The Age of Pratap
At the finale of FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week, Rajesh Pratap Singh showcased a collection that revelled in metallics and monochromes, set to the tune of a modern-day opera
October 16 saw the conclusion of FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai with a showcase by designer Rajesh Pratap Singh. The event marked 70 years since the title sponsor, India’s first homegrown beauty brand Lakmé, was launched. Actor Mrunal Thakur, in a crisp white shirt and a black sari that transitioned into a pair of layered pants opened the evening taking the mic to spotlight Lakme’s legacy. She spoke about its story, the backstory of its founders, the Tata group, and Simone Tata’s focused direction for the brand that added to its expansion. And, the idea behind the name itself—Lakmé is the French rendition of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth.
Hosted at the Jio World Convention Centre (JWCC), the five-day fashion week had offered artful cues in anticipation of this finale. An art print inspired by a lithograph of Lakmé, the late 19th century opera by the French composer Clément Philibert Léo Delibes, was a consistent design element at JWCC, with the poster dotting different parts of the venue throughout the event. The invite for the finale also featured the same art, this time printed with the words ‘Lakmé x Pratap’.
While the brand steers the theme of the final showcase each season with a latest Lakmé product at its crux—at this show, the tailoring was a bit different. Pratap took the story of the heritage brand and told it with a presentation backboned by outstanding live music and a set underscored by tech and digitised visuals. Singers from the Neemrana Music Foundation performed the ‘Flower Duet’ from the original opera, with the soprano notes skilfully blended with contemporary rap and beatboxing.
Playing with Contrasts
Known for his garment construction and a sense of minimalism that his brand of quietude has come to define, Pratap’s finale collection offered newer ideas. The models walked out with a stark look—including oxblood lips and glazed hair that framed the face and fell in icy sheets at the back—while being perched on chunky heels and armour-anklets that rang like ghungroos in the age of grunge. Pratap’s signature whites were spruced with striking metallic hues, rendered on strong-shouldered jackets, short dresses that coiled loosely around the body, layered vests with a cocktail twist and panelled dresses with the light bouncing beautifully off its surface. Some dresses were dipped completely in sequins, accompanied by dinner jackets and the quintessential Pratap shirt reimagined as a floor-length dress in chromatic gold. The sheen came from textiles engineered with stainless steel and other metallic yarn, along with the use of unusual surface treatments like resin coating on handwoven fabrics.
These creations were offset by pieces fortified with neat tailoring—like a structured dress in deep cerulean blue and button-down blazers worn over panelled skirts. Amid these, a few surprises—a sari in classic black and white, the pallu neatly draped over a shoulder and the bandeau blouse worn atop a white shirt. And, pastel pink separates that disrupted the Thom Browne-style broodiness of some of the designs. The cropped blazers were also worth a notice, worn by male models, some featuring thick stripes and others embellished with strategically placed buttons.
Pratap’s modern day opera also hat-tipped to the fashions of the 1950s. This was the decade of Lakmé’s birth, of voluminous balloon hemlines of Cristóbal Balenciaga and the time when Dior’s New Look and the iconic Bar jacket continued to define fashion of the time. Although some of the influences were apparent, the designer never over-indulged these references.
As the show wrapped up, Pratap, stepped out in a black jacket, white pants and matching sneakers. Along with him, was the entire finale team including choreographers Aparna and Anisha Bahl and music producer Gaurav Raina. As they took a bow, the hall rang with loud cheer from the audience. As the designer walked backstage, shying from the cameras, this writer was reminded of a conversation with him on the morning of the finale.
What do we expect from the show? “We have put some music together and we are playing it—so that’s the performance. And well, there are some clothes,” he said. Restrained in his manner, brief in his words, a conversation with Pratap is usually over before it begins. His reluctance with fashion ‘jargon’ is where the strength of the new collection also lies—in its simplicity, even amid the shine and exaggerated shapes. In the words of the late Japanese minimalist Issey Miyake—“Design is not for philosophy, it’s for life.” And so are Pratap’s clothes.