Indian Prints

We can expect a certain earthiness from the culture that gave us the Kamasutra, the most exquisitely mannered and precise sex manual of all time. We can expect a certain elegance from a culture where female delicacy is prized. But we can also expect a degree of boldness from the most colourful country in the world.
Anyone who has stood in a bazaar on the subcontinent, watching brilliantly coloured bales of silk alternating with subtle, refined print patterns, knows the visual complexity of India. That’s why it has influenced westerners since the 15th century. By the 18th century, trade between India and the West meant that Jane Austen’s heroines all wore Indian fabrics: sprigged muslin, fine linen and cashmere, usually subtly patterned with abstract or floral designs. The mix of richness and delicacy has continued to fascinate modern designers, who endlessly play with printed wools, sensual crushed velvets and tiny floral patterns a l’indienne.
The natural home of the Indian look is in haute couture, where designers use the strength of brilliantly coloured raw silks to make dramatic evening gowns. Men such as Ungaro and Valentino – both masters of the techniques of couture, having been trained in it, er, rather more years ago than they would care to recall – have been most instrumental in bringing Indian prints back into fashion. Printed onto fabrics so fine that they are almost diaphanous, this is romance at its most beautiful. Compared with fabrics created in the West, we’re talking Audrey Hepburn here, not Jayne Mansfield.
But quality like this costs – big time. Couture fabrics are so delicate and fine that cutting and sewing them is a nightmare. All done by hand, a dress of the kind shown here, by Valentino for a couture show in 2002, takes days of skilled handwork. For most women, to own garments like these is just a dream –
rather like the flower-strewn meadows of the Kamasutra.
(First published October 2002)