Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fusion links eastern and western looks

South Asian influences add to North American couture

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FASHION QUESTION: When you see a woman adorned with a beautiful Indian shawl and multi-coloured bangles, accompanied by a man wearing a Nehru jacket, what part of the world are you in?

 

Most people would likely answer South Asia.

But, increasingly, the fashions traditionally linked to countries such as India are seen on the streets of Canada and the United States, worn proudly by people without a South Asian background.

Indian fashion can no longer be described as merely ethnic attire.

 

Today, the fashion industry displays many noteworthy influences that point to India. Designers of South Asian descent such as Rachel Roy, Amrita Singh and Anu Raina are making considerable impact in North American fashion circles.

Writer Pooja Kansal of browngirlmagazine.com says "it's likely that Roy's bold creations are partly inspired by her half-Indian roots. In addition to the same jewel tones that populate Indian bazaars, gold-embellished sandals and multi-coloured stone jewelry also have a place in Roy's collections."

Her collections are available in mainstream North American stores such as the Hudson's Bay and Macy's.

Since 2003, Amrita Singh, who is based in New York City and is an up-and-coming name in the world of accessories, has designed jewelry that reflect an east-west fusion. That includes the Maharaja Collection, which is fine jewelry influenced by the opulence of India's Mughal Empire.

Singh has extended her company to include sandals, handbags, scarves and even home decor -- much of which highlight an Indian theme. Her most recent line is the Holi Collection, which is inspired by the colourful Hindu festival and celebration of spring. Her growing popularity in North America is evidenced by her pieces showcased in magazines such as Vogue, In Style and Glamour.

Another South Asian designer on the rise is Anu Raina of Toronto. While her line is contemporary, it reflects Indian styles, and Raina is undoubtedly inspired by her cultural roots.

Raina's collection of hand-dyed garments with intricate embroidery are influenced by her childhood in Srinigar, India.

Robin Kay, the president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, dubbed Raina as one of the "hottest upcoming designers in Canada."

One item of clothing that has been adapted passionately in western fashion is the Nehru jacket. The late Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru could not have known his influence would reach into the world of fashion. But indeed, his personal style, from over six decades ago, has become a symbol of elegance and style in today's fashion world, displayed by top designers such as Armani and trendy stores like Zara.

Another prominent adaptation is the Indian shawl, which can be worn by women of all ages. The cashmere version, better known as the pashmina, offers elegance to any outfit. Today, the fact that you can find pashminas for purchase on eBay and YouTube videos showing how to wear an Indian shawl clearly indicate that this staple of eastern attire has been fully integrated into western styles.

The influence of India upon western trends is also apparent in the jewelry industry. Bvlgari, Cartier and Fred Leighton have all reworked India's incorporation of exquisite gems, colourful looks and intricate designs into their own creations. At mega-events like the Academy Awards, it is common to see Hollywood starlets dripping in jewelry with Indian accents.

At the same time, the Indian influence extends to everyday wear that includes jewelled cuffs, multi-coloured bangles and shimmering, over-sized earrings.

Today, there are numerous South Asian magazines, such as Anokhi, Lavish Dulhan and Suhaag, flourishing in Canada and the U.S.

The fusion of east and west is about crossing boundaries and embracing differences so that we are inspired to venture beyond our comfort zone and expand our curiosity and creativity.

 

Romona Goomansingh, PhD, has taught at the faculty of education at University of Manitoba and is involved with multicultural and community work within Winnipeg's South Asian community and the city at-large.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 D17

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