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South Asia
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Friday December 15, 2017
Cover Theme: Fashion Shows
On The Runway
Vol: 1 Num: 3    Summer 2006
South Asian fashion shows are increasing in number but they still haven’t reached a level where they can attract audience on their own.

Early in April this year, when model Carol Gracias walked on the runway during the Mumbai Fashion Week, she created a little controversy and titillated audience across India when her halter top slipped exposing her breasts. Another model’s skirt zip split baring her bottom. Political party Shiv Sena was enraged and called for an investigation accusing organizers of planning the wardrobe malfunction.

Fashion shows in Indiado not go un-noticed. No doubt, they have reached an international status out there, whereas in South Asian communities in North America, the concept is still new. It is just gaining recognition as more and more South Asian boutiques are opening and many designers with desi roots are introducing their own labels and designing new lines.

Many South Asian designers are targeting the mainstream consumers with western styled designs. Many others are targeting South Asian American segment with fusion designs. These designers exhibit their collections through fashion shows, private viewings and trunk shows. They use fashion shows to reach out to their target market segments as well as to introduce new lines of clothes.

In places like, Toronto, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Bay Area, where the concentration of desi population is highest, as many as 10 fashion shows can take place in a given year. These shows usually occur as part of a larger event because it is still financially not viable to organize a standalone shows due to lack of sufficient market potential. Most popular events for hosting fashion shows are the bridal shows, as they cater to the largest niche market for South Asian fashion. A fashion show forms an important part of a bridal show and showcases outfits, jewelry and other items exhibited by the vendors in the bridal show.

“Fashion shows are part of our Dulhan Expo shows, which are typically spread over a large area, where a lot of vendors can come together, hire individual stall and show their wedding related services or products”, says Sumit Arya of Dulhan Expo based in New Jersey and adds, “My fashion shows are not only meant for entertainment but also they have a practical aspect. Since the admission is free to Dulhan Expo we make sure that we are able to get value out of the fashion shows in terms of publicity. If I use onstage singers for a fashion show, then it is not only to attract a larger audience but also to give models a break and time to change into other outfits.” The vendors, who participate in the Dulhan Expo provide the outfits and accessories worn by the models. For a small fee, they can also display their outfits, jewelry or henna.

Bridal shows like Dulhan Expo are being held all over the country. Almost all major cities in the USAwith significant desi population have niche wedding planning companies organizing such events, which have become an integral part of South Asian wedding market. The fashion shows play critical role in the success of these bridal shows.

Other event planning companies too use fashion shows within their bigger events. “We try to put together a fashion show within another major crowd-pulling event as the South Asian fashion shows still have not reached a level where they can attract audience on their own merits”, says Aash Shravah CEOof Intense Online, a 12 year old event production and marketing company. Events produced by Intense Online mixes fashion with entertainment. One such upcoming event, Rhythm Runway, is billed as an evening of fashion and music and features designs by Nirali of New York and live performances by Raghav, Tina Sughandh and student dance teams from US colleges. The show is planned to be quite unique, says Shravah, “Unlike a typical fashion event, where models walk down the ramp, in this show the designer, Nirali, will dress the performers in her outfits and onstage dances will wear her creations, which she calls competitive dance wears”.

Fashion shows can bring pizzazz and glamour to many other types of events too. A runway ramp can spice up a South Asian student events or a professional gathering of South Asians like Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) or Asian American Physician Association (AAPA). “One of the best fashion shows that I ever saw took place at the AAPA, where all the models were flown in from India. It was a very professionally produced show”, says Sarina Jain, of Masala Bhangra fame.

For designers, these shows are vital components of marketing and business development activities. Greater the media exposure, higher the celebrity attendance the better would be their business. Some South Asian designers have reached that stature and get rave reviews in the mainstream media. They gained fame designing mainly Western clothing. Designs of Anand Jon, one such designer, have been called perfect amalgamation of the East and West. His shows features celebrities and socialites and are well featured in fashion circles.

Other designers showcase their collections as part of larger fashion weeks, private viewings, informal fashion shows and trunk shows. A trunk show is a setting where designers bring their stuff and rent out a location for a day or several days and open their collections to the public. This is a preferred promotional activity for many upcoming designers. Participation in large fashion-weeks and shows, on the other hand, could be costly but it also gives greater exposure.

Kavi Kavi, a Canadabased boutique that designs cocktail dresses and other wear has participated in Toronto Fashion Week and Celebrity Gala shows. For these shows Ravika Gupta, of Kavi Kavi, uses models from all sorts of backgrounds and uses popular music to make the statement that their clothes are for everybody. Though, Gupta admits that they use bright colors and have some fusion clothing, which, as she says is due to their Indian ethnicity.

South Asian American fashion shows are increasing in number and frequency, the general consensus, though, is that they have not yet matured. “We are at the very beginning, in terms of quality”, says Arya. “I would like to produce shows that are at par with national or international show, but it has not been possible so far”, Arya added.

One reason for slow growth of talent is the general unresponsive attitude of South Asian Americans. Majority of the early immigrant population wants traditional designs with no new changes, which leaves very limited scope for experimentations. This is slowly changing as the subsequent generations want the new and the latest designs. They are eager to experiment and are willing to go out and try all that is available. Designers like Nirali and Desi Wear are targeting these consumers with their own unique messages engraved on tees and other accessories. This attitude is largely responsible for the increasing demands for new designs.

Setting their eyes to cash-in on this growing segment of the market, the wedding show planners too are developing their own strategies. Arya wants to do an international show with Indian bigwigs like JJ Valaya and Ritu Kumar by the end of this year. “For this show, we plan to raise our standards and are trying to make it a standalone event”, Arya said.

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Chhavi Dublish is a freelance writer based in Edison, New Jersey.

 

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