With the right clothing, you too can be a conquering colonist or decadent rani of India.
It appears Sabyasachi Mukherjee is in love with colonial India and the long gone era of maharajas and nawabs.
Take his new couture collection for 2016. This year, the innovative couturier surprised many by presenting the Sabyasachi Couture collection exclusively on Instagram. On July 18, 36 photographs, videos and poetic missives on select pieces from the collection were slowly released during a 2-hour period. The result was an enchanting, visual journey that was classic Sabyasachi – dark velvets, exquisite hand embroidery, lush jewel tones, heirloom techniques, and his problematic romanticization of colonial India woven throughout the presentation.
Sabyasachi isn’t the first designer to reference colonial India, but his reverence for the period is unsettling. While the level of craftsmanship and art attributed to the clothing, jewelry and lifestyles of the maharajas and nawabs of centuries past are not being questioned (amazing what you can do with unlimited emeralds, rubies, gold, diamonds and unpaid or poorly paid labour), the level to which Sabyasachi celebrates and romanticizes colonial India – British and non-British – bothers me. I love his aesthetic, but is there no space in Indian fashion to critique the deep issues with colonialism that continue today? Can’t there be a celebration of Indian craft and tradition that doesn’t subscribe to colonial imaginings of India?
Take the poetic description of the “Colonial Saree” posted on Instagram:
Coconut trees swaying in the summer breeze
Of princely states and stately carriages.
Decadent palaces with their lush gardens.
Royal hunts and tales of heroism.
Tales of grandeur.
Tales of our land.
Woven with silver
Pierced with blood of the glorious days of yore.
Or the story behind “The Agra Saree:”
Decadent sceneries of colonial India.
Gilded palms, painted with hand dyed resham.
Bleached in the summer sun.
The “Taj” takes centre stage.
In all it’s resplendent glory.
In silver tipped ‘Tilla’.
Lush velvet plays hide and seek with weathered tulle.
Brass sequins and tinsel twinkling like evil siblings.
The romanticization of colonial India completely omits any other understandings of royal regimes and colonialism. Is it not possible to reference the craft and beauty of the time period in a contemporary collection without over romanticizing and orientalizing that colonial period? It’s disappointing and is starting to interfere with our obsessive love for the master designer and storyteller.
Scroll through to see the Sabyasachi Couture Collection for 2016.
All images from Sabyasachi Official on Instagram.