Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week has announced the return of physical fashion shows. And it’s especially relevant to India, as Vaishali S — of the diaphanous, wispy Chanderi and khun fame — is set to showcase its first-ever couture collection, alongside powerhouses such as Chanel, Valentino, Givenchy, Dior, and Schiaparelli.
Vaishali Shadangule, 43, is only the second Indian, after Rahul Mishra, and the first woman designer from India to have her own show on the Haute Couture Calendar. (In 2018, Palak Shah of Ekaya had showcased a collection of ivory textiles as wedding dresses in collaboration with Fédération Française de la Création Couture Sur Mesure at PHCFW — it was a presentation and not a show.)
This is not Shadangule’s first international foray though; she has previously shown at New York Fashion Week and is regularly stocked at boutique designer stores in London and Milan. For her SS21 digital fashion show at Lotus India, she showcased her signature cord technique and abstract silhouettes in Italy — moving from an opening shot outside the Duomo di Milano to the woods in the northern countryside. It was well thought out and quite deliberate because establishing an international presence has been a big part of her strategy for a while now.
Ticket to Paris
Shadangule credits her in-house team of 45 for her decision to apply. After an arduous six-month process (which included several personal interviews), Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the French fashion industry governing body that decides which brands can be called couture, invited her as a ‘Guest Member’ (only French designers can be made permanent members). This means she can now showcase every season on the couture calendar, if she chooses to. Rahul Mishra has shown twice, establishing himself as a serious name in the couture market.
“We had started prepping for the summer 2022 collection, keeping in mind the decision process timelines, but were pleasantly surprised to be invited for AW 21,” shares the designer, who is recovering from a severe bout of Covid-19 herself. Selecting Vaishali S, a brand that focusses on fabrics and Indian weaves, is confirmation that textiles — and not just embroidery or surface textures from the continent — are of international interest right now.
Ramp to rack
For Shadangule, however, textiles have always been the main show. In over 20 years in the business, the designer, who hails from Vidisha, a small town in Madhya Pradesh where Chanderi weaves originate, has worked with, and supported, 900 families of weavers across seven Indian states, including the oft-ignored Northeast.
- Sustainability, circularity and local employment generation are brand manifestos. “I want to first present beautiful clothes. Sustainability is an international term in trend right now, but for India and Indians, it is everyday living.” The process for her starts at yarn selection, collaborating with weavers to get the loom calculation right… engineering new textiles, and only then designing silhouettes. It is work from the ground up. Peek-a-boo layering, a drape fashioned as a pallu have been her signature silhouettes, and we will be seeing versions of these represented in Paris too, “as long as the fabric shows”.
Without wanting to give away much, she says the couture collection includes Merino wool (woven in Maheshwar), pashmina from Kashmir, khand from Karnataka and maybe even some indigenous weaves from West Bengal, in dark tones, as the backbone of her collection. Her signature Chanderi (perhaps more appropriate for summer) may not be the main focus this season but techniques like cording, which she has championed from the beginning, engineered deconstruction and texturing that is inspired by nature will be presented on international waters. The goal: Indian weaves that speak a global language. “International designers use our skills, but we are always behind the scenes. The idea was to put the Indian weave on the highest platform, in its purest form,” she concludes.
Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week is from July 4 to 8.