How India Influenced Western Aesthetics

At the end of the 18th century in France, the stiff, tailored dresses of the Ancien Régime were replaced by lighter, unstructured dresses in fine Indian muslin, giving rise to a new era of fashion. In the 1920s, French jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels created a series of Indian-inspired pieces made with precious stones and Indian-inspired design. In 1996, Gianfranco Ferré, creative director of Dior, presented his couture collection entitled “Indian Passion” which multiplied jacquard silks, golden embroidery, zardozi, a nod to his obsession with Indian karigari.

Dries Van Noten’s luxurious Spring ’22 collection is inspired by his feeling of visiting Kolkata right after Holi and seeing splashes of color in unexpected places. These are just a few examples of India’s impact on global style. Anthropologist and fashion expert Phyllida Jay’s Inspired by India: how India transformed global design (Roli Books) is a compendium of clothing, textiles, jewelry, material objects, photographs, paintings and other visual clues that reveal the vast influence of Indian textiles, crafts and culture on the world’s greatest style influencers.

With over 300 images from the archives of museums, galleries and the world’s leading luxury brands and craft workshops, the book explores over six centuries of cultural exchange between India and the world.

Indian aesthetics as imagined, borrowed and, in many cases, “stolen” by the West, has a history dating back to the earliest days of global exploration and colonial enterprise. It’s no surprise that calico, chintz, bandana, chiffon, seersucker, shawl, overalls, Madras check, pajama and khaki – words intrinsic to the global fashion lexicon, all have their roots in India.

It is a country that has often been seen through the filter of exoticism and its artisans and its rich textile history have been relegated to the background. However, 21st century collaborations between Indian and international designers (such as Sabyasachi-Louboutin in 2015) have helped to re-emphasize craftsmanship and place of origin. From luxury fashion brands to big names, there’s a bit of India in much of what the world wears today and this book is a vindication of its vast influence.

What to expect inside the book:

A gold Balenciaga sari dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor at the New Review Lido premiere in Paris in 1964.

Photo: Getty Images