Show me the money

November 9, 2006

As the media and designers craned their necks to locate international buyers at Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week, it was the domestic buyers getting business accomplished.

It was a case of the missing foreign buyer that had designers hot under their collars for a while. Slowly they emerged, more niche retailers than luxury fatcats.

Albert Morris of Browns (London) marked attendance — playing patron saint to Indian fashion’s poster boy Sabyasachi Mukherjee. “Morris was everyone’s affirmation of global interest,” remarked designer Narendra Kumar. For most shows though, front row seats, traditionally reserved for buyers, went largely unclaimed.

Domestic buyers were a more reliable presence. Says Alka Nishar, of multi-city boutique Aza, who’s identified 10 new designers this time, “It’s the best platform to source new talent. Also, having four fashion weeks a year allows you to plan your ordering around them.”

There was happy consensus on the fact that there was increasing presence from cities other than Mumbai and Delhi.

“Everybody wants 150 buyers there and crores of business to be conducted at Fashion Week but it’s early days yet,” adds Kumar, who received interest from buyers in cities like Chennai and Ahmedabad as well a distributor to help him set foot in Europe.

But it’s instant international exposure that everyone’s chasing… hope springs eternal even for talent plucked out of fashion obscurity. First-timer Abhishekh Dutta, when asked about his target consumer, replied, “I am looking for international audiences, that’s why my cuts and forms are more global.”

Fern Mallis, vice president IMG Fashion, can’t understand the foreign fixation. “There’s enough of a market here to support them. If they were smart, they’d focus on making their mark before the rest of the world invades India,” says Mallis.

For Anupama Dayal, on the other hand, it’s about domestic brand building. Dayal has presence in 26 stores in the West. “My brand got known in India only after I showed at Fashion Week last season,” she says.

This time around, Dayal received enquiries from two boutiques in North America. Though disappointed that there were few new buyer faces present at the show, she concedes, “But at the end of the day it’s never a wasted exercise”.

Also, the IMG-Lakme partnership is tweaking strategy so designers agree that it is a worthwhile exercise for all. This time, stylists were brought in to edit shows — to play down the theatrics and bring in some crispness. Some questions though are being raised about the relevance of doing an autumn/winter show — a global fashion industry standard — when the bulk of buyers are domestic retailers.

Hirani agrees, “Seasons mean little in most of India; we’re not even going to wait till spring to launch these collections, they will be with us in 30 days. Mallis suggests the designers might focus on a larger spring/summer line instead. “Why would Western retailers shop here for winter wear anyway?” asks Morris.

At the stalls set up for buyer dialogue, Morris gingerly sidesteps most, occasionally blitzing through one, motioning for a few pieces to be preciously set aside for later viewing. It isn’t signed or sealed yet for first-timers Rahul & Firdos (so young they even lie about their age!), but their excitement at getting 15 pieces hand picked by Morris is boundless.

Morris expressed similar interest in another newcomer Deepti Toor. “Buyers don’t like to book a new designer each time, they watch for consistency over seasons. We come across many that are here today and gone tomorrow,” cautions Mallis.

After all, not everybody can be Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Having caught the discerning eye of Morris four seasons ago, he is selling for upwards of $1000 a dress at Browns, Saks Fifth Avenue and Tracey Ross.

Morris explains, “We’re not here to buy items, we’re here to buy the whole package. Sabya is the consummate Made in India story.” And so he has the growth trajectory others are dreaming of.

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