This month, we bring you exclusive insight into what's happening in some of the world's most fashionable cities. Not Paris, New York and Milan – we're talking Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, where textiles, textures and tea party couture reign supreme. In the first of this three-part series, Paromita Naidu from Lotus Eye brings us Style Notes on what trends are emerging in these haute cities as she scours the country for her 2011 collections.

The air is smoggy, the paint is peeling, and the traffic insane – but what a city! The elegance of the British Raj is seen in the architecture and customs (tea-time is a must), the graceful Bengali ladies wear tussar silks saris in every variation of cream, as they carry their books in woven jute bags. Textured and layered, the subtle food and mishti (sweets) are served on banana leaves, and the influence of nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, has permeated the culture on every level. What does this mean for style in Kolkata?

 

Haute Style from Sabyasachi Mukherjee

 

Sabyasachi Mukherjee reigns SUPREME in the City of Joy. The Bengali born designer is known for using subtle earth tone cottons matched with heavy brocade, velvet and metallic borders – a kind of tribal haute couture that is the rage in India right now (forget Manish Malhotra). But the Kolkatan elite aren't the only ones on to him. Rani Mukherjee, Aishwariya Rai, Preity Zinta and Vidya Balan (his current muse) frequently sport his designs to big Bollywood events, and he recently debuted his jewelry collection in the movie Guzaarish.

While his forte is the lengha, his sari's in dual fabrics (eg. velvet and net) are gaining a lot of momentum with the jet set. This is haute couture people! And his designs are not cheap, with an average price of INR 50,000 ($1200) for a sari. 

Not a Swarovski in sight: His incredibly popular designs have paved the way for many other designers who are now embracing the unadorned and unembellished "ethnic" look. Weaves, texture, patterns and rustic adornments are now being more valued than beading, crystals and bling!

 

A Designer Worth Getting to Know: Anamika Khanna

Though not as well known as Sabyasachi or other bigger names outside of India, Anamika's love for Indian craft and respect for traditional artisans has propelled her to the top of the Indian design field. She is classic yet contemporary, simple yet modern, and elegant yet edgy in her choices of embroidery, fabrics and cut. She has won countless design awards and retails in all the high-end stores, but it's her flagship store in Kolkata that is wowing the crowds! It houses her highest end designs, including her haute couture label: Ana Mika. I've found that it's her love of designing delicate, subtle but incredibly glam saris that really speaks to her Bengali roots.

 

Local Artisans

Many smaller design studios have popped up in recent years, focusing on preserving the elaborate weaving and dyeing techniques of local artisans. Baillou Silks (which retails at Maiwa on Granville Island in Vancouver) has a goregous studio that showcases matka silk sari's in vibrant hues of gold, fuschia, electric blue and orange. What separates this studio from what we see in Canada is the attention to detail and luxury. Without a single embellishment, Baillou sari's are contemporary in pattern and color-matching. But don't be misled by lack of adornment – these price tags are hefty!

Style observations by this Bengali daughter: history, respect for ancient traditions and intelligent design all exemplify the signature Kolkata style.

Lookout for Paromita's Style Notes from Chennai and Mumbai, only at Jugni Style.

 

Story By: Paromita Naidu