Last February, we were treated to a crayon-colored, upbeat disco for Ashish's, fall 2016 presentation. This season, however, Ashish Gupta took a more solemn and emotional approach, utilizing his London Fashion Week platform to highlight the political and cultural unrest in England following the country's June 2016 decision to withdraw from the European Union (if you need further proof, his collection was titled "Bollywood Bloodbath"). To begin, a blind sitar player was led out onto the runway to accompany the show with a stirring, live performance, which built to a crescendo as a male model came out in a glittering golden dress with a python draped over his shoulders. Then, model Neelam Gill emerged in a sequined T-shirt that read 'Love & Devotion,' an intricate gold headdress, and a red sari skirt. It was immediately apparent that Gupta had a message to share: "I wanted to celebrate Indian culture in England," the designer told Refinery29. "I was absolutely horrified by Brexit. It broke my heart. And I wanted to make a statement about that. [I wanted to] celebrate this culture, which is so beautiful, and such an integral part of life in this country."
During the gender-fluid show, models sported traditional Indian fabrics with rich embroidery and embellishments, cut in "Western" silhouettes, and decorated with jingling bells and gold jewelry. There were sequined tracksuits and double denim, slip dresses and saris, all with "a softer, slightly more romantic feel," as the designer described. "There was a slightly heartbroken vibe about [the collection], with the reds, pinks, and muted golds and greens. They were celebratory colors, popped in with solemn palettes." And though not technically part of the offering, the stand-out moment of the show may have been Gupta taking a bow in a white long-sleeve T-shirt with the word "Immigrant" printed across the chest, a nod to both his own experience (he immigrated to London from Delhi in 1996), and to the impact Brexit will have on the country's borders.
Aside from the clothes (and the subtle political narrative), Ashish's collection featured an incredibly 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, and when asked if he was disappointed by his fellow creatives and the enduring predominance of white models on the catwalks, he 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." At a time when we are constantly re-opening the debate on cultural appropriation, discussing diversity in the fashion industry (or lack thereof), and witnessing the immediate effects of Brexit, we salute Ashish for addressing so many topics that go way beyond how we dress. Because at the end of the day, isn't that what really matters?