Designing ways to move forward
Colombo Fashion Week returns this March, on a platform it has built for itself. Since 2003 CFW has towered over local fashion as a pillar of strength, launching new designers and revitalising the careers of others. It has introduced brands and raised the bar for every aspiring designer in the country. This year, when Fashion Week returns to its Colombo home after a five-day long resort show last October, it will make its presence felt for a whole week.
CFW President Ajai Vir Singh meets us in the midst of what is clearly one of those days; “I passed out at my computer at 1.30 a.m. today,” he shares good-naturedly, clearly having resigned himself to many more of such nights over the next few weeks. “There’s no end to the emails that need to be answered and the details that need to be sorted out.” This year Ajai finds himself dealing with more correspondence than usual, having just formalised the selection process for designers by announcing CFW’s first official panel. The panel members are all over the world; Bibi Russell, Rizwan Beyg, Prasad Bidapa and Sri Lanka’s own Yolanda Aluwihare will be responsible for the names that you’ll see on the three days of the main show.
The decision to formalise a process that had already been in existence for some time is another step forward for CFW, which has now stepped into its next phase with focus on retail. “Earlier we would consult with designers but it was on a more ad-hoc basis,” Ajai explains. “From this year on our panel will choose designers based on pre-determined criteria.” Every designer-already established or not- will go through this selection process, we’re told. Certain designers do get complacent after a couple of years showing at CFW, he notes, and “that is not acceptable.”
The process is fairly simple, though rigorous. Applications with potential are sent to the design panel (names are withheld for anonymity, “so we don’t get accused of playing favourites,” Ajai says) and they’re ranked on four criteria; ideation, strength of presentation, quality and ramp appeal. This process is only applicable for the main shows; designers for the Bright Sparks shows, which will happen just before the main shows, are handpicked by a team based in Sri Lanka and the design panel is consulted later.
Ajai hopes that this selection process will be embraced by his CFW designers-“they’re getting feedback from people who’ve been in fashion for a very long time,” he points out. The panel is headed by stalwarts in the industry; they are designers who capture the very essence of their countries in their collections, but at the same time aim for affordability and practicality, making them the perfect selectors and mentors for rising young local talent.
A presence not unknown to CFW is Bibi Russell. Known for her vibrant and empowering collections, the former model and designer draws inspiration from her Bangladeshi roots. As an artist who explores the diversity and ethnicity of fashion her experience in the industry makes her the ideal guru for any budding designer trying to find a balance between their cultural identity and the commercial fashion arena.
Also on the panel is Prasad Bidapa. A name that needs no introduction, as a CFW Director Bidapa has seen countless designers gracing its ramps since its inception. Bidapa is reputed for his keen eye and ability to spot young talent, and from his many years organizing CFW identifies well with Sri Lankan fashion.
Rizwan Beyg, perhaps more aptly described as somewhat of a fashion radical, put his native Pakistan on the map for designer wear with his bridal collections and hasn’t looked back since. A self-proclaimed ‘traditionalist’ Beyg is one who gives distinction to the commonly clumped together fashion identities of Pakistan and india.
Joining the panel for the first time this year is Sri Lanka’s Yolanda Aluwihare. A designer with over 45 years in the arena, Yolanda is a name synonymous with Sri Lankan fashion. Her timeless pieces are elegant and arresting and have brought her acclaim both at home and abroad.
This year’s Colombo Fashion Week from March 11-14 will also feature the all new Fashion+Food series, which will see five restaurants not part of the Hilton (where the shows happen) partnering with CFW to serve a special menu throughout the week. The Fashion Café and Fashion Bar will also open, with some innovative creations set to be featured on the menu.
Design Trunk Shows, which CFW launched last November, will happen on all three days of the main show. These shows will allow designers to make their work available for purchase, and is part of CFW’s strategy to push for a more integrated retail aspect. Ajai has also just been appointed a council member of the Commonwealth Fashion Council and hopes to share the exposure from his new role with Sri Lanka.
What started out as a two-day show with six designers on the ramp has evolved over a decade to become what it is today; an industry heavyweight making its presence known both locally and regionally. “We need to keep moving forward,” emphasizes Ajai of his vision for CFW. There’s no place for stagnancy in fashion, after all.