MUMBAI, September 16, 2008 - India hosts its first ever haute couture week from Tuesday, showcasing 11 leading designers in a celebration of the country's rich heritage in bespoke fashion.
But unlike the bank-breaking, impossible-to-wear creations on show twice a year in Paris that are not even intended for the high street, Indian couturiers say they are offering wearable made-to-order clothes at a realistic price.
"It's not just for the Mr Ambanis of this world," the president of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), Sunil Sethi, told AFP, referring to India's billionaire businessmen brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani.
"It will cater for all the people who want to have a bit of Indian tradition and history. It's aspirational, affordable, fantasy and reality. This is really going to be a celebration of fashion in the true spirit of India."
Two evening shows will be held daily from Tuesday to Sunday at an upscale Mumbai hotel, with designers -- many of whom have shown their work in London, New York and Paris -- given free rein to unleash their creative talents.
They include Suneet Verma, whose collection will reportedly be shown on a set inspired by William Shakespeare's fantastical comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream", with dancers and music.
Four holders of the various Miss India crowns are said to be lined up to model for New Delhi-based designer Ritu Kumar. One of the four, Mumbai's Simran Kaur Mundi, will also walk for J.J Valaya.
Also in the line-up is Tarun Tahiliani, who created the 7,800-dollar pink sari worn by British actress and model Liz Hurley at her lavish 2007 Indian wedding to the businessman Arun Nayar.
Sethi, whose association organises the ready-to-wear Indian Fashion Week, said the event has been years in the making, mainly because of difficulty in whittling down the number of designers and establishing inclusion criteria.
For Sethi and the nation's top designers, having a haute couture week is a logical step, given India's rich heritage of luxury clothing, and reflected by a growing interest in their work around the world.
Top designer Rohit Bal said opulence -- from jewel-encrusted saris with intricately-woven designs to the use of sumptuous silks or chiffons and gilded embroidery -- had always been an Indian trait.
"In a country appropriately named the Golden Peacock, luxury has always been a passion and India's affair with luxury is not only recent but has been a part of its heritage for more than 3,000 years," he said in publicity material.
"I will go to the extent of saying that the concept of luxury was in fact invented by India. The concept of luxe clothing has been a part of Indian culture for centuries.
"The opulence and grandeur of Indian costumes and textiles are legendary."
Organisers said there was a demand for bespoke Indian clothing, particularly from wealthy Indians who have made good on the country's recent economic boom -- and expats keen for an authentic outfit from home.
"People talk about (couture) being expensive but what we're trying to do is driven by demand, the market and the demands of the fashion designers themselves," said Sethi.
"This will be couture that can be worn because the audience is only the people who will wear it. At the end of the day they want to be financially secure and commercially successful.
"In order to be commercially successful they have to make products that are wearable."
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