By Meher Castelino
Walkers on the path emanate a style sensibility that is simple, natural and individualistic
The search for the purpose of life and why we are all here and what lies on the other side has drawn people to the subject of spirituality for centuries, but the great awakening on the spiritual path around the world has never been more apparent than it is in the 21st century. The subject of spirituality has moved into all aspects of life as people turn vegetarian; respect the earth and their environment, and move onto a more natural way of life. Therefore it is not surprising that fashion too has been influenced by this search for simplicity.
Today, the social barometer points with ever-increasing vehemence to a new interest in holistic living and spirituality. Memberships in spiritual organisations such as Art of Living, Chinmaya Mission and the Brahma Kumaris, are booming. The number of alternative therapies that promise gentle healing without side-effects is spiralling – reiki, pranic healing, Bach Flower remedies, chiropractic, and so on; and everywhere people are meditating, channelling, chanting, or doing asanas. The search for God is the overriding quest of our times. And once the quest begins, everything changes. Even approach to appearance and clothes. After all, among the first things to learn is that one is not the body. Even those who spend an inordinate time on fashion and beauty, re-evaluate their stance.
Sushma Hora, an aromatherapy specialist who creates exclusive products for her clients, used to be a high-stepping socialite at one time. “It was important to be seen, be trendy and wear the latest clothes, and worry about what others would think about what I was wearing.” However, after the tragic passing away of her husband, she moved on to a more spiritual path. “Now I do pay attention to what I wear, but I am not concerned about trends. I wear clothes that make me feel good and happy. I am more concerned about pleasing myself than about pleasing others. Earlier, I wore a lot of bright colours, but now I like pastels, black or white as they are soothing, and give me a sense of peace and happiness.”
Sushma sums up common sartorial changes on the path. The awful slavery of fashion with its brand imperatives disappears. Since there is less need to identify with the body, one is no longer obsessive about appearance. At the same time, with the onset of greater confidence and self-awareness, a new individuality flares out, often making one more stylish and original. Mandakini Trivedi, Mohini Attam dancer, was studying the art in the well-known Kerala Kalamandalam in Kerala. The conservative milieu dictated that she wear traditional clothing, but saris seemed too cumbersome. Kerala’s set mundus (two dhotis worn together to give the semblance of the sari), seemed to her to be the perfect compromise. Since then she has been wearing them constantly until they have evolved as her ‘look’, and she has also succeeded in making them a style statement of sorts, for the set mundu invariably makes its appearance in select Mumbai soirees.
Since one is surer of oneself, one is no longer looking to attract and therefore one eschews provocative clothing. One dresses to express oneself, and also for comfort. Quite frequently, a shift from tightly structured Western clothing to the more fluid and unstructured Indian clothing – saris, lungis, kurtas, lehngas, pyjamas – will manifest. Fusion clothing becomes another way of expressing freedom from rigid compartmentalisation and received wisdom – kurtas and jeans, lehngas and T-shirts, jeans and mojris. There is also a natural movement towards the natural, including fabric – cottons, silks, and linens. Follower of the Nichiren Diashonin Buddhist sect, Manjri Agarwal, says, “Earlier, I wore polyester garments but after I started following Buddhism, only cotton, linens and pure silk appeal to me. I have also learnt to feel more comfortable in my skin, and fashion doesn’t matter to me.”
Vizag-based Madhu Tigunait was a designer until her bureoning spirituality made her change tracks. “I was getting stressed out, and did not have time for my son,” she says. Today, she designs khadi for an NGO, Bhagvatulla Charitable Trust.
Her fashion sense has also changed, “Anything that is natural is what I work with, and the colours I use are more earthy.”
I myself stand testimony to these changes. Ever since I learnt of the teachings of Meher Baba, my appearance consciousness has changed.
While I do take care to dress well, I wear what suits me, even if it is not in the latest style. I do wear a few form-fitting clothes but no halters or sleeveless outfits. I am not brand conscious and am very careful about how much I spend on clothes since these are just outer coverings.
India’s large population of itinerant sadhus are the original creators of spiritual style – and what a flamboyant group they are to be sure! Dressed in flaming saffron (symbolising fire and its ability to burn samskaras – conditioning), with striking tilaks, hair coiled in a dreadlocked mound on the head, feet clad in wooden clogs, holding tridents, Y-shaped sticks or kamadalams – even the most whacked-out fashion designer on the ramps of Paris or Milan could not dream up such wild and original styles. Their presence has certainly influenced the attire of the average seeker. Saffron, for instance, is a great favourite. Sanskrit lettering on clothing is another ubiquitous presence and T-shirts, these days, are turning pious. “I didn’t believe in God,” says one of them, “Until I found I was Him.” Advaita in a nutshell!
With so much going on the ground, it is hardly surprising that the rarefied echelons of high fashion are also reflecting these influences.
At the tail end of the 20th century, top haute couture Japanese designers presented the Zen Buddhist look in fashion that probably set the trend for garments that emanated spirituality. The asymmetric layered line of garments in shades of muted grey, beige, white, black, blue, rust were a big hit with European women on the verge of a spiritual awakening. Unstructured and geometric in silhouette, the dresses, skirts and pants created by couturiers like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Hanae Mori, resembled gowns worn by the Buddhist monks. Their popularity gave a new fashion direction to Western wear which had hitherto been sexy, figure-hugging and a trifle outrageous in nature.
German designers like Isa Dorn and Annette Gortz are probably the two designers most inspired by the Zen style of collection. These designers are known for their very subdued creations which are often in just black and white or solid colours but with fluid lines and shapes that flatter and flow with the body. Whether it is summer or winter, these two designers are known in Europe for their spiritually inspired creations.
Indian fashion goes spiritual
Closer home Indian designers too have been inspired by spirituality for their collections. Wendell Rodricks, the Goa-based designer who has given resort and beach wear a more high-fashion ethereal look, ensures that his creations have minimum embellishments with maximum style.
“For me fashion means dressing women of all shapes, sizes and ages, and my garments have a calming effect on the wearer. I allow the fabric to drape and flow over the body in its natural form so that comfort and style are blended together. I am a very spiritual person, which is reflected in the type of garments that I design. They are timeless creations giving the wearer many mix and match options. The fabrics I use are also natural such as pineapple fibre or jute blends with pure silk and cotton or tencel,” says Wendell.
Designers at Fashion Weeks in India have presented collections that have had spiritual overtones.
Arjun Khanna, the menswear designer, who is known as the Badshah of Bundgala presented a dramatic collection for Spring/Summer 2008. Over the catwalk hung round paper lamps and giant banners on the walls with “May Peace Prevail on Earth”. His menswear collection was titled People of the Golden Triangle, which was a tribute to the Yao tribe of that region. The show opened with young monks lining the ramp as the 75 models, each wearing one of the garments from the vast collection, walked on the catwalk.
“I wanted to give a very Zen-like spiritual look to this collection, and although the garments are very modern, they have inspirations of the Golden Triangle,” revealed Arjun.
Another designer whose work shows a distinct spiritual influence is Sonam Dubral. His creations are studies in classic elegance with inspirations that cover the globe but that retain a pristine purity. His recent collection titled, Echoes of the Nomad, was a fashionable global journey through the beauty of Uzbekistan, rural Australia, then into peaceful Tibet, North Africa and Central Asia. He emerged with a wonderfully eclectic range of options such as Bokhara sherwanis teamed with kantha wrap pants, chanderi dupatta teamed with Bokhara kurtas, and innovative crinkle skirts. His adventurous spirit brought together the Tibetan Bakhu skirt, the Honju wrap and the classical Japanese kimonos in one palette, adding touches of dori embroidery, mirror work and abstract prints. In his person too, Sonal exudes a freedom of spirit. Says he, “I have always created garments that have been inspired by the spirituality of the East and my look is very simple, long and lean. The clothes can be mixed and matched and have an Indo-Western flavour suited to women from 16-60 years.”
Designer Bela Parekh is a devotee of Swami Vishnu Nayak of Bangalore and her sensibilities are chaste. She uses only pure cottons and silks with vegetable dyes or hand block prints. “I have never worn anything synthetic. And my clothes are very ethnic in style and form. I like earthy deep colours and after my association with Swamiji I am more interested in dressing well but not too opulently,” she says.
Several cutting-edge stores cater to the new awakening in spirituality. Sangeeta Kathiwada’s 15-year-old fashion store, Mélange, is a treasure trove of rural chic and the creations that Sangeeta likes to stock are sacred clothing. An ardent regular practitioner of t’ai chi, yoga and now Sufi whirling (which she says gives her the closest connection to spirituality and an egoless state of mind), Sangeeta feels that her connection with spirit enhances her approach to work. “I like to wear non fussy but chic clothes in pure fabrics. I have always tried to stock spiritually inspired happy clothing in pure fabrics like hand woven and hand spun khadi and linen. Most of our clothes are created by our inhouse studio, and are buttonless and zipless which you put on and just tie around your body. It takes the shape of the figure, and is something you can do your yoga or pranayama in, with comfort. But we have many customers who like to wear these clothes for everyday wear too. While I would like to only sell clothes of this kind, I have to also cater to customers but I would say that we have a 50/50 ratio of sacred clothing and embellished contemporary garments.”
Even ready-to-wear labels are moving onto the spiritual path as they cater to yoga enthusiasts.
Indus-League Clothing Ltd., the Bangalore-based lifestyle brand, launched a line of apparel called Urban Yoga. The line was created to fill the need for clothing that could fit into the “spiritual fitness wear” category, and therefore it offered a line of clothing meant for yoga and other holistic pursuits. The line featured two ranges, Urban Yoga Body and Urban Body Soul.
The first consisted of clothes meant for the practice of yoga, and has stretchable, breathable pure cotton knitwear styles. The second consisted of clothes inspired by yoga and is made of easy-flowing, woven cotton and linen blends.
A part of the range used “green cottons”, which have been vegetable-dyed and are chemical-free. All clothes in the line have been designed with special features such as flat seams and added gussets for easy movement.
Natural is the word
While designers are inspired by spirituality, the fabrics story too moves onto a more natural path. Linen and hemp are the two most popular fabrics among designers.
Three man-made fibres which are part of the current fashion scene are tencel, modal and ingeo. The first two are made from the wood pulp of trees while the third is a product of corn. All three are bio-degradable. As people get more aware of life and its purpose on earth, there is greater respect and love for the environment encouraging organic attire. While pure cotton is a favourite, it is quite different from organic cotton which is the purest form of cotton grown without the help of fertilisers or pesticides. It is woven in special mills to retain its purity. Fabrics made from soya, bamboo, pineapple fibre and jute are also a rage in fashion circles as they are comfortable to wear and completely natural in nature.
Most collections inspired by peace, concern for environment, and spirituality have shapes that are a blend of Star Wars/Star Trek clothing. Silhouettes are almost toga or gown-like with an absence of zips and fastenings. The garments normally drape and flow with the body in long or short asymmetric shapes. Often loosely tied at the waist, they allow the wearer maximum movement and freedom. Trousers and skirts are wrap-around, fluid and very soft in fabric, with drawstrings as the main detailing. Colours are solid tones in deep and medium shades of earthy hues, but there could be a possibility of red, yellow and green appearing for some of the garments or just black or white. Garment closures are mainly with fabric buttons, toggles or tie-ups.
Jewellery from the gods
Besides clothes, even jewellery is inspired by the present spiritual awakening. ORRA launched the Navagraha collection, in its series of spiritual jewellery. The Navagraha collection has more than 15 designs of pendants and rings, created using Navaratna stones and Belgian diamonds. Beautifully crafted in 22-carat gold, the collection is available with a ‘pothi’ describing the significance of the piece. ORRA has created these designs based on research on religious iconography. It has created a unique series of spiritual jewellery, the designs drawing inspiration from Indian sculptures, scriptures, mythology and culture.
More recently the movie, The Return of Hanuman, inspired a collection of jewellery sold by D’damas. The pendants and items featured Hanuman in gold and have been a great hit among the young generation.
Skin care goes au naturel
Skin care has also kept pace with the greater demand for holistic products that harm no one. Many colour cosmetics and beauty products are often tested on animals causing enlightened people to reject them. Natural herbal products from Ayurvedic, homoeopathy and aromatherapy give better results than chemically bottled brands.
Caring for the body has been a part of Indian beauty routine, and this has been done with natural products that almost turn into spiritual ceremonies. The haldi application for the bride prior to her wedding is one such example. Indians have been using natural herbs for the skin and hair treatments since time immemorial. Amla, shikakai, coconut oil, gram flour, soot for the eyes, multani mitti have all been responsible for glowing hair and skins.
In modern times, Shahnaz Hussain introduced Indians to bottled herbal cosmetics and has made her brand world famous with patrons such as the late Princess Diana, Barbara Cartland and Ingrid Bergman. Close on her heels, came Biotique with its range of natural hair, face and body products. Lotus Herbal as well as Cadilla range of Ever Youth products have a complete collection which are made from fruits, herbs and nuts.
Body Shop was the first UK brand that introduced natural cosmetics to the beauty conscious without animal testing. So step out in clothing that reflects the inner you, right down to your soul.
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