Last season we were treated to a crayon-coloured, upbeat disco for Ashish AW16, but for SS17 the designer's show was a more solemn, emotional event and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and poignant moments of London Fashion Week. As the audience settled down, a blind sitar player was led out onto the top of the catwalk to accompany the show with a stirring, live performance which built to a crescendo as a male model came out in a glittering gold dress, bearing a python around his neck. Neelam Gill opened, hitting the catwalk under a glittering canopy of fairy lights in a sequin T-shirt reading 'Love & Devotion', an intricate gold headdress and a red sari skirt. It was immediately apparent from the first model's entrance and the words emblazoned on her tee, that Ashish had a message to share. The designer told Refinery29 backstage: "I wanted to celebrate Indian culture in this country. I was absolutely horrified by Brexit. It broke my heart. I just wanted to make a statement about it and celebrate this culture which is so beautiful and an integral part of life in this country." During the gender fluid show, boys and girls stepped out wearing traditional Indian fabrics, with rich embroidery and embellishment, cut in "Western" silhouettes, finished off with jingling bells and gold jewellery. There was sequin tracksuits and double denim, slip dresses and saris all adorned with intricate Indian pattern and detailing.
As always, Ashish's collection was modelled by a diverse cast. Throughout his decade-long career, Gupta has consistently been one of the few London designers to authentically and sincerely champion multiculturalism and inclusivity with both his inspired collections and the casting in his shows. When we asked if he was disappointed by his fellow creatives and the predominance of white models on the catwalks, Ashish responded: "I suppose it’s an artistic decision, I’m not one to comment on other people’s aesthetic or casting decisions. It’s a choice everyone is free to take but my view is that we live in such a diverse world that I don’t understand how the view of beauty can be so narrow. I think that fashion is meant to be aspirational, if you have all white girls on the runway what does that say about people’s aspirations? I think that’s quite shocking." Following AW16's disco brights, the colour palette this season reflected Ashish's more sombre mood. He told us: "It was a softer, slightly more romantic feel. There was a slightly heart-broken vibe about it with the reds, pinks and muted golds and greens. It was celebratory colours, popped in with solemn palettes."
While the clothes might have been slightly less vibrant in colour, the makeup, created by artist supremo Isamaya Ffrench was inspired by Club Kid beauty looks fused with Indian influences, described as “Bollywood Bloodbath”, in reference to James St James’ novel Disco Bloodbath. We can always count on Ashish for a visual feast and a covetable collection that will be adored by London's boldest dressers. But this season he hit us with far more than an Instragrammable show and fun fashion. At a time when we are constantly re-opening the debate on cultural appropriation, discussing diversity in the fashion industry (or lack thereof) and even the rise of hate crimes post-Brexit, we salute Ashish for addressing something so important, that so many of his peers chose to ignore.