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Indo-West Fashion: Origins, Controversies, and the Contemporary

Fashion moves fast, and movements and trends today have started embracing ‘indo-west’ aesthetics. But what does this mean? And is it just a buzzword? In this blog post we explore this a little more —

Indo-west fashion is a type of fusion-fashion that celebrates the beauty and melding of two aesthetics — encouraging a creativity that transcends borders. While the origins of ‘indo-west’ fashion are dubious — the strict separation of ‘Indian’ and ‘western’ is perhaps a construct that cannot be easily delineated.

In the 60’s and 70’s as India entered the ‘golden age of cinema’, we see a movement of fashions between cultures. This is perhaps best exemplified in the Sharmila Tagore and Shammi Kapoor 1967 film, ‘An Evening in Paris’. Tagore’s wardrobe and make-up choices are the first thing that come to mind when remembering the film — and in fact these trends have influenced the film industry even today. Tagore’s aesthetics in the film - an iconic black dress, bold winged liner, her accessories … straddle and blur the lines between fashions and cultures.

As indo-west fashion began to become more and more popular — it was not without its controversies. And when exploring the movement, questions of appropriation, ownership, and orientalism need to be addressed. In 2011, Karl Lagerfeld the late creative director of Chanel, created the Paris-Bombay Metiers d’art collection. Lagerfeld was quoted as saying, 'It’s a concept of India. More Chanel than India. The Parisian version of an India that doesn’t exist”.

‘Indo-chic’ and ‘Asian Cool’ more generally exemplify a particular set of historical conjectures and social anxieties — what Somini Sengupta refers to as “late capital orientalism”. The image that most clearly exemplified the emergence of this late 1990’s Indo-chic orientalism was superchameleon Madonna’s 1998 MTV Awards appearance. Singing the single ‘Frozen’ from her album, ‘Ray of Light’ Madonna performed pseudo-Bharatnatyam moves with Henna painted hands. By highlighting this particular example, Sengupta highlights the way in which ‘Indo-chic’ becomes an orientalist trope in the nineties, that at once makes visible a highly exoticised India, while simultaneously, repressing the material relations and nuanced histories that governed India-US relations at the time.

Today the term ‘Indo-west’ fashion refers to many things, and indeed is exemplified in many aspects of the fashion and aesthetics that we see and consume in the mainstream. Indo-west as it is understood, is a core part of our aesthetics at Sonya Sapru Designs. In fact one of our first designs — our collection of stoles, was inspired by this movement, and has continued to be one of our most popular products. For us, fashion has always been about individuality — representing your experiences and travels (within and between cultures) through the clothes you wear.

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