New York Fashion Week falls for the sub-continental look

Indian designers are riding the crest of a wave in the fashion world.

The fashion designer Naeem Khan takes a bow after his Autumn/Winter 2012 show in New York.
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Falguni & Shane Peacock are just the latest in a long line of designers born outside the US who have found not only success but a warm welcome from the New York fashion community. From the Dominican-American Oscar de la Renta to the Indian-American Naeem Khan, the Filipino-American Monique Lhuillier to the Thai-American Thakoon, it seems that wherever you come from, you can succeed in New York - at least if you have a strong work ethic, a canny eye for style and a lot of talent.

But there's no doubt that Indian designers are having a particular moment at New York Fashion Week: the Peacocks, Khan, Prabal Gurung and Bibhu Mohapatra (formerly creative director at J Mendel) have all found full and enthusiastic audiences this season.

Khan, who like Mohapatra is an alumnus of Halston, had his breakthrough in 2009, when Michelle Obama wore a custom-made dress designed by him to her first state dinner as First Lady. Since then, he has dressed many a star, and his autumn/winter collection, shown at New York this week, was packed with the sort of red-carpet numbers that attract Alisters like magpies.

He currently offers arguably the most successful hybrid of eastern and western design, combining the exquisite stitching and beading of India (his father's company has for years provided embroidery and textiles for many of the world's greatest designers, as well as for Indian royalty) with modern, simple, on-trend shapes - such as the 1950s-style wrap jackets this season, round-necked and crop-sleeved, appliquéd, embellished and cinched in with a tied belt.

"It's from the decadence and the dust of India," he explained before the show. "Dust is from the sadhus of India, who live in the Himalayas: they don't wear anything but body paint; they paint with dust to protect themselves from the cold and they produce these very interesting patterns on the body, with vermilion and other pigments." These appear in the collection as a hand-painted dot pattern on full-silk skirts. "Then I looked at the decadence of India, the royal maharajas. How do you take body paint and make it modern and luxury?"

That's a good question, and answering it will probably provide the secret to his success. The celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who was also backstage before Khan's show, put it this way: "He's been able to fuse his ethnic background with being a style soldier for the world. All of the East is having a resurgence in fashion. In general we're having a fusion of all ethnicities, whether it be African or Asian or Middle Eastern or Indian."

And how to achieve this without stooping to kitsch or cliché? "You have to pay attention to the small details and turn them into something very modern," said Bloch. "It's fusion, not confusion!" Wise words.

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