“Think out of the box!” they yelled, flinging a box at his head (they missed). But our fashion designer retaliated—by taking inspiration from the same old rusty geometry box.
Geometry, albeit with arty inspirations and intellectual undertones, is suddenly science du jour on the fashion runway. Designers are taking geometry out of high school nightmares and giving it a chic makeover. We say science du jour because this isn’t the first affair fashion has had with science. It’s already had a long romance with botany, flowers in particular, around which it still hasn’t managed to wrap its head yet.
SHAPES ON CURVES
The trajectory for the just-concluded India Fashion Week in Delhi, though, was set by the very first show, Goan designer Wendell Rodricks’ Picasso-inspired collection. While Rodricks left out the artist’s cubist abstractions, he lined his flowing gowns with a cubist reference of his own—in the form of seahorses breathing square bubbles on aqua blue surfaces. “There has always been a very close association between design and art,” says Rodricks, “Coco Chanel liked Picasso and cubism, though it did not show in her clothes. I decided to translate it literally.” Rodricks’ last season collection at the Mumbai Fashion Week, incidentally, was inspired by Piet Mondrian’s vertical and horizontal lines.
While the set-square was getting its moment in the sun, designer Poonam Bhagat took it upon herself to give the rest of the geometry box its moment under the arc lights. Bhagat sent out a collection inspired by Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró’s work. There were embroidered rhombuses and trapezoids and circles, besides a couple of mad skirts with every possible geometric symbol imaginable—stuff that would make a mathematician click his teeth in glee. And it’s here that it all fits in. The nerdy look was given its aura of finality by the surfeit of plastic hornbill glasses. Ashish Soni sent out his models with them on, and even handed out paper ones to his front row.
Joan Miró, though, is considered a leader of the surrealist movement, and exactly what Bhagat was trying to convey remains a matter of interpretation. Certainly, the artist’s open disgust for ‘bourgeois’ affectations didn’t come in the way of such a blatant adoption by the fashion runway (guess if it can happen to Che, it can happen to anybody). In her defence, Bhagat says her collection is merely an attempt to marry “the abstract with geometrics”.
Rodricks and Bhagat were not the only ones troubling The Masters. Debutant designer duo Abhi-Rahul referenced the work of Russian master painter Wassily Kandinsky, famed for geometrical elements like the circle, the half circle, the angle and straight lines, which all came to play a big part in his teachings. Designer duo Pankaj and Nidhi, on the other hand, dumped the typical black-and-white colours of Op-art and sent out a line of lilac, lavenders, reds and greens to hypnotic results. Their inspiration? The work of British artist Bridget Riley. The patterns also seeped down into garment construction, as seen in their square pants and geometric shifts… the ramp line-up eventually wound its way back with the designer duo’s holographic take on geometricity.
Show after show, the geometry box was gaining importance. Designers Anshu Arora Sen and Jason put the classroom protractor to use to create a collection that was so happy it was almost bouncing off the walls. The line of soft shapes showed elements of geometry with a blast of colour. Think of shift dresses over-dosed on circles and ovals. Just minutes earlier, Sonam Dubal had sent down Malvika Tiwari wearing a creme-embroidered sari with black hexagons offset with oversized ruffles on the head. The line was inspired by Marlene Dietrich and Édith Piaf in a smoke-filled tavern.
Good old concentric circles, meanwhile, seem in no particular mood to walk into the sunset. Keen to reinforce their ever-mesmeric hold on Indian fashion, they were everywhere. Ashish Soni sent out a beautiful lime green dress and a green sleeveless jacket with circles, as he paid tribute to Yves Saint Laurent’s cocktail hour dresses—and to Nancy Cunrad, who Hemingway, Joyce, Huxley and other writers counted as their muse. Ranna Gill fashioned mini-skirts off them, and then Prashant Varma used triangular patterns in his 1980s architecture-inspired collection to make sure that every last bit of that trusty old geometry box, except perhaps the divider, was deployed.
Geometry is not a theme that Indian designers happened to have stumbled upon. Nor did it mysteriously lodge itself in their collective imaginations overnight. International fashion houses like Givenchy and Victor & Rolf had already taken geometry to heart, and so had Indian designer Manish Arora in his Paris collection earlier. Though Arora abandoned his usual Alice-on-Ecstacy colour pallette, models wearing dinky short dancy frocks with Op-art circle prints were rolled out on a conveyer belt and twirled around on a turntable in true Arora flamboyance. The designer’s futuristic collection also featured shapes like circles, squares and triangles adorning some of his 1980s style dresses. For the Spring-Summer collection shows last year, too, architectural themes had crept in, their effect visible even in garment construction. Dolce & Gabbana, for example, was making dresses with ball-shaped sleeves and structured drapes (also seen on the Indian runway), seen at the Balenciaga and Oscar de la Renta shows.
So when newbie designer Amit Agarwal sent out models with square shoulders, it didn’t just echo Ashish Soni’s designs but also several others’, overseas. In terms of inspiration, it has clearly been a multi-dimensional season. Abhishek Dutta takes up the cause with relish. “The geometric inspiration is not restricted to just geometric prints or cordings,” says the Kolkata designer, “It’s also about angular cuts, extended armholes—all in all giving a very different shape to the body.” He himself has used traditional Indian techniques like kantha and phulkari to make geometric patterns.
On the desi count, Rahul Mishra scored still higher. He made ample use of Indian handloom weavers for a soulful collection titled ‘Threads of Freedom’ , enhanced by geometric stripes and checks, besides multi-panelled dresses in black, ivory, grey and indigo blue, and sheer fabrics. Much like designer Narendra Kumar’s work, the drapes and wraps had a distinctive origami feel. “Designers are now getting inspired by the work of legendary graphic designers,” says Mishra of the geometric progression. And his phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since. “Every other designer is doing geometrics because he’s bored of florals and prints,” adds Dutta by way of extended explanation. Senior designer Varun Bahl, who ignored the trend, though, traces its origin to “the recession”. While the ‘hemline index’ has been around—in George Taylor’s version, hemlines fall as stock prices fall and rise as they rise—this is surely something new. As we emerge from a recession, Bahl says, people want to change direction. Thus, geometry. “Plus, of course, it hasn’t been done in a while.”
Mishra nods in detached agreement, and then gives the recession theory a little twist of his own. To his mind, the arrival of geometrical patterns on the Indian fashion runway has more to do with ‘intellectualism’ of a special sort. “It’s a sign of freshness, but more than that, it’s a sign of growth in both Indian as well as international fashion,” he says. In other words, it may not be as fleeting or fanciful as it seems at first blush. But then again, this is the fashion scene. If not fleeting and fanciful, what is it?