this time they wanted a ‘solo’ and it had to resonate with the celebration of fashion nostalgia, the piano lends to that emotion quite deeply,” says Sahil.

Sahil went in for classical music, from Beethoven and Yann Tierson, the French composer of the film, Amelie, as well as, Philip Glass peppered with his own compositions as trophies were handed over. “The audience for Western classical music doesn’t exist in India, what I’ve been working towards is creating that. How do I perform my music here? Was the question, so I decided to do my own format of presentation, a local narrative, to charm young listeners, who are swayed by Bollywood. I needed to connect with them. They came, but slowly and surely as the music has depth in it,” he concludes.

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