Bringing a hypnotic melodrama through her design vocabulary, Shilpa Chavan has dominated avant-garde fashion for years. The work of the Mumbai-based milliner behind her global brand Little Shilpa unfolds layers of curiosity through artworks, installations, scenography, immersive atmospheres, photography, films, performances and especially her surreal, animalistic millinery with structural silhouettes and modernistic materials that even Lady Gaga is a fan of.
A science graduate, foraying into fashion, she came with a curiosity for the workings and structures of objects. Her creative journey was initiated as an Artist much before she launched her fashion career and brand. Scaling down her art installation works she has been designing under her own label and handcrafting headpieces and sculptural jewellery into wearable pieces for runway shows, editorial or fashion shoots as well as ad campaigns. This year her film, HUM (we/us) won the Best Costume Design award at Cannes World Film Festival.
Conceptualised, styled and written by Shilpa herself, HUM (we/us) is a film that fuses seemingly dissonant worlds and ideologies to expose and challenge societal norms. Akin to her work, fashion is utilised in this colour-coded visual journey that examines gender/class identification, mental health issues, community, self-discovery and above all, audacious self-expression. In HUM, the protagonists emerge with a DIY outfit, a recurring concept in Little Shilpa’s works, symbolising the re-imagination of everything that was cast aside. Discarded bangles, scrubbers, dusters, brooms, tassels, sofa-throws and bin bags are repurposed into an altar of strength, as they step out to 'take space'.
Joining them with courage and candour, representing the paradoxical nature of Little Shilpa’s design language, are the Shadowman, Daulat (an acid-attack survivor), Payal (a plus-sized model/artist), Melancholia & Inqalaab Singh (both drag kings) and Glorious Luna (a drag queen). The hijras (an institutionalised third gender role in India) arrive to bless the shifting tides of minds. The cloud of countless misunderstood souls’ hopes and fears hang over the celebration, and it rains down solace onto the willing hearts of those entranced inside the dance of life.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia says HUM is a "dystopian tropical fairy-tale full of unstable magic where oppression, anger, transformation, and glamour conspire, and yet, for all its dark insanity, the film offers hope at the end.” Breaking the societal institutions of fashion, gender politics oppression of marginalized communities, the 12-minute film is a powerful dissection on the connection between human identity and fashion urging us to go deeper into examining the self and its expression.