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Last Updated: Friday, 18 July, 2003, 04:42 GMT 05:42 UK
Indian fashion eyes international appeal
By Nyay Bhushan
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Indian fashion has been attracting international attention for some time. But as the fourth Lakme India Fashion Week begins in Bombay, many are asking whether this interest will translate into business.

The event is an attempt at giving the still nascent Indian fashion design industry a serious corporate structure and to attract both local and international buyers of Indian designer wear.

Cherie Blair and Tony Blair
Cherie Blair has embraced Indian fashions
At this year's Fashion Week - run by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) - 58 designers will showcase their collections in shows featuring more than 50 of the country's leading models.

Leading designers include Rohit Bal, Raghavendra Rathore, Tarun Tahiliani, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Ritu Kumar in an event expected to attract more than 15,000 visitors.

FDCI executive director Vinod Kaul says the Indian fashion industry is making global inroads.

"Two years ago, representatives from [UK store] Selfridges came for Fashion Week which led to the immensely successful Bollywood promotion last summer.

"This year, one of our expected important guests is the President of Celine [a major French fashion house] from the French luxury group LVMH."

But observers wonder how international attention will translate into business.

Growing interest

Amber Tikari, deputy fashion editor at the Indian edition of Elle Magazine says: "Last year was England's Bollywood summer and Selfridges capitalized on that. But since then, how many Indian designers have had regular orders from such stores?"

I think it will be a while before India Fashion Week gets serious coverage
Amber Tikari
Elle India edition deputy editor
The Indian clothing industry is estimated to be worth $12bn - half of it exports.

But the fashion design industry is still nascent and is estimated to be worth around $50m.

However, Mr Kaul feels that the industry has potential, and points to the fact that the number of designers exhibiting at the fashion week has increased from around 30 at the first event in Delhi to almost double this year.

'I can't wear it...'

Rohit Bal is one of India's most famous designers and he says the West needs to look at Indian fashion more seriously.

"I mean, Cherie Blair wore a sari the other day but she's not going to wear it every day.

Some critics say there is too much hype over the shows
"Every time I show my clothes in the West, the positive feedback is that 'its beautiful, its like being a princess'.

"But the negative feedback is 'Oh my God, I can't wear that'.

"So we have to convert this negative feedback into them saying 'Oh my God, I want to wear that and I can wear that!'"

Last year, as part of a show for Omega watches, Rohit Bal's creations were modelled on the catwalk in Paris by leading tennis star Anna Kournokiva.

Earlier, Bal's creations were modelled by Pamela Anderson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

Glamour-struck

But industry opinion is still divided over the importance of India Fashion Week.

Since it started, there has always been a tussle between the event being hosted between Delhi and Bombay, with both cities having strong designer representation.

Designer Ravi Bajaj feels that the Indian fashion scene still needs to mature and says most fashion events are "still a social circus attracting a lot of media hype".

Indian designers should first establish themselves domestically before they can make any serious international impact
Amber Tikari
Amber Tikari feels that unlike international fashion events, the front rows are usually reserved for socialites and Bollywood celebrities.

"The serious journalists should be in the front row as is the trend worldwide," she says.

"I think it will be a while before India Fashion Week gets serious coverage instead of the current glamour-struck coverage seen in most media."

However, some designers have started attracting corporate attention in a bid to tap into the huge domestic market.

Leading textile group Raymond's has started an exclusive chain of designer stores - called Be - that stock creations by Rohit Bal and other designers.

"Indian designers should first establish themselves domestically before they can make any serious international impact," says Tikari.




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