July 28, 2022 FDCI

Into the Wild

The vast Amazon rainforest and its unique character serves as a metaphor for Varun Bahl as couture is back to where it began-simple, reusable, and versatile.

By Asmita Aggarwal

Opera music, flowers, chandeliers twinkling above the Taj Palace Durbar Hall, South star Rashmika Mandanna and influencers on the front row dressed, of course in Varun Bahl, the designer had a winning combination. The excitement for a physical show at ICW 2022 is palpable, after three years going back to the drawing mood, constructing sets, fittings, choreography…. the whole nine yards.  And for Varun Bahl, who has been in the business since 2004, the two words that matter the most today are ‘versatility’ and ‘responsibility’. He has been a champion of reusing and his upcycled collections with patchwork are as popular as his last season’s offbeat denim lehengas.

It is his third season of pushing sustainable clothing within the framework of couture, at the risk of being repetitive, the response has been “phenomenal”. For the designer known for his undying love for florals, Varun has been reiterating how couture must not be confused with wedding dressing. It is celebratory, occasion wear, made-to-measure and individualistic.

The lines have been blurred even in bespoke dressing, if we take a cue from Valentino, unlike in India, where evening wear is still restricted to glitter and glamour, but the world is further simplifying this concept. Varun has been focused on red carpet looks, adding dollops of fun with styling and the vivacity of colour. Liberally embroidered, off shoulder jumpsuits worn with a cape, with an ode to flowers that were peppered everywhere lehengas, skirts, men’s jackets, sherwanis as the flaming reds made a pronounced appearance on an otherwise black palette.  Tone-on-tone embroidery, arrival of the pant-suit in various avatars, exaggerated sleeves to high waisted palazzos, sheer pants and excessive use of feathers, created an atmosphere of pure luxury.

Delicate touches of athleisure could be spotted in his menswear joggers and jerseys, as lace, olive greens and his recycled pieces along with elaborate headdresses made sure the glamour quotient never faded. Gowns came armed with pockets just enough for your smartphone because today that’s all you need today to survive. “GenZ has a unique way of approaching occasion dressing, they can wear a sweatshirt with a lehenga, or even a hoodie and sneakers, exuding confidence, showing off their curves and not really sticking to the prescribed format,” adds Varun.

This ICW, Varun is inspired by the rain forest, going to Amazon, where the rich flora and fauna serves as a motivation for his embroideries, a project he began working on six months ago, promising he will give his next one more time, maybe even a year to plan better and execute brilliantly. “In India, we have skilled craftsmen who effortlessly translate your thoughts into poetry. It is really a magic country, we know we can make things happen here,” he says.

As the FDCI celebrates the 15th year of ICW, so does Varun, and the beauty of his collection is, he can create new things with the same embroideries, whether it is aari or zardozi, beads or dabka. “My worry is, if we don’t uplift the conditions of craftspeople, who are educating their children, the age-old processes will fade away,” he adds.

For ICW, there are also burnt-out velvets and jacquards, being a master of surface ornamentation, the focus is on the fall, and the right choice of the base fabric creates this effect in georgette, tulle and crepe. Varun is now looking at creating his own language through weaving, by initiating a loom in Banaras, a ‘labour of love’, he calls it which will bear fruits soon, so you will see distinct woven wonders in his unmistakable handwriting in the upcoming line.

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