These days, if you want to see a beautiful fashion show, please head to a museum. Museums across the world have done a fantastic job of contemporising themselves by giving the nod of gravitas to fashion, often considered frivolous by the outside world. In doing so, the hallowed edifices have made themselves interesting to followers of popular culture. The storehouses of antiques and serious art have also allowed for fundraising, with big-ticket celebrities flocking its dark halls dressed in couture and followed by shutterbugs. Like the Met Ball, the annual fundraiser hosted by American Vogue each summer to raise money for the New York museum’s costume department. It is attended by so many shiny movie stars that it is now dubbed as the Oscars of the East Coast. The eyeball queen Kim Kardashian shows up each year to the world’s delight—sometimes in Marilyn Monroe’s original ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress, or at other times in a head-to-toe Balenciaga sheath instantly recognisable, even while aiming to be invisible at the most visible party in the world.
Last weekend, the finest of the fashion crowd turned up at the distinguished Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi, a fabulous private museum of contemporary South Asian art, to celebrate 15 years of yet another ‘invisible’ fashion hero. Rimzim Dadu, the diminutive designer, is a recluse. She finds it ironic she is in fashion despite her “social anxiety”, but thank God she is. I feel it is almost unfair to call her a designer of clothes. Her clothes are actually works of art in the way she twists, turns and tweaks cords as surface textures. This sort of fabric manipulation has been her leitmotif, and it is so difficult to do; it is rather hard to copy as well. Her re-engineered fabric bridges premium and couture, although I found I would love to wear every piece I saw practically to every outing. I mean, if you can’t make heads turn, why even bother showing up?
Fashion is less about clothes and more about art for Dadu. At the KNMA, guests are heralded into a room where her finished products are displayed on up-close mannequins, even as one wall showed the rejected swatches, almost as if showcasing how difficult it was to achieve the finished product. At one end, three craftsmen sat on their machines exhibiting how the work was done, and happy to field questions from curious guests.
That said, her ‘museum worthy’ pieces are utterly on point fashion-wise. A silver shift dress with a square colletage made for the perfect disco night outfit. A black-white lehenga set featured graphic cord work; one could wear it to a wedding or a cocktail with equal ease. Some jackets were matched by stylish bikini sets. The menswear was commensurately elegant. And yes, she had ample Bollywood glitter with Tara Sutaria and the au courant actor Vijay Varma walking for her, along with artists like Manisha Gera, Vibha Galhotra and G.R. Iranna. Dadu showed off leather patola, her experiments with origami, silicon, steel, chiffon and zari made of hair-thin cords.
Museums and art galleries have turned into the style world’s stomping grounds. The National Museum is exhibiting an expansive collection of Indian weaves and embroideries, with each piece a collaboration with a designer. Last year, the charming Chatterjee & Lal gallery in Mumbai put together a retrospective of fibre artist Nelly Sethna (a weaver, textile designer and crafts champion), curated by the formidable Nancy Adajania, and owned by the erudite philanthropist Dr Pheroza Godrej.
Dadu says fashion and art are two sides of the same coin, and is happy to sit at the point of their confluence. The two worlds have found they are tied by the same strands—the pursuit of beauty and an homage to memory. Their collusion is a win for both.