ashish fights post-brexit hate with a glittering celebration of love and diversity
Under a night sky of a thousand fairy lights, Ashish presented a multicultural mash up of breathtaking Indian embroidery, sportswear and disco styles.
Ashish Gupta's London Fashion Week shows are usually a wild party of bright colours and smiling beauties, but -- though his signature sequins were back in abundance -- the mood was more sombre this season. There was a sadness, represented by tears streaming down the models' faces, that Ashish felt after the Brexit vote and subsequent surge in hate crimes against minorities in Britain. "After 20 years of living in this country, I felt like 'Oh, am I actually unwelcome here?' -- I just felt really awful about it," he told i-D backstage, wearing the T-shirt he took his bow in: a plain white shirt with the word 'IMMIGRANT' emblazoned proudly across the chest.
Amidst the sadness, there was a defiant hope, communicated through the self-evident beauty of diversity, and of cultural richness. As with his spring/summer 15 show, when every model was black -- a simple but eloquent answer to the claim by some that there simply weren't enough black models to cast -- this show was an answer to anyone who would try to claim that multiculturalism doesn't work, or who subscribes to a singular idea of beauty that is white and Western. "It's not just about black and white, it's about the whole rainbow," he says of the brilliant casting, which included the British model of Indian descent Neelam Gill, Sri-Lankan born Londoner Suren Seneviratne (My Panda Shall Fly), Colombian model Ricardo Dominguez and the NYC based queer artist of West Indian descent Richie Shazam.
"I know it's just fashion, but I think it's really important to not just have this narrow version of beauty," Ashish comments. "I think there's such a big battle to be fought right now, because I feel like the whole world is turning so fucking right wing. It really frightens me, and I think that as artists, as journalists, people who work in the creative industry, we all need to gather force and really fight back against that".
Fighting back with love and beauty, Ashish's collection presents an eclectic mix of elegant Indian formal styles and embellishment, with contemporary sportswear and 70s disco silhouettes. "This collection is quite mystical and romantic, and quite weird!" Ashish says of the glittering robes with trailing ties, sequin rose appliqué organza shirts, gold and silver embroidered tunic dresses, denim shirts and jeans. Looks were accessorised with henna dyed feet and hands, jingling ankle bracelets and gold arm bands, jewel crowns, huge bindis and nose rings, with thick plaited hair wrapped with fresh flower garlands; some models' faces were made up like kathakali dancers and one even carried a live snake (whose handler confirmed was very relaxed, and not distressed by the show situation).
Instead of show notes, Ashish presented a poem from the 13th Century. "I was bored in the studio one day googling love poetry," Ashish says of his discovery of the excerpt about sexual desire and sensuality from Like This by Rumi, a Persian poet and Islamic scholar who lived in the 1200s. "I just thought this is so lovely, the unknotting of the strings of the robe [in the poem]," he says, adding, "I find it incredible that someone in the 13th Century would have written this really beautiful, sensitive piece of poetry, which just blew me away. Then when we were thinking about the press release, I thought let's just use the poem, it's much more evocative of what we are seeing".
The soundtrack was performed live by the Indian-British multi-instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav. "He's blind and he plays about 12 different instruments," Ashish explains. "I went to his house and he played me a song, and it was the most beautiful thing I nearly burst into tears, it gave me goosebumps." As showgoers jumped to their feet to cheer Ashish when he took his bow at the end of the show, it was clear that he had made so many people feel the same way.
Text Charlotte Gush