lust for india

In a bid to mimic the colours of India, French scientists triggered a new season of fashion.

Photos by:

Amit Sihag

Words by:



A Broken House

From walks that look like a Klimt painting; to the sea breeze rattling loose window panes, discover Tarun Tahiliani, worn by Nidhi.

AMONG THE FASHION capitals of the world today are iconic cities like Milan, Paris, London and New York. It is from here that ideas and trends trickle down to the rest of the world. But it’s in Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and China that the manufacturing happens. This division between designing and manufacturing is a side-effect of modern fast fashion. Till about a few centuries ago, India decided what the rest of the world wore.

In the late fifteenth century, when Europeans came to Asia in search of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, they found Indian cloth to be the primary currency to acquire the produce. “Every one from the Cape of Good Hope to China, man and woman, is clothed from head to foot in Indian cloth,” the early seventeenth-century French navigator François Pyrard de Laval said.

Indian textiles were quite the rage in European cities. By the seventeenth century, markets in Paris, Amsterdam and London were flooded with garments from India.

This was a cause of great worry for the local industrialists.

The French monarchy, in response, forbade the import of dyed Indian cotton—a ban that lasted from 1686 to 1759. But as historian Felicia Gottmann has shown, the French consumers’ loyalty towards textile made in India was so strong that they were ready to even break the law for it. Indian cotton was smuggled into France on the black market, which the wealthy women purchased. They turned the fabric into nightgowns, and clothing to wear outdoors. The ones who were a little less bold used it as fabric to cover furniture. By the eighteenth century, fashion crimes were a serious offence.

Bombay was not worth much and the Portuguese king had to sandwich it with 3,00,000 pounds of cash along with the Moroccan city of Tangier. Nidhi wears a metallic bodysuit with a matching draped skirt by TARUN TAHILIANI.
In 1782, the then governor Willian Hornby initiated Bombay’s first large-scale reclamation project and decided to connect the seven original islands of the city. Nidhi is dressed in a kurta and a sherwani from the Bhangala menswear collection by TARUN TAHILIANI.
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But this didn’t mean much for the French elite. So, noticing that the demand wasn’t lessening, the French adopted a new policy in the mid-1700s. They lifted the ban, and instead sent agents to India to learn and imitate their production processes. But try as hard as French firms might, they couldn’t match India’s delicate weaves, vibrant dyes, and reasonable costs.

IN THE 1770s, one French manufacturer, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, decided to take a different approach. At his Jouy-en-Josas textile plant, he mass-produced fabric using synthetic dyes. On these, he was printing painter Jean-Baptiste Huet’s designs which referenced current politics, scenes from novels, and other cultural ephemera. Of course it didn’t make sense for Oberkampf to go head-to-head with India in terms of quality of products. But instead, why not encourage the use of clothing that wasn’t meant to last?

So, he introduced clothes that were current, trendy, and meant to be soon discarded. In line with Europe’s industrial revolution, Oberkampf had sown the seed for fast fashion, which the planet and fashion industry is laboriously grappling with today.

But hope still stands, as designers in India now shining a light on the many artisans and craftspersons who keep these traditional legacies alive.

In 1896, Bombay was hit by a plague and had to be re-planned. In the following years, the Bombay City Improvement Trust was set up and East to West corridors opened up. Nidhi wears an ensemble paired here with a gul, a hand-embroidered flower made with glass beads worn by children as earmuffs to protect them against the cold.
The indigenous Koli and Aagri tribes have inhabited Bombay for centuries.
Nidhi wears a red version of the ludi called ‘lohi’. It is from a private collection—an almost six-decade-old heirloom piece—that belongs to Tejsi Dhana, a master weaver from Kukma in Kutch.

Styling by Anukrm

Styling by Anukrm

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A Broken Home

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress.

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