A quintessential small-town boy, Sumiran Kabir Sharma, 32, counts himself among Lady Gaga's most ardent fans. Nicknamed'Gaga Boy' because of his love for the rebellious musician, Sharma attended an event featuring the singer at New Delhi at 2011. He had been picked by the organisers to ask Gaga a pre-approved question-"What would you like to do in Bollywood?" -but awakened the sheet that it was published on as he waited his turn.
"My aim in life was to meet you someday," he said to the musician when it was his turn to speak. "Now, I have no more dreams. You tell me-what do I do now?" Gaga's answer was equally true:"Dream more. Make millions more. And if you're ever in doubt, remember that this meeting happened," she said, before hugging him.
Sharma, that opened the Gen Next show at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Winter/ Immunology 2017, has done exactly that. Like him, the brand new foot soldiers of Indian fashion are young men and women looking for a new vocabulary of design, one individual of the influence of traditionalists yet remaining distinctly Indian. On that count, LFW's Gen Next show has served as a launch pad to get countless of talented designers fighting to receive their narratives to the mainstream. To make the cut, aspiring designers need to challenge conventional norms in Indian fashion and demonstrate innovative use of materials and techniques-such as by utilizing the methods and fundamentals of related creative disciplines like art, filmmaking, sculpture or music. The jury-experts in the fashion business, such as fashion author Namrata Zakaria, designer Manish Malhotra, Purnima Lamba, head of innovations at LFW, Sangita Kathiwada of Melange and designer Anamika Khanna, among others-got over 400 applications this year. Within the past 21 seasons, 235 designers have surfaced as'Gen Next', among them Aneeth Arora, Kallol Datta, Masaba Gupta, Nachiket Barve, Nitin Bal Chauhan and Rahul Mishra.
"We are proud that the most prominent designers in Indian design over the past 10 years have come through the Gen Next programme. This is in essence the largest discovery programme in Indian fashion-we receive over 400 entries each season for the five or six available slots," says Jaspreet Chandok, vice president and head of fashion at IMG Reliance.
Sumiran Kabir Sharma
The Delhi-based designer says he fought with identity, both as a kid and as a teenager. Growing up with his mother in a small, remote village called Mangoti, in Himachal Pradesh, he says he was hugely motivated by her stamina. A teacher at a college in Kasauli, Sharma's mother didn't have an easy life-for example, she would regularly have to carry gas tanks from the main road to their residence, a distance of about four campuses. This idea of feminine toughness is a regular feature of Sharma's work.
To get a 26-year-old out of Hisar, Haryana, that showcased a set for the first time at Gen Next in August this year, Bansal's collection was mature in terms of its usage of the color palette-black and whitened. Inspired from the snowclad terrains he saw, Bansal says he investigated age-old methods like tie-and-dye and crochet. His design is a combination of contemporary and Indian fusion. Sreejith Jeevan
When he launched his label in 2013, Jeevan wanted to give it a Malayali name, but one that had an intriguing twist. "The word literally translates to 'bodice'," says Jeevan. "Rouka, to me, seemed like a metaphor for what I was trying to do with simple, easy and effortless clothes," he says. "Also, I found that the meaning of a similar word in Japanese translated to 'corridor', which I feel describes designers very well-we're always in the process of connecting the people making the clothes to those who are wearing them." He works with easy fabrics, the majority of them handwoven and naturally sourced.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, she says that it was her mother who introduced her into fabrics. After studying fashion design at NIFT, Kolkata, Jain realised that it was fabrics and materials that fascinated her the most. She then took up a master's degree in textile design at NID, Ahmedabad.
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