The Mirror of East And West: Indian Influence On Western Design By Melanie Sarah Brewer

The pattern has a visible Indian influence

The pattern has a visible Indian influence

I can think of no other language in the world which is as expressive and evocative as the language of textiles. One region of our abundant world which has influenced Western design and fashions for centuries long is India.

The first significant contact with modern Europe came when Portuguese traders reached India in the wake of Vasco de Gama’s discovery of the route around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. Trading posts were set up first by the Portugese on the west coast and then in Bengal. Spices were their main interest, but glorious embroidered textiles were also made by Bengali craftsmen for export to Portugal. The marriage of local materials and Indian craftsmanship has a very long history indeed.

Look back to India’s Royal Courts – the Maharaja, defining great king, expressing splendour in vibrant colours and intricate detailing. Paintings of Royal processions of the mid 1800s capture richly-coloured turbans, bejewelled silk cloths, royal parasols and magnificent fans. Flowering plant designs are popular to this day and indeed have been a dominant theme in Indian art since the reign of the 17th century Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. British designers looked to the Indian visual twists and turns for inspiration, particularly when creating floral motifs. One easily recognised result, a famous leafy motif design, the ‘Paisley’ pattern, grew its roots in one of the leading manufacturing centres of shawls in Paisley, Scotland.

Flowers and plants, such as this date palm, often influence design

Flowers and plants, such as this date palm, often influence design

Indian chintzes and embroidery have captured imaginations so often; exotic colours from a broad palette work in harmony – reds into oranges, metallic reflections, yellows with purples – all so very alive. A curious, British audience enjoyed the rich displays of Indian art and design showcased at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and subsequent exhibitions influenced many British designers and expert specialists in the second half of the 19th century.

Onwards…the seductive vehicle of Bollywood has been a feast for the senses too. During the 40s and 50s, many of these films celebrated a historical and princely India shot on spectacular, grand sets and clothed in magnificent costumes, dramatic make-up and energetic music. Indian cinema art through large-scale hoardings to the original film trailers celebrated colour and garment detailing with great verve. By the 1990s, a new generation of film directors, actors, costume and set designers brought a higher calibre of talent to the productions. They also reflect the modern, affluent, consumerist lifestyles of India’s middle class today.

The Maharajas and their Maharanis are long gone but their legacy lives on in palaces, music, clothing, accessories and jewellery. There’s a glamour and happiness through clothing design which keeps evolving. Take six yards of cloth – and you have a saree. Worn by millions of Indian women it is, by far, the most elegant, and has withstood the onslaught of many different cultures, to emerge today as a symbol of the resiliency and of the Indian way of life. The chosen colour reflects the occasion and the way it is draped signals the community. For men, the Sherwani, the Prince or Jodhpuri Coat, the Budni or Nehru Jacket as well as the Kurta Churidar have had a long reign in Indian clothing. The Sherwani is the most traditional – normally teamed with Churidars or Aligarh pants, which are a combination of Churidars and trousers. It can also be double-breasted or with an asymmetrical opening. There is an elegance through Indian menswear, whether formal and traditional or more relaxed. Comfort is achieved with the magic of the physical qualities of cotton, silk, linen and wool. These mentioned Indian attire, ladies and gentlemen, are just a toe dipped in the water – there are many more.

International fashion houses have embraced India again in recent seasons. Sarah Burton created a collection of panjas, which is Indian-inspired hand decoration from wrist to finger ring. Her collection for SS12 brought gold rings and a bracelet with intricate detailing in champagne-coloured gold, at Alexander McQueen.

Chanel’s Pre-Fall 2012 designs were very much inspired by Indian Royals but crafted in Paris. Every Chanel model’s forehead was adorned with a shining Maang Tikka. LVMH launched a collection L’ame du Voyage, inspired by travels in India through handbags, travel bags, jewellery and accessories.

Indian influences can be seen in jewellery and other accessories

Indian influences can be seen in jewellery and other accessories

In January, we saw the talents of the ever-spicy Jean Paul Gaultier deliver an Indian story in his couture collection shown in Paris. Bangles were piled high on the arms and ears were elaborately jewelled. There were sari-style patchwork dresses with contrasting panels – one to the other in printed or beaded fabrics. There were floor-length column dresses glistening with golden sequins. A gold snakeskin trench coat surely wow-ed. The finale surprised with a wedding dress so large in circumference, that when the model lifted her bridal hem, a group of Indian girls ran out and down the catwalk.

For Spring ’13, visit Vera Wang for a truly magical collection of India-inspired colours, uplifting fabric designs and silhouettes. Intricate lace jacquard trousers, lace shifts, and slim-fitting Bermuda shorts – rich hues of deep ocean blue, purple, and forest green. Gaze at jewelled epaulettes and all of Vera’s design touches – she somehow has that balance of sparkle, drama and grace just right.

When I’m talking colour with my clients, I quite often refer to the ‘jewel colours’ in my selections with them – it helps them connect to the deep and bright blues, sensual reds, warm oranges, vivid greens (to name just some), and of course, the metallics. Whether brown, blue or green-eyed, and with the appropriate use of neutrals, as well as texture and silhouette, I can usually incorporate some or all of the India-inspired colours, no matter the skin tone – it’s the right balance of all of this which enhances the wearer’s natural assets. Energetic prints, fabric movement (and sound), rich embroidery, elegant necklines, symmetry in tailoring, eye-catching jewellery, dramatic shots of make-up technique – the variations of design-blending gives East and West all of the exciting design opportunities for the future. Never stale, the language and influence of Indian design is multi-lingual, expressive and evocative!

Melanie Sarah
Melanie Sarah Image Styling is a bespoke service for men and women, based in West Berkshire and available to clients from London to Bath. Many of Melanie’s clients are British and are based in the UK, whilst some book a style review as part of their visit from overseas.
www.melaniesarah.co.uk
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