I can still vividly remember that morning in high school on Diwali day. I had thrown on my usual outfit—distressed jeans, a hoodie, and sneakers—ready to head out the door. Just as I grabbed my backpack, my mom's voice rang out from the kitchen.
"Don't forget we have that big Diwali party at your aunt's house tonight! Make sure you wear your lehenga!"
I stopped in my tracks and cringed. This was before the days of Never Have I Ever and Family Karma and the thought of wearing the colorful skirt and blouse set, carefully selected by my mom, was laughable. I certainly didn’t want anyone at school to see. I performed mental arithmetic to calculate how much time it would take for me to unpack it from my gym bag, shove it in my locker, and run to class before anyone could see. After all, I grew up believing that my traditional garb was embarrassing and unattractive.
Nearly two decades later, my perspective on South Asian fashion has significantly evolved—what was once stigmatized has now become mainstream, especially during times like Diwali. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by nearly one billion Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists globally and has become a major cultural touchpoint for South Asian communities around the world. For the diaspora, Diwali is not just a religious holiday but also an opportunity to celebrate their heritage through fashion and beauty.
When you really examine South Asian fashion, it’s evident that it’s full of colorful silks and embroidered garments, craftsmanship that spans centuries, and an homage to ancient Indian practices and artisanry. Designers, too, are experimenting and daring to push the boundaries of fashion for new interpretations. In India, famous designers like Tarun Tilhani and Manish Malhotra create coveted collections that debut during the festive season, and designers Falguni Shane Peacock and Anita Dongre bring that craftsmanship and artistry and make it accessible to audiences.
The popularization of Indian fashion can be contributed to a few factors: the rise of social media influencers from the diaspora, the emergence of South Asian designers who have flagship locations not only in India but throughout the United States, and a growing acceptance among Gen-Z and millennials to celebrate their heritage with their audiences. Diwali fashion has also become mainstream thanks to South Asian celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Mindy Kaling, who are now proudly celebrating their cultural pride, as well as non-South Asian celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker who wore a lehenga in an episode of And Just Like That and Zendaya who donned a hand-embroidered sari and bralette at the launch of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) in Mumbai.
Whether you are preparing for the festive Diwali season, a friend’s wedding, or just want to add to your wardrobe, these are some South Asian designers to look out for.
Prabal Gurung launched his namesake label in 2009 and has since become a mainstay at New York Fashion Week and known as a prominent designer among the international scene. The Nepali American designer draws inspiration from his homeland and from art. For Diwali this year, he dressed Diane Kurger in a red sari-inspired dress for the annual All That Glitters Diwali Ball held at the Pierre Hotel in New York, hosted by the nonprofit Gold House. Many of his pieces are stylish and contemporary and perfect for the festive season.
Despite having a degree in economics, fashion was really Bibhu Mohapatra’s main love. He has dressed celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Michelle Obama on the red carpet and for official events, but his work transcends other arenas too. For Diwali, he partnered with The Glenlivet to dress model Pritika Swarup in a bespoke design at the Diwali Gala held at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. His works offer understated elegance through fluid drapes, mixed fabrics, and bold embellishments. Mohapatra focuses on artisanal craftsmanship to create contemporary pieces rooted in tradition.
Falguni Shane Peacock
Husband-and-wife duo Falguni Shane Peacock are known for extravagant designs dripping in crystals, feathers, and sequins. Though headquartered in Mumbai, they hold a showroom in New York that retails haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces. Their collection features ornate lehengas and gowns in jewel tones, evoking a modern Maharani or queen vibe, but the secret to their brand is styling along with an attention to detail. At the All That Glitters Ball, notable celebrities like Indra Nooyi and Anjula Acharia dressed in this label, adding to the sparkle of the season.
HoliCHIC by Megha
Not everyone can afford expensive clothing, but thankfully brands like HoliCHIC by Megha provide that fashion doesn’t need to break the bank. Founded by Megha Rao, this label focuses on Indowestern fashion, mixing Indian cuts and silhouettes with Western styling. The range includes embellished blazers, embroidered vests, pre-pleated “five-second” saris, lehengas and sets in colorful prints. HoliChic makes traditional clothing feel fresh and contemporary.
Founder Mayuri Baheti was frustrated by the lack of South Asian clothing options that were both stylish and versatile, which inspired her to launch MOR collections to fill the gap in the market. Her line of versatile essentials with a contemporary twist such as her embellished kaftans, neck capes, and multi-color drapes are perfect for the next generation of South Asian style. In fact, Baheti spoke to hundreds of customers to figure out what they are looking to shop for, and built her brand to elevate looks with statement pieces.
This Diwali, embrace the spirit of the festival through fashion that sparkles with life, not wasteful excess. Preserve offers an answer to fast fashion with its rental service that lets you shine in designer outfits sourced for every size, mood, and occasion. Founded by Lindsey Marie Chakraborty, Preserve is revolutionizing South Asian style by making luxury garments accessible. Now both men and women can experience the excitement of donning a dazzling new look without cost or clutter. Their curated collections unlock a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and silhouettes to celebrate in, so whether you want to rent that crystal-embellished sari, embroidered sherwani, or regal lehenga you've always dreamed of wearing, you can do so with at only a fraction of the cost.
Raas The Global Naari
A Diwali outfit isn’t complete without the perfect handbag, your faithful companion for the night. For a sustainably handcrafted bag brimming with artistry, turn to Raas. Founded by creative director Shreya Patel, Raas partners with local artisans to handmake collections of bags, jewelry, and clothing. Patel launched the brand in 2018 with a commitment to ethical practices, paying fair wages, and supporting the livelihoods of artisans. Choose from an array of striking clutches, and crossbody bags to complement your festive look and of course, to hide those extra Indian sweets for a treat later.
Published on November 10, 2023