South Asian designers showcase extraordinary creations at New York Fashion Week

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Models pose with Miss USA Pageant representatives backstage after the Mac Duggal presentation at New York Fashion Week Powered by Art Hearts Fashion NYFW at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on February 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Arun Nevader/Getty Images for Art Hearts Fashion)

From splashes of red and black to purple velvet, with models that defied tradition both in size and age, Indian-American fashion designers showed their metal at the New York Fashion Week that started Feb. 9 and continues till Friday the 16th. They included Bibhu Mohapatra, Prabal Gurung, Misha Kaura, Naeem Khan, Sachin & Babi, and the MacDuggal brand.

Gowns in luscious colors of bright blue, yellow, red and silver, mingled with flowing wedding gowns in ivory, lingerie pieces, and elegant dresses in all sizes, made Mac Duggal’s sometimes playful, but always unique creations on the catwalk Feb. 10, at the Angel Orensanz Center in New York, NY, engaging. Mac Duggal, who came to the U.S. at the age of 23, continued his engagement with rich, royal, and opulent traditions of his home country with a contemporary design esthetic, his website says.

Ieena Duggal, Mac Duggal’s daughter, has played an integral part in brand development. Spending endless hours when growing up going through Mac Duggal catalogs and magazines and day dreaming about wearing the beautiful garments, shifted to wearing the gowns and then to creating them. Her first collection debuted in 2015 and was “designed for every woman” says the website, which notes that one philosophy she lives by is to ‘embrace change.’ And it certainly showed in this Fall 2018 collection.

The Mac Duggal brand has been featured in leading magazines, and worn by an “A list celebrities, TV personalities, athletes, pageant titleholders and influencers globally,” the website says. This design house stands out also for its “entrance-making drama, feminine detailing and modern sensibility,” showcasing seasonal collections ranging from couture one-of-a-kind styles fabricated for red carpet, performance, stage and screen to cocktail dresses and gowns to mark special occasions and milestone moments.

From the casual to the formal, there was no stereotyping Bibhu Mohapatra Feb. 9, at Gallery II of Spring Studios. Video of the live performance shone Prabal at his best with his wide range from very wearable dresses that Millennials might sport, to formal wear for the young and the mature, nothing that could pigeonhole him, and something for every occasion. Dominant reds and blacks in mingling paint strokes and splashes, with purples thrown in; jackets and skirts, short dresses, knee length pleated skirts, tight black and gold mid-calf skirts, and even long formal dresses; puffed sleeves. loose pants, furs, a sudden space-age blouse, leather looks in some cases, and elaborate sequin-embroidered short flouncy dresses to formal long dresses in silver sequin, purple thick silk. All modern imaging.

Growing up with his family in Orissa, Mohapatra says his appreciation for sumptuous Indian fabrics and vibrant colors permeates his collections. In America since 1996, moving to the Big Apple in 1999 after getting a Masters in economics from Utah State, he studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, honing his skills as an assistant designer at the iconic American fashion label, Halston.

A relative newbie at NYFW, 25 year-old Misha Kaura’s creations were presented Feb. 10, off-site according to the NYFW website, at Industria Studios in West Village. She told Desi Talk she is influenced strongly by her Punjabi background and time spent exploring Patiala, her father’s ancestral village and the sights and sounds of Chandigarh. Writing from her sickbed following a major surgery which prevented her from being present, she said she focused on fluidity, moving beyond her training in sharp tailoring to fluid dresses that allow for movement and ease in draping, adding, “By deconstructing normal silhouettes and adding innovative touches—ostrich feathers, pearl-like beads—I was able to reflect the modernity present in the modern woman not just in the US, but worldwide.”

She regretted that her complete collection for NYFW was not featured because she was indisposed. “Unfortunately over half of the collection was unable to be shown. The remainder will be displayed at presentations over the course of the next month, including 15 other gowns, full and deconstructed hijab styles, workwear, childrenswear, outerwear, jewelry, and several new evening clutch styles,” Kaura said.

She wants to infuse her work with a social message, using materials highlighting the work of female artisans in Punjabi villages. “Deconstructing traditional symbols of oppression—heavy corsetry and deconstructed princess seams—was also a key theme this season,” she said. “As well, I am deeply inspired by strong, smart, confident, powerful women. This collection speaks to female empowerment and the resiliency of the female spirit in the face of oppression and upheaval,” said Kaura who lives and works in Seattle, Washington.

According to Facebook entries, her show was well attended in New York. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology who interned with couturiers for top brands in London and Paris prior to launching her label in Spring Summer 2018, Kaura, says her heritage is very much a part of her even though she was born and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “Whether a woman is 99 or 29, she will look slim, stunning, and sparkling in Misha Kaura apparel and accessories,” according to her advertizing.

Prabal Gurung showed his electic collection on Sunday, Feb. 11 in Gallery I at Spring Studios. He was a stark contrast walking out after his elaborately dressed models were done, in a simple, well-worn white T shirt and black jeans. He shot to fame since his appearance on the catwalk in 2009. In this show, his collection wove tribal, native weaves, some with Japanese touches, others more African, or Native American, alongside plain bright and deep reds and purples, even grey pant-suits, ordinary thick cableknit sweaters, but also a very traditional thick velvet gown, some sharp blue lines, a few furs. Most interesting was the footwear, some flat shoes that verged on flip-flops, with overhanging bows, but also simple gold, white, and black boots. He also included large size models on the ramp.

Though of Nepalese descent, Gurung was born in Singapore and raised in Kathmandu. He studied design in New Delhi and moved to Parsons The New School for Design in New York. He worked at Bill Blass as design director for five years before launching his own eponymous brand.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama wore Gurung during her stay at the White House. The Dutchess of Cambridge also wore his design. Gurung has received several accolades and recognitions, and has collaborated with cosmetic houses for supporting non-profits in Nepal.

Sachin & Babi (Ahluwalia) who showed their creations Feb. 10, featured veteran model Maye Musk, noting on Facebook that, “Each silhouette in the collection was designed with intention for women of all ages and body types.” Using “Rich, floral fabrics and lush green tones” they set the stage for the Fall/Winter 2018 collection. According to their website, this season, the duo chose to forgo a traditional runway show “and instead create a compelling lookbook, and video campaign featuring 69-year-old, IMG Model, Maye Musk,” on the sidelines of NYFW.

The couple say they are inspired by Bali’s vibrant landscapes, and that the garments are a play on texture of those landscapes. They have paired “luxe batik motif inspired jacquard textiles with hand-embroidered signature beadwork and sequins with delicate tassels.” A crane motif is incorporated throughout, “to breathe life into the collection and add a touch of whimsy,” they say. The Ahluwalias founded their eponymous label in 2009 “in a quest to redefine evening wear” and first gained recognition in New York by designing and manufacturing embroideries for the city’s renowned couture houses, according to their website.

Naeem Khan, whose runway shows are among the most anticipated events of New York Fashion Week, was scheduled to show his work on Feb. 13 afternoon, as this went to press. Among this Indian-American designer’s fan base is former First Lady Michelle Obama, singers Beyoncé, Taylor Swift Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, and a host of stars, Pénelope Cruz, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emily Blunt. His creations were seen on popular shows like Sex & the City and Dreamgirls.

Khan was born in India and learnt the craft from his grandfather and father, both well known for designing intricate clothing worn by the royal families, his website says. Moving to New York as a teenager, Khan apprenticed for Halston. His collections are now sold at more than 100 specialty stores across the world. In 2008, Khan was inducted as a member of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America.

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