SANYFW highlights the region’s best in fashion.
By Mahmood Hossain
The growth of cultures in foreign lands is no overnight undertaking. Throughout the decades, ‘ethnic’ food, languages, and traditions, including the rich cultural influence of the Indian subcontinent, have had a seductive hold on the Western world, while simultaneously battling stereotypes and exoticism. Within the many attractions of South Asia, fashion has always played a pivotal role in the promotion of the region’s artistry on the global stage. While a select few fashion designers and brands from India and neighbouring nations have clawed their way into the elite circle of high fashion, more opportunities and exposure for South Asian designers should be of top priority in order to avoid fashion gatekeeping. Fortunately, there are platforms like the South Asian New York Fashion Week (SANYFW), which may have gone under the radar for most people.
SANYFW was initially launched during New York Fashion Week in September 2022 to celebrate South Asian fashion and place a well-earned spotlight on desi designers across the world. In its second year, the pioneering SANYFW took place from 9-13 September 2023, continuing to showcase the brilliance of South Asian silhouettes, fabrics, embroidery and patterns; leaning towards form and function so the items can come off the runway and into the hands of the everyday South Asian. Here are a few of these designers to check out.
Now based in the US, Thai-Indian designer Margi Sutariya developed her love and skills in fashion from fond and stylish memories of her mother dressing her up when she was a child. Years later, her design sketches became a reality and reached as far as The White House, where First Daughter Ashley Biden gracefully donned a MARGI original at the India State Dinner. On display at the SANYFW, MARGI continued its comfort and functionality-first approach, championing authenticity but with a nod to Western silhouettes.
Founder and designer of Svarini, Sheel Yerneni provided her representation of Gen Z aesthetics and sensibilities, blending her heritages with royal-core and cottage-core à la Bridgerton (2020- ). For the recent collection, she was inspired by the early 2000s for her low-cut skirts and corset-styled tops. Unsurprisingly, she wanted her collection to connect with the younger South Asian generation. The 24-year-old designer emphasises the regal nature of brocade silk, and how these traditional prints originated with Renaissance Italy’s trade with Persia, India, and China, which some people mistake for European.
Bangladeshi designer and founder of Chaa Latte, Promiti Prosun, exudes the merging of femininity and women empowerment in her recent collection, setting a new standard of elevating Western styles with traditional South Asian details. These are apparent in her sleek power suits, tops, and dresses that are adorned with silver bells. While she acknowledges that South Asian fashion has been synonymous with vibrant colours and glitz, Promiti’s approach to the collection was to celebrate the beauty of South Asian fashion’s laborious and subtle techniques. Her love for minimalistic practices runs deep and is elegantly expressed in her new collection, which consists of blazers and dresses bordered with ornate payals.
Aara by Sana
From the more established crop of designers, Pakistani-born and New York City-raised Sana Ali Khan leans toward a culturally-diverse foundation of luxury and bespoke fashion. The edgiest collection in this year’s SANYFW, the collection is led by South Asian warm and colder tones, and contrasting black and white looks. It’s a representation of a bolder style, spewing confidence through every single silhouette. The message was loud and clear: kick older gender norms out the window and reclaim respect and confidence on the runway of life.