Mumbai, India It’s always amazing to me how much the general public overlooks the good that comes out of the fashion world. Sometimes I feel like we have such a bad rep. People unfortunately tend to think of fashion synonymously with The Devil Wears Prada and eating disorders.
In reality, although there is no denying that some of that exists, the global fashion fraternity also plays a huge philanthropic role.
I recently attended Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, and it was an experience overflowing with haute couture, glamour and all of the pageantry and star power one would expect from a premier fashion week that takes place in Bollywood, the heart of India’s booming film industry.
There were many beautiful high fashion runway shows that took my breath away but only one had me holding back tears.
To clarify, my tears were not tears of sadness; they were tears of compassion and pride and promise and hope for the future of India. I know, very overwhelming, but in a way the aggressive goals of the Swades Foundation are overwhelming.
Its mission is clear and bold: to create a permanent, irreversible change in the lives of 1 million people in rural India in the next five years.
Mumbai power couple Ronnie Screwvala and Zarine Mehta founded the nonprofit, focused on empowering rural India. Their strategy is to infuse rural communities with funds and partnerships that encourage and allow local citizens to serve as change agents and role models for the rest of the country.
They are teaching these communities ‘how to fish’, how to be self-reliant and self-sustaining. Its strength lies in teams of specialists and professionals at both corporate and grassroots levels committed to sustainable growth.
So what exactly does fashion have to do with this, you ask? The collection that celebs and community leaders sashayed down the catwalk was crafted by villagers in Raigad and Ratnagiri. Vikram Phadnis’ collection was a true celebration of rural India.
Bringing onto the catwalk the wonderful work done by the village communities in Raigad and Ratnagiri, Vikram gave his creative touches to highlight the story of real rural India. Proving that rural is extremely fashionable, the nearly 70 gorgeous garments were inspired by the sun and its glory.
Dozens of kerosene lanterns hung from the ceiling to light up the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt hotel. Ronnie Screwvala spoke inspiring words that evening about the goals and dreams of the Swades and set the scene. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the feeling of unity and love in that huge space was palpable.
The show opened with models in beautiful saris, kurtas, lehengas, flowing cowl salwars, gorgeous dupattas, kurtas, and waistcoats carrying dainty bags and clutches and jewellery provided by Amrapali.
Using Indian fabrics in vibrant colors that revealed the beauty of the region, Vikram played with hot hues like red, maroon, orange and mustard besides neutrals like beige, cream and antique gold.
Presenting commercially viable creations, the designer removed his customary bling from the outfits and replaced it with brocades on linen and voile with touches of gotta work. Flowing long Anarkalis, tiny sexy cholis for saris, and swirling lehengas created magic on the catwalk.
To honor the true craftsmen, Vikram encouraged them to walk on the ramp along with top Bollywood and TV stars who escorted the talented people of the region.
Can you see it? Can you imagine the impact of community leaders from the villages of Raigad and Ratnagiri walking down the runway in glorious Vikram Phadnis couture, escorted by some of Bollywood’s biggest stars also in glorious Vikram Phadnis couture?
It was a statement and a testimonial by a designer who told us that all of the stars, Bollywood and community are on the same level and are deserving of the same adulation and respect. It was a reminder to open our eyes to the truth of a country that is growing economically by leaps and bounds but not for everybody.
It was a challenge to get involved and help in any way we could. It was a universal truth, that we are all created equally, on display in a space where we usually see only modelesque perfection. It was a game changer, and perhaps a life changer, not only for the villagers on the ramp but also for more than a few attendees.
The stars and celebrities on the ramp were:
Abhishek Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Anurag Basu, Arbaaz Khan and Malaika Arora Khan, with son Arhaan, Ashutosh Govariker, Ayushmann Khurrana, Chetan Bhagat, Dia Mirza, Dino Morea, Ekta Kapoor, Farah Khan Ali, Farah Khan, Ileana D’cruz, Dr Indu Shahani, Jeetendra, Juhi Chawla, Kiran Rao, Kunal Kapoor, Neha Dhupia, Pragya Yadav, Punam S Sinha, Rahul Bose, Raj Kumar Yadav, Ram Kapoor, Sakshi Tanwar, Sanjay and Zarine Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput, Sophie Choudhary. Vaibhavi Merchant and Rohit Bal.
The “Swades Stars” were Sudham Bali, Lakshmi Habee, Ashwin Hobde, Manali Sawant, Vidhya Vinayak, Balaji Patole, Baburao, Sanjana Sanjay Khedekar, Chandrakant Pawar, Sunita Sutar, Pavan Mahadik, Rohini Valvatkar, Mangal Kesarkar, Lavesh Mone, Diksha Pawar, Mahadev Gosalkar and Sneha Lokhande.