The last decade has seen the emergence of a unique signature that is sparse on frills but abundant in abstract and academic expressions in fashion. Modern Indian Minimalism-unadulterated by overwhelming embellishments, the hitherto obvious hallmark of most Indian designers-is a language that relies on pattern-cutting, experimentation with yarns, geometry of,The last decade has seen the emergence of a unique signature that is sparse on frills but abundant in abstract and academic expressions in fashion. Modern Indian Minimalism-unadulterated by overwhelming embellishments, the hitherto obvious hallmark of most Indian designers-is a language that relies on pattern-cutting, experimentation with yarns, geometry of shapes, non-figurative design garnishes and unorthodox traditional techniques.Fashion Of QuietudeWhat makes this movement uniquely Indian is the prominent role Indian textiles play in the minimalist designers’ practice. The resurgence of handmade textiles of India in fashion design-with their invaluable cultural, social and environmental narratives-is what makes this industry exciting today. Indian textiles give designers the tactility to explore the relationship between wearer and weave. These young designers, who graduated from pedigreed design schools across the world, use a unique language of design provocations and interventions, to build their oeuvres. They challenge us to shift our perceptions and constantly question our relationship with clothes. Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice, winner of the prestigious International Woolmark Prize 2017/2018 has a penchant, for instance, for finding a symbiosis between disparate inspirations and techniques. Her Woolmark collection took on the 18th century costumes of Indian nautch girls but designed them using modern and minimalist menswear tailoring. Using natural fabrics including hand-woven textiles by artisans in Uttar Pradesh, Antar Agni’s Ujjawal Dubey is adept at splicing and draping monochromatic fabrics; and by almost completely eliminating surface ornamentation he achieves an overall look that is reminiscent of zen enthusiasts, but with oodles of swag.Taking the lead from thoroughbred rule-breakers of senior designers like Rajesh Pratap Singh, Abraham & Thakore, Anamika Khanna among others, these designers do not hesitate to imbue their designs with a rich tapestry of thought and passion. Always looking at a labyrinth of esoteric poets, philosophers, architects, etc., that inspire them, they are perched faraway from the brouhaha of Bollywood muses, so now we see a generation of young designers go to great lengths to create authentic narratives of the cloth. They are the realists of today, addressing the form-function duality with much more academic finesse and design precision than their predecessors.advertisementBut here is the interesting part-amidst this fashion of quietude, there also exists a gargantuan wedding fashion industry that spikes up the excess scale, exposing the fashion bipolarity in India today.Excess drowns minimalismThe wedding blitzkrieg that hit India in the last one year with the mega brides- Priyanka Chopra, Isha Ambani Piramal, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma, and the way they enthralled Indians world-wide, is demonstrative of India’s increasing obsession with cinematic nuptials, in and out of movie theatres. Weddings today feed into the extravagant mix of tradition, aspiration and modern affluence, accounting for the business of marriage to be a whopping $40-50 billion per annum according to a recent KPMG report. Also, with 50 percent of Indians being below the age of 29, the wedding industry is not only a lucrative business, it is also a massive canvas for Indian designers to test their design sensibility for a generation of women who are becoming increasingly liberal, emancipated and experimental. Designers Rakesh Thakore and David Abraham have always been known for their mindful designs. Photo by M Zhazo CULT OF EXCESS? The wedding industry is a massive canvas for Indian designers to test their design sensibility for a generation of women who are becoming increasingly liberal, emancipated and experimental. A model sports a Rahul Mishra jacket rich in craftsmanship and technique. Photo by Shriya Patil ShindeSabyasachi Mukherjee, the retro-revivalist designer, is at the forefront of this bridal extravaganza of design. From sexing-up the bride with Kamasutra-esque deep décolletage to his homage to spectacular traditional crafts-he has women world-over squealing in delight with every collection. When Quantico actress Priyanka Chopra and singer Nick Jonas tied the knot in Udaipur, the actress shared some well-orchestrated photos to her 35.7 million Instagram followers, dressed in a bespoke Sabyasachi Kanauj rose lehenga with intricate French embroidery and fine sequin work that took 3,720 man-hours and 110 embroiderers from Kolkata to create. Of course, it went viral.On the other hand, artist-designer Payal Khandwala, is popular among the non-conformists in wedding celebrations, but who want to look, what she calls-‘Indian modern’. In her refined assemblage of blazing colours, she evokes the mantra ‘fierce and feminine’ that pretty much sums up the women who grew up in the #MeToo generation.Rahul Mishra has seamlessly transferred his nuanced Indian craftsmanship, displayed in Paris Fashion Week every year, to the bridal ensembles of India. “We employ our signature 3D hand embroidered, hand-cut and hand-appliqué style. We use a huge bouquet of embroidery techniques like zardozi, French knots, aari, appliqué and the shading on the flowers is done by using ‘Farishe ka Kaam'” says Mishra.advertisementWhat this means, is that bridal-wear is becoming one of the biggest champions of craft in India. However literally they may be executed, the notions of what opulence means is seeing a paradigm shift-from cheap crystals and garish embellishments to culturally rich handicraft, from different corners of India, which become prized heirloom pieces.Fashion through a gender lensFor aeons, gender identity has been at the centre of fashion’s dialogue. And the last decade has seen the complete overhaul of it. It would be an understatement to say that the history of modern Indian fashion can be traced through the gay lens. This incredibly talented community of Indians, marginalised and living in a grey area of don’t-ask-don’t-tell thus far, has nonetheless played one of the most powerful roles in the fashion industry. They have been at the forefront of creating the alternative, the outré, the swag of fashion as we know it today.Fashion has played a particularly important role, in disseminating very personal, yet powerful messages about egalitarianism and diversity through clothes. Whether it was lead via androgynous clothes or gender fluid designs, or through LGBTQ+ models on the ramp-fashion has always been a place to make subtle pleas to uphold the dignity of the rainbow flag.Today, show after show, we see bold tributes being raised to uphold its sanctity. Chola’s head designer, Sohaya Mishra, fearlessly creates a platform on the ramp for those who are not seemingly accepted. Her “Bye Felicia” fashion show had models and LGBTQ community activists dressed as drag queens, wearing Chola’s latest collection. Whether its gimmicky or not, is a matter of opinion. But to have the faces of the LGBTQ+ movement represented visually right up-front on the ramp is exemplary.Global popular culture has played a pivotal role in opening doors and minds. Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, the TV series Transparent and Call Me Caitlyn were paradigm shifting milestones. Gender prejudice is a thing of the past. Huemn plays this out beautifully with their gender-fluid collections. As a luxe-street meets athletic-leisure brand, it is known to play the zeitgeist card well. It’s last collection was a tribute to the blurring of the male-female binary and broadening the playing field for inclusivity. Photo by M ZhazoThe sustainability questionBy far the biggest change in fashion is coming from the global dialogue on sustainability. Just weeks ago, the United Nations announced the launch of UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion in Nairobi, an effort to bring all the stakeholders of fashion, including NGOs, activists and institutions, etc, to create a cohesive blueprint and address the environmental issues festered by fashion. And countries like India are coming under the microscope because of the sheer manufacturing power it wields. So when Lakme Fashion Week joined hands with the United Nations, to launch the first Circular Design Challenge-it was certainly the need of the hour. This was a sign of things to come: sustainable fashion is priority.advertisement Photograph by Shriya Patil ShindeThe “2017 Global Online Consumer Report” published by KPMG surveyed thousands of people in 50 countries and noted that people no longer “go” shopping, but literally “are” shopping every minute online with their smartphones. This shopping frenzy has resulted in 34 million shipping containers (with a standard length of 20ft) being carted around the world every year. Way back in 1915, German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin called this CBD (compulsive buying disorder) aka oniomania or “buying mania”.Designers in India are beginning to question the consumer’s obsession with novelty. The younger designers, especially ones who are studying sustainable design practices, understand that if they continue to follow linear system of “take-make-waste”, their business will not be able to sustain itself, leave alone the environment. While iconic Indian brands like Arvind Mills and Good Earth are leading the way for sustainable business practices, the relatively new brands in India are also jumping onto the green bandwagon. I Was A Sari is a eco-ethical brand that upcycles pre-loved, used sarees, converting them into very hip, contemporary clothes.For Seerat Virdi, founder of Miesu, ‘wear and re-wear’ is crucial not only to her ideology but her design practice. Her clothes made from fashion waste, can be worn in multiple ways, allowing for clothes to sit in your closet longer (if not forever), instead of being dumped in a landfill. Bareek by Aman Singh makes sure his natty button-down shirts, in cotton or khadi, are created on a non-mechanised loom, and always woven by an artisan. Doodlage by Kriti Tula believes in the ‘scrap to fab’ fashion practice that allows her to upcycle fashion material waste into new garments that are worthy to be on the ramp. “Fast-fashion consumerism is a fairly new concept in India,” she says. “We were given hand-me-downs while growing up. We always did something with useless clothing; used loose or tight clothing by altering them. Growing up this way, I’ve always lived consciously.In many ways fashion has come full circle as Indian designers create their own language, drawing on the best of the past and looking to the future.Bandana Tewari is a lifestyle journalist and sustainability activist. She is a columnist for The Business of Fashion website and was Vogue India’s Editor-at-Large for 13 years.