Elegant kaftans, toga dresses and loose pants are fast becoming a must-have in the wardrobes of fashionistas around the world, as the West finally seems to be waking up to the influence of Islamic culture on fashion.
In India, however, Middle Eastern fashions have had a presence on the fashion scene for centuries.
In New Delhi when one walks down the lanes of Chandni Chowk or Balli Maron, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the zari-worked salwars, netted lehengas and intricately designed jootis. The narrow lanes of the old Dilli are always full of excited shoppers, some of whom have even traveled from the suburbs in order to find a good deal.
“Whenever we have time, we go to shop at Chandni Chowk to get the best things at an affordable price,” said Deeba Abrar, a resident of South Delhi.
Priyanka Guha Roy hardly wears any traditional ethnic clothing. However, when she has to buy clothes for her mother, she said she preferred kurtis or sarees from Chandni Chowk or Lajpat Nagar market. “Lot of motifs, especially the geometric ones, are so cool. Nowadays, they are even there on sarees,” she said.
The influence of Islamic culture on clothing and fashion is not limited to the national capital. Various other places such as Lucknow and Kashmir have over the years created their own genre of Indian clothing.
Lucknow specializes in Chikankari embroideries. The work is done on very fine muslin and even on georgette and chiffon. The word chikan comes from the Persian word chakeen, meaning making delicate patterns on the fabric. The art was reportedly introduced by Mughal Empress Noorjahan in India, an expert in embroidery who was inspired by Turkish designs.
Embroiderers often draw inspiration from the beauty of nature. Floral motifs, particularly jasmine, rose, lotus and paisley are the most popular in Indian fashion.
Zardozi is popular in the cities of Hyderabad and Lucknow. It is an ancient Persian embroidery pattern that has been passed down for generations. Intricate patterns in gold and silver studded with pearls and precious stones enhance the beauty of rich and glowing silk, velvet and brocade – a must for any Indian wedding trousseau.
Turkish motifs are popular
On the Indian fashion stage, Middle Eastern and Turkish motifs are a new fad. “With a resurgence of Islamic influence in Turkey, one also sees a growing influence of Islam on fashion,” said Apla Srivastava, a New Delhi-based senior fashion stylist.
Collections by young designers like Zubair Kirmani and Renu Tandon show the influence of Islam on the design and fabric.
“My collections are influenced by movements like Sufism. I also use a lot of geometry in design,” said Kirmani, who comes from Kashmir. His work at the last edition of Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week, or WLFW, New Delhi, was all about deep tones like blue, maroon and copper with black.
Tandon’s WIFW collection, named Mystic. The work has lot of tunics and innovate designs with silhouettes on kaftans. “Though I am targeting customers from the Middle East, my dresses will also appeal to Indians because lots of the motifs are common in both of our cultures,” said Tandon.
Senior fashion designers Rohit Bal and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla have also worked on motifs and embroideries that have major influence of the Islamic culture. Designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have promoted traditional craft forms like Chikankari and Zardozi through their work. They use lots of beads, pearls and precious stones in their embroidery.
Bal, a Kashmiri like Kirmani, is famous for his geometrical motifs and draws inspiration from various Islamic structures. One of his collections was inspired by the ancient city of Constantinople. The characteristic blues of the glazed tiles, as can be admired in the blue mosque of Istanbul, were translated into a range of evening gown silhouettes with volume as well as classic sherwanis, which were richly embellished with arabesque motifs in all shades of turquoise, blue and silver.
As the Indian fashion industry expands, it will be interesting to watch it continue to incorporate a diverse traditional culture with modernity.
Indian fashion glossary:
Salwar: Loose pajama-like trousers.
Lehenga: Colorful swirling skirts
Jootis: Colorful ethnic footwear
Kurta: Loose shirt falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer
Kurti: A shorter version of the kurta
Sari: A strip of unstitched cloth, ranging from four to nine meters in length that is draped over the body in various styles
Khaftans: Silk cloak buttoned down the front with full sleeves, reaching to the ankles and worn with a sash.
Toga: A sash of perhaps around 20 feet in length that was wrapped around the body and was generally worn over a tunic.
Zuave pants: Striped full pants
Zari: Type of thread made of fine gold or silver wire used in traditional Indian garments.
Published in the Turkish Daily News, Saturday, September 20, 2008