Reclaiming South Asian Fashion Narratives & Designs At New York Fashion Week

(L) Mayyur Girotra Couture; Pali (R)
(L) Mayyur Girotra Couture; Pali (R)(L) @mayyurgirotracouture; @wearpali (R)

The first New York Fashion Week was created in 1943 by Eleanor Lambert, press director of the American fashion industry’s first promotional organization, the New York Dress Institute. Initially created to take attention away from French fashion during World War II, and towards American designers, who had been neglected by the fashion press thus far. From spawning some of fashion’s biggest names like Oscar De La Renta and Ralph Lauren to the raucous and chaotic energy of Halston and Diane von Furstenberg’s 70s and 80s styles to today’s off-site presentations and installations featuring design through a cultural and contemporary lens, NYFW has come a long way.

Ever since their launch, NYFW has evolved to keep up with the changing demands of consumers. The latest change coming out of NYFW in 2022 is the official launch of the city’s first-ever South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW). Developed by fashion entrepreneur Shipra Sharma in partnership with Hetal Patel, South Asian New York Fashion Week seeks to uplift South Asian fashion that is inspired by both traditional and modern South Asian culture. Sharma says during the SANYFW Summer Kick-Off event, “Lehengas turned into co-ord sets. Sarees turned into gowns with drapes. Palazzo pants became wide-legged pants. We want to reclaim that narrative and introduce the world to the origins of these silhouettes and designs.”

Image Courtesy: AARA by SANA at SANYFW @aarabysana

Featuring designers across the South Asian diaspora, the shows were categorized by streetwear, sustainability, menswear, traditional, bridal, and Indo-western styles. Featuring two headliners Nomi Ansari and Mayyur Girotra, along with 13 other upcoming design houses like Recover Season and Pali, SANYFW launched on September 8 and will run through the week until September 14. Mayyur Girotra opened the show with his couture Indian wear –– Zamani, featuring monochrome lehengas and saris with intricate, classic embroidery.

In addition to the runway shows, SANY also hosted a marketplace for a variety of small businesses and artisan vendors like Amaaya Jewelry, Verve & Vogue, and Sakhya.

Historically, NYFW has had overwhelmingly white designers, with a few South Asian designers sprinkled in. Naeem Khan and Prabal Gurung are two that managed to make a name for themselves in a pre-Instagram era. In the past few years, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has grappled to address the lack of diversity in its shows and designers. With the world becoming more socially conscious day by day, coupled with the rise of race supremacy across the world, it has become imperative for ‘inclusive’ institutions to show that they are supporting people of all colours, shapes, and sizes. While there has been a definite increase in the number of Black designers at this year’s NYFW (more than 25% of the NYFW schedule), we must also address the fact that South Asians are often not extended the same support. According to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), 5.4 million people in the United States are of South Asian descent.

Image Courtesy: Mayyur Girotra Couture at SANYFW @mayyurgirotracouture

For Founder and COO of SANYFW, Shipra Sharma, the dream for SANYFW began nine years ago. Sharma and her team shared a vision of bringing a mission-driven, inclusivity-focused and intentional South Asian fashion platform to the global market, to bridge the gap between South Asian fashion and the western world. After seeing South Asian fashion be discredited on a global platform, she was emboldened to show homegrown fashion at its core. She believes that “South Asian fashion is, in its truest form, a source of inspiration to designers around the globe.” When it comes to inclusivity, the fashion industry and NYFW have definitely made leaps since nine years ago; both on the runway and off. Recognition and encouragement are two of the most important elements in growing a space for diversity and inclusion, and for showcasing genuine talent from across the world. We can only hope that this diversity grows every season, considering that New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. While there is promise for New York yet, the ball should continue to roll to London, Paris, and Milan fashion weeks, where we are able to see more sensational South Asian designers showing off their design and aesthetic prowess.

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