The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Export gloom lurks behind glamour

Mumbai, July 19: It has brought out the teeth and claws of the fashion fraternity. It has brought together 58 leading designers, 48 top models and seven corporate houses. It will unite the creme de la creme of Bollywood with the cream of page three celebs. It has even brought the media-shy Arun Nayar of Liz Hurley fame to his native land to brave the spotlight (a forest of lensmen mobbed him as he made a brief appearance at the NCPA and the man retreated with haste).

The Lakme India Fashion Week is bigger than ever before and Indian designers, too, are reportedly bigger than ever before. But more than ever, heads are turned towards “the international presence”. The global market is our designers’ playground. They are in Paris, in New York, in London. But where exactly do they stand'

The bad news first. There seems to be a great disparity between perception and figures. “India exports apparel worth Rs 30,000 crore every year,” says Ramesh Natarajan, head of marketing, DHL, one of the corporate sponsors. “Less than 1 per cent of that comes from designer wear,” he says.

“The domestic market for branded apparel is worth Rs 5,000 crore. For designer wear it is Rs 180 crore,” adds Natarajan. “Abroad, there is poor retail presence of Indian designers. They have wrong price points and not too much of pret (ready-to-wear),” he says.

Not trade figures alone. The international fashion community — despite three previous India Fashion Weeks; this is the fourth — still does not appear to know much about the Indian scene.

Franco Fumagalli, the internationally renowned make-up artist who was flown down for two hectic days, confesses to not knowing the name of any Indian designer, Ritu Beri’s season in Paris notwithstanding. It looks like he still does not, though he promises to buy Indian stuff before flying out tonight.

“There are few British buyers for Indian designers,” says Amit Rastogi, owner of a retail store in London that caters mainly to British Asians.

But the designers are upbeat, including Rohit Bal. “Please tell the industry person who says that designer wear is only 1 per cent of apparel export that all the apparel is worked on by designers,” he says. But he, too, adds that there is a lot Indian designers can do.

“There’s a lot of talent, but lack of focus,” says Bal, who admits to having toned down his trademark love for the bizarre in the collection that he showed.

Now for the good news. Though they are yet to make a dent into serious fashion abroad, the fashion industry and its associates feel that provided Indian designers do things the right way, they will strike gold soon.

DHL’s Natarajan feels the wide gap between the figures of the garment industry and designer wear can be bridged by clever marketing by designers, something they sorely lack.

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