Vancouver has a new fashion week on its calendar: one that, like last year’s inaugural Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, will help combat cultural stereotypes while introducing locals to an impressive array of regionally and internationally designed garments that tell the stories, trends, and traditions of a group of people: specifically, those hailing from countries in South Asia.
Taking place from March 2 to 4, Metro Vancouver’s first South Asian Fashion Week will highlight men’s and women’s clothing, jewellery, and beauty items from 20-plus South Asian–led brands, designers, and businesses, including Bombay Couture, Indochino, and Zuri Designs.
But it’s not just intricately embroidered saris, shawls, and bejewelled headpieces from regions such as Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka that will be hitting the runway: in an effort to meld traditional South Asian apparel with more “mainstream” fashions, participating designers will be styling beaded jackets, pants, and skirts with distressed denim and of-the-moment off-the-shoulder tops, for example.
“The whole goal of [the event] is to expose South Asian fashion to a wider audience,” Cindy Khella, one of four coproducers of SAFW, tells the Straight by phone. “We want to showcase how to incorporate South Asian styles into your everyday wardrobe.”
That’s not to say the three-day affair won’t have any South Asian special-occasion and ceremonial wear on hand. In fact, Khella notes that, in recent years, Metro Vancouver has emerged as a destination for such pieces, which are often custom-made and constructed from rich fabrics with immaculate attention to detail, drawing shoppers from across the country and even south of the border.
“They’ve been coming here looking for particular styles and fashions because the designers here are coming up with really unique stuff,” says Khella, who also owns High Heel Obsession, a Surrey boutique specializing in South Asian jewellery. “And we felt that we needed to create a little bit of a platform just to celebrate not only local designers but the artistry of South Asian designers in general.”
Raman Johal, owner of House of Raina, a Surrey-based retailer that carries bridal and couture garments from some of the biggest designers in India, says that her clients are becoming more discerning. Many young women are also looking to blend traditional cultural elements with more modern details such as updated shapes or irregular or asymmetrical hemlines. “If a designer comes out with something completely unique that no one has here, people are all over it,” she explains during a preview for SAFW in Gastown on Thursday (February 15). “They want something that’s different, that helps them stand out.”
In addition to men’s and women’s runway shows at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver (2080 United Bouelvard, Coquitlam), SAFW will feature an opening-night gala dinner, dance and cabaret performances, and a live auction benefiting a local charity. There will also be a number of showrooms exhibiting garments, jewellery, and beauty products for sale where attendees may meet and speak with local designers to learn more about the bespoke nature of South Asian apparel. Tickets start at $35.
“I don’t think that a lot of people know that you can go to South Asian designers and order a custom-made piece in the fabric you want, the cut that you want, the embroidery that you want, the colour you want,” says Khella. “It’s really very customizable.”
The inaugural SAFW will spotlight designs from India and Pakistan specifically, because these fashions are “readily available” in B.C., notes Khella. Subsequent editions will hopefully emphasize garb from regions such as Afghanistan and Bhutan. “I feel like this is the one event where all of us vendors and all of us designers here can actually exhibit our designs comfortably,” states Johal, “and show them off in the way they’re meant to be shown off.”
South Asian Fashion Week takes place from March 2 to 4 at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver. For details, see event listing.