Saturday, May 6, 2000

Corporate couture

A new trend is gaining ground with designers who insist that you needn’t be uptight and a conformist in formals to mean business. Apart from style and comfort, pleasure has also become an integral part of power dressing, writes Sumona Roy

HOW do you make a blue blazer appear feminine? Does a mauve suit send the wrong signals? How do you match scarves with jackets and trousers? As for shoes, where do you draw the line between comfort and style when your job demands that you have to be constantly on the move?

For the working woman, there are no ready answers to these questions, especially when the choices are rather limited: it’s either an off-the-rack suit from a garment store, or a trip to the tailor with your heart in your mouth and a prayer on your lips!

Observes Bangalore-based designer Namrata Gwalani: "There are so many women in high places who have no clue what to wear. They are well aware that their dressing has to be understated, but they still need to make a statement."

In offices where there are no fixed dress codes, women executives are left with no choice but to draw upon films, friends and colleagues for inspiration. And as everybody knows, borrowing styles out of a fashion book is never a good idea.

So what do you do?

Fortunately, a new trend is gaining ground with designers like Gwalini who insist that you needn’t be a conformist and be in formals to mean business. Apart from style and comfort, pleasure has become as much an integral part of power dressing.

  You can be in straight, tight-fit churidar-kurtas or sarees at work — only make sure that the hemlines are two to three inches shorter than normal. Even the traditional lehngas are getting straight, tapered and shorter at the ankle for office wear.

"Orange, purple and lime green are the ruling shades for corporate dressing," states Delhi-based designer Ravi Bajaj. "These shades work well for Indian skin tones and are also ‘in’ on the international ramps this summer."

Bajaj has broken away from his tailored suits to experiment with deconstructed silhouettes such as a multi-layered saree for the working woman. The fabric is lycra, mixed with linen and silk. For men, he recommends embroidered ties to be "just the thing" for an evening out.

In contrast, Gwalini’s prescription for power dressing includes summer jackets and trousers in blues, browns, greys and blacks. Tops for day-wear are embroidered and close-fitted, while for the evening they come in white, peach, grey, green, maroon and brown.

Gwalini has also designed shoes in leather and satin, crochet bags as well as silk scarves to be used as accessories for her range of clothing. The pleasure element comes in with white shirts and drawstring pants for women and kurtas in white linen, noile silk and jute cotton for men.

Explains Geeta Sunderesan, who has been designing corporate wear in Bombay for over a decade: "Corporate culture has been changing over the past few years. Friday wear and week-end dressing have become fashionable concepts these days. Formals are completely out!"

She points out that even banks and investment companies are doing away with employee uniforms in order to establish an "air of informality" in their public dealings. "Business suits are restricted to boardroom meetings at best," she says.

Puja Nayyar, another Bombay designer, feels that the "international influence" is particularly strong in corporate dressing this season. Icy pastels are being replaced by electric colours as everybody wants to imitate the latest from Prada, Dolce and Gabbana.

"Everyone is discovering distinct shades of indigo," says Nayyar. "There is an interesting dirty powder blue that is really going to be in vogue. The look is uncluttered for office wear. Skirts are going to be short, much above the knee and tapered."

For week-end wear, the mood is just as upbeat with tube tops and above-ankle sarees making an entry into work stations. "This Indian-western fusion can also be seen in the blue denims that have embroidery, geometric motifs and subtle dabka work on the tapered ends," adds Nayyar.

Designers Ashima and Leena Singh, who had introduced multi-layered sarees last year, feel that while the tailored look would stay for some more time, colours would invade the workplace in a big way. Classic whites and shades of ivory would, however, not be dislodged.

"Coming to Indian ethnic wear, kurtas are going to be short and above the knee with straight cuts," says Ashima. "In fact, we will soon be seeing a lot of straight-fitted lehngas that are not flowing. The colour palette will offer mostly red, yellow and lime." — (MF)