Gown power

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By Indrani Banerjee

Fashion designer Nikhil Mehra remembers the day, almost four years ago, when he draped actress Shilpa Shetty in an emerald green gown for IIFA awards. Shilpa was glowing; she’d just won the UK version of Big Brother.

The adulation they received that evening for the dazzling ensemble still ring in their ears. It was a perfect winner! Luxurious, ornate, elegant… the gown defines every woman’s secret desire for lavishness; the ultimate style statement that makes her feel special. From celebs to the girl-next-door, the gown has become a suitable substitute for the ubiquitous sari. Says designer Rocky S., “Gowns make women of diverse body types and shapes feel glamorous, giving them the confidence to make an entry into any event with aplomb. Wearing a gown involves much less fuss and assures that you are never overdressed or under-dressed for the occasion.”

Designers Gauri and Nainika Karan recall how jittery they were when they presented their gown collection for the first time, five years ago. Says Gauri, “People were like ‘Who’s going to wear that?’ But today, we have women from all walks of life, including bureaucrats and bankers, asking us for gowns.”

Fashionista Queenie Singh thinks that the Indian woman has an international body and is well-informed about fashion. “She’s ready to experiment.”

But designer Wendell Rodricks advises, “Wear a gown if it suits you. You must be of above average height and slim for a gown to look good. Otherwise, go for a kaftaan gown or saridrape gown.”

Fashion consultant Harmeet Bajaj explains the reason behind the gown’s popularity. “People are going out more. They are pressed for variety and the gown is a glamorous option. From cocktail parties to corporate meets to movie premieres and awards functions, the gown provide a fashion relief for elaborate occasions.”

But, as the gown trickles down to the mass market, the price parameters get skewed. Where international couture houses sell a gown for Rs. 2.5 lakh onwards, an Indian designer would price his ensemble between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 60,000. Dwelling on competition from international couture brands, Wendell says, “There are so many gowns on the red carpet due to the branded luxury names that have invaded the Indian market. While few Indian designers give away clothes for red carpet appearances, international brands love to hand out freebies to show that the top Bollywood stars wear their stuff. So Roberto Cavalli courts someone like a Sonam Kapoor and Dior does the same. It’s all a part of brand positioning and marketing.”

If we trace the history of mainstream cinema, the gown has been in India for a long time. Early Hindi movies had heroines flouncing around the piano in voluminous gowns. In Naseeb, Hema Malini flaunted a red and black net gown, as did Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman on celluloid.

Today, the biggest demand, designers say, comes during weddings. Says Harmeet Bajaj, “Weddings are becoming more elaborate and are spread over a week, and include a cocktail party. People are looking at Western alternatives, and the gown is preferred for its resemblance to the sari.”

Mumbai-based designer Anita Dongre sold less than 100 gowns in the last quarter, “but the sales are more than what I expected.”

A gown, by definition, is an ornate, elegant floor length dress. The Western long dress is a modern version of the Victorian gown, minus the voluminous hemline, more sexy than feminine. A gown, modified to suit Indian aesthetics, has embroidery, dabka, zari or mirror work on it. Though crystals score high on embellishments, the love for silver, gold and stones also comes alive in vibrant creations. The fabric used is georgette, chiffon, silk, metallic, crepe, even cotton and Kota. Though designers try and keep the hues subtle — black, beige and nude — red is a favorite, so are mauve and bright colors. In highlights, French lace is the new craze.

The inside of a gown is usually more intricate than the exterior, with elaborate boning, petticoats, can-can and undercage for volume and painstaking fusion work to hold the hemline. Normally, a hand-stitched gown takes three to five days of cutting and stitching alone. Says Gauri Karan, “Young girls are inspired by stars like Kareena, Deepika and Sonam Kapoor. Even corporate women are realizing that a gown can be the ultimate power statement at business cocktails and dinners.” The designer duo gets orders from young brides, who marry in exotic locales. At times, the requests are wacky. Designers Shantanu and Nikhil recall a recent wedding at Delhi where they designed white gowns for the bride, her mother and mother-in-law to wear at the cocktail party.

The demand is not only from the metros, but also from smaller cities. Designer Neeta Lulla’s clientele varies from NRI brides from the Middle East to industrialists’ wives from Indore and Nagpur. Besides the metros, cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and Chandigarh have a huge demand for Western long dresses. Though size 12-14 is considered ideal for a gown, it can lend height and stature to a well-built woman as well for its unique structure.

Whatever your size, a gown is all about making a statement, in style!

Do’s & dont’s: Over accessorizing an already embellished gown is a faux pas. Choose the right shoes, clutch bag, earrings and jewelry. Make sure your gown is floor length. A gown, like a sari, worn above the heel is a disaster. If you are on the heavier side, go for slim cuts in chiffon or georgette. A petite woman should go for a dramatic gown in taffeta or organza. You must be of above average height and slim for a gown to look good. Otherwise, go for a kaftaan gown or a sari-drape gown.

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