Indian Fashion Fest Comes to Queens

Piles of Indian clothing at the Indian Fashion Fest at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Queens (Photo by Roxanne L. Scott for voices of NY)

Piles of Indian clothing at the Indian Fashion Fest at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Queens (Photo by Roxanne L. Scott for Voices of NY)

Garments adorned with beads, sequins, rhinestones and silk filled a conference room on the ninth floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Southeast Queens on Saturday, Oct. 10.

Saris spilled over the display tables as shoppers checked out the wares at the Indian Fashion Fest, which was held Oct. 9-11. Close by at JFK International Airport, passengers were waiting to take off for distant lands. But it was the customers at the Indian Fashion Fest who had truly entered another country. The saris, lehengas, jeweled clutches and silky tunics transformed the room into a dazzling Indian marketplace.

“I think what makes Indian fashion so appealing are the colors and texture,” says Mumbai-based blogger Gia Kashyap. She says the bright colors, craftsmanship of embroidery and beadwork along with fabric such as cotton and silk make the quality of Indian fashion superior. “The amount of work,” Kashyap says, “is not comparable to anything else I’ve seen.”

Shopper Sabi Landron, 32, at the event, agreed. “All the colors and all the embroidery make women feel elegant and pretty.” Divya Trehan, 23, also used the word “elegant” because of the way the clothes drape on a woman’s body. “Any event you wear the clothes to,” Trehan says, “you know you’re going to look perfect.” Many of the women at the event were looking for something to wear for a special occasion.

Saruj Migliore, 50, traveled with her husband to the event to take advantage of the deals. Migliore is originally from Guyana but maintains strong ties to her Indian culture. She came to find something to wear when she goes to temple. She ended up buying a sari with a blend of reds, blues and greens for about $149. She preferred coming to Indian Fashion Fest rather than shop in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood about eight miles away that’s lined with Indian boutiques. “It’s two, three times the price in Jackson Heights,” she says of the prices. She enjoys the price break at Indian Fashion Fest as well as the uniqueness of the items. Migliore believes some of the items in other parts of the city are mass-produced.

Indian Fashion Fest is a traveling market. A week after the Queens event, the Crowne Plaza Edison in Edison, New Jersey, was the site of another sale of Indian fashion items. The October events follow earlier shows in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami and other major cities. The bazaar started as a brick-and-mortar store in New Jersey. The owners believed, however, they could serve more people by marketing to the Indian diaspora across the country. They considered an online marketplace but felt customers were mistrustful of buying items online. The idea of the traveling marketplace was born in 2012 and has since had 40,000 attendees.

The decision to hold the event in Queens may have been no accident. More than 120,000 Indian Americans call Queens home, and make up the largest concentration of Indian Americans in the country. That doesn’t include the thousands of Indo-Caribbeans who live in Queens.

Non-Indians who love garments from the country were seen at the event as well. Amy Samba, 19, and her family traveled from New Rochelle to shop at the event. It was their first time at the Indian Fashion Fest, which they found out about online. Originally from Senegal, Samba’s mother, Marie, was excited to attend. “The designs are similar to African fabrics,” Marie Samba said. “I wanted a dress for myself.”

Fears of cultural appropriation worry some. In recent years, stars such as Selena Gomez and Khloe Kardashian have been spotted wearing bindis on their foreheads. Fashion blogger Kashyap says the fear runs among the older generation and those in India in rural areas. “But for the young modern woman it’s just a way to express yourself,” she says of the bindis, which have been making a comeback as a fashion statement in the past few years. Sonu Bohra, 29, from the blog Fashion Bombay agrees. “The younger generation is more evolved and accepting,” she says.

Workers at Indian Fashion Fest carried bright saris and tunics in dull gray to be folded and once again neatly displayed in the conference room. They desperately tried to keep up with the women going through the racks and tables. Clothes were jumbled as quickly as they were rearranged, making any attempt at a neat shopping experience futile. But this only speaks to the popularity of Indian fashion – even across cultures.

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