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As Indian designers begin to find their feet, many are struggling to balance Western appeal with Eastern heritage

A year on from our first look at India Fashion Week, many designers are finding it tough to cement their design personality. The dilemma they face is tricky - remain entrenched in Eastern styling and alienate their brands from buyers in the West; or turn their backs on Indian detailing and risk losing touch with domestic shoppers.

"It's a real catch-22," says Amit Rastogi, owner of Ana Mika, which shows at India Fashion Week, the Exhibition at London Fashion Week and is stocked in the UK by Harrods and Press Room in London's Primrose Hill. "If you're too Indian nobody wants you, but you cannot afford to be too Western otherwise you will disappear against the established European designer collections."

For any Indian designer seeking a foothold in the UK, the key is to strike a balance between Western silhouettes, Indian textiles and the use of Indian embroidery. Most heavyweight global designer brands, from Gucci to Cavalli, use Indian craftsmen for their hand embroideries, and it is this technical proficiency that attracts buyers from the West. But many ranges in India lacked the restraint needed to keep their creations on the rails of fashion stockists, rather than in Christmas decoration departments.

"Designers in India require more focus," said Anna Orsini, a LFW organiser scouting for talent in New Delhi. "In many collections there's too much going on and the ranges are too big. Most need to be reduced in volume terms by at least 15%."


While Manish Arora's natural sense of drama and elaborate workmanship has never been in doubt, his mastery of silhouettes has only begun to mature over the past three seasons. This evolution continues for autumn 07 with a season dominated by sleeveless shifts, with shoulder and chest cut-outs, textured and patterned leggings and flamboyant day coats. 1960s shapes remain relevant internationally, providing a clean background for Arora's trademark embroideries. Themes are as kooky as ever, with 1960s space race looks alongside acid-flashback psychedelic swirls and Escher-inspired magic eye patterns.


Ana Mika was a key proponent of the boho trend a few seasons ago and has successfully re-identified itself under a world traveller guise for autumn 07. The Mongolian-inspired backdrop had a focus on texture and layering set against a muted palette of muddy, earthy tones. Chain mail-effect metallic weaves featured on drop-waisted tunics and wrap dresses, while contrasting fabric panels were juxtaposed on above-the-knee dresses. With an identity redolent of Antik Batik, Ana Mika is stocked by London indies Feathers, The Cross and Question Air, plus international players Fred Segal, Lane Crawford and United Arrows.


Following his designs for Liz Hurley's wedding, Bal's name has become common currency in the celebrity press. A traditionalist at heart, his autumn ready-to-wear collection remained steeped in Eastern influences. Working from a mostly black and grey palette, stand-out pieces included a multi-panel chiffon full-length dress, a halterneck backless pleated top in brown silk, and a day coat featuring a flamboyant collar created from folds of fabric fanning from the neck. Ticking broader trend boxes, Bal also had a volume-led jacket ruched high on the body with puffed sleeves and an oversized waistband.


Cue takes a modernist direction for autumn 07, with silhouettes guided by the 1960s. Volume remains a byword for the collection which works from a subdued palette of black and grey, with nods to the metallics trend coming through via gold, silver and pewter. Tulip-shaped above-the-knee dresses with a heavily sequinned border featured alongside various shift shapes, including puff-sleeved metallics in gold or silver textured fabrics. Cobweb-patterned sequin embellishments were a key treatment, as well as all-over black sequins.


In terms of relevance to Western consumers, autumn 07's line-up was Shantanu & Nikhil's most eloquent to date. There were plenty of informed references to boost the brand's international appeal, from leather-look jackets in tight quilted geometric patterns to the silver and bronze tones punctuating a collection that generally drew from a muted colour palette. Prints were a let-down, but much better were the applique rectangular plastic panels used as tiered fringing on mini dresses. Tone-on-tone plastic discs were also attached randomly to pearl-coloured dresses with bell-shaped sleeves.


Ranna Gill has carved out a reputation for contemporary Western silhouettes that reference her Indian roots through fabric, embroidery and embellishment. A collarless melton coat with tonal applique floral motifs provided some distraction in an autumn collection dominated by dresses. Floral applique featured across the board, from dresses to day coats. Animal prints in brown - a key trend across collections in Delhi - were used throughout, from silk tops with bell-shaped sleeves to full-length gowns with oversized jewel embellishments in red 1960s-style prints.


Pratap Singh's collection was selected as the gala presentation this season, closing India Fashion Week. Broader in its offer than many of his Indian contemporaries, Singh's range highlighted his cross-category proficiency, from tailoring and outerwear to body-conscious tops and mini dresses. Silk panelled dresses with slashed capped sleeves were a highlight of the designer's autumn 07 collection, alongside wet-look textured black mini dresses. His commercial colour palette set midnight blue and coffee tones against a background dominated by black and autumnal shades.[QQ]

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