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The conversation on design needs to move beyond mere buzzwords – Ajai Vir Singh

The high fashion finale of Sri Lanka Design Week 2018

A stunning showcase of the skill and creativity of Sri Lanka’s young fashion designers, the concluding fashion show of Sri Lanka Design Week 2018 on August 12 was nothing short of a mesmerising display of glamour and style.

A fitting finale to a week dedicated to the country’s blossoming design industry, the show pieced together the work of various designers. In particular, the show featured collections from students from the Department of Integrated Design at the University of Moratuwa, whose final work was a crystal-clear indication of the great heights local fashion has grown to in recent years.

Curated with the deft hand and skill of the industry’s very own Ajai Vir Singh, the designers were responsible for stunning collections that both embraced the county’s fierce cultural pride and contemporary edge.

The event was warmly declared open by a line-up of distinguished speakers from the University of Moratuwa. Soon after, a thrilling night of high fashion began.

Speaking to Ajai Vir Singh, a creative force behind the evolution of the industry and the success of the show, his satisfaction on how far the industry has come was evident; this is a promising sign of the growth that awaits Sri Lankan fashion. Praising the inclusion of a Responsible Fashion Award, he also spoke of how the conversation on design needs to move beyond mere buzzwords such as ‘sustainability’. Beyond its usage as a marketing tactic, he believes that this concept even extends to factors such as how well a brand can be sustained over time, in an entirely responsible manner.

The first collection of the night, titled Culture Code, was a breath-taking look into the creative amalgamation of local culture and the design world. The first showcase presented a line of drape-wear accentuating Sri Lanka’s traditions, norms, and history. Displaying bold fabrics dyed in earthy greens, saffron yellows, and rich maroons, this line of men and womenswear was the perfect start to the night.

Commenting on the collection, Chief Guest, Minister Mangala Samaraweera, stated that not only was the collection a stunning display of fashion but also one that made him nostalgic about his own design roots.  More importantly, he also mentioned that the design industry is to play a critical role in Sri Lanka’s transformation into a knowledge economy, for which quality design education is crucial.

Determined not to be outdone, the Cohesive Design and Hackathon collections which came thereafter, made their own waves with lines that were both arresting and original, to say the least.

The Cohesive Design segment was one produced by students who had been exposed to the fashion industry and had thereafter launched their own brands after an extensive design process.

Featuring exclusive men’s and womenswear, the brands displayed nomadic and tribal aesthetics, silky drapes in staple colours, as well as collections of elegant fabrics in various shades of off-white. Here, ruched pants, asymmetrical edges, flowy dresses, and crop tops, were the name of the game.

The next collection was easily among the most entertaining segments. The Hirdaramani denim Hackathon line wowed the audience with its functional work attire made entirely of up-cycled denim. With stylish and rocker uniforms for constructions workers, gardeners, waiters, and the like, the designs proved to be an innovative and edgy re-imagining of the attire of everyday workers.

The final segment, which came next, was one fit not just to end the evening but all of Sri Lanka Design Week as well. Comprising the graduate collection were various lines, creative in both concept and execution. With various collections created specifically for post-natal working women to plus-sized goddesses, and everything in between, it was an elegant finish to an exciting fashion marathon.

Here, stunning evening wear fit for chic Oscar after-parties were also displayed, eliciting ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the audience.  In fact, Himashi Wijeweera, the winner of the Responsible Fashion Award, was the star behind one of the show’s more eclectic lines. Colour-blocking was also a huge part of this segment, with bright and bold colours clashing to create electrifying fashion statements.

Commenting on the collections presented, Ajai noted that selection was based on the strength of the idea behind a given line, quality of finishing, and the scale of the idea itself. He also stated that this year, around 30% of the collections showed better continuity and growth than most – a promising indication of things to come.

Pointing out that there was no support for young designers back in 2003 when Colombo Fashion Week was first launched, he concluded that the country has indeed progressed since then. Designers now have some kind of support structure through which their labels can be created and marketed.

With this kind of trajectory, it’s clear that the limits of the mind will soon prove to be the only confines within which Sri Lankan designers can create their works of art.

Review by Archana Heenpella

Pics by Lalith Perera