The 75th Cannes Film Festival is underway, and all eyes are on Deepika Padukone this year, a successful Bollywood celebrity claiming a space at the jury table. India is an essential element of Cannes this year, having been named “the country of honour” for this edition. While the Cannes Film Festival has been recognised for celebrating world cinema since its debut in 1946, fashion aficionados are particularly interested in the sartorial trends worn by celebs. Who wore what becomes the pivotal peg of conversations about Cannes (sadly movies are less spoken about) and the internet floods with opinion polls on yay or nay.

Celebrities have been endorsing coveted couture designers for their Cannes red carpet looks thereby making or breaking the popularity of a designer house. It is always the power equation that steers the looks, who is more popular, celebrity or the designer house or are they both mutually winning in this collaboration. Case in point being Deepika Padukone and Aditi Rao Hydari endorsing Sabyasachi Mukherjee at Cannes, twice for their photo-calls. Internet flooded with glamorous images of these celebs wearing Sabyasachi ensembles from head to toe and debate sparked on why only Sabyasachi and if not Sabyasachi, who else for Cannes spotting.

Love him or hate his ubiquitous presence in Indian couture scenario, but what makes Sabyasachi so popular at all red carpet award functions, celeb weddings, magazine covers and international collaborations?  From Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif to Alia Bhatt, all reigning queens of Bollywood have endorsed Sabyasachi for their personal big day. No wonder, with such popularity, one can expect him to be dressing up Bollywood celebs for international red carpets too. Artisanal Indian craftsmanship coupled with global haute couture makes him an enviable first choice.

So what are the fireworks about ? Are fashionistas bored of spotting Sabyasachi head to toe everywhere ?

Sabyasachi, an Indian Staple for Global Events

Shirali Shah Patel, a fashion stylist from Ahmedabad, thinks it has to do more about the business acumen of Sabyasachi that has led him to be visible everywhere. “Celebrities go with established designers for collaborative ensembles at such public events of repute. It is more of business deal more than a personal choice. They opt for choices that benefit them in terms of business rather than opting for small homegrown labels,” she said.

Deepika Padukone wore silk shirt and lime green pants with headscarf for a press photo call followed by gold and black striped saree on the opening night of Cannes. Meanwhile, Aditi Rao Hydari joined the league of donning Sabyasachi at Cannes this year. She marked her debut at the Cannes Film Festival 2022 in an elegant saree by designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee and later sported a laced black gown with his signature belt.

Jury member Deepika Padukone on the red carpet at the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival jury photo call

Deepika Padukone on the red carpet at the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival in Sabyasachi clothing

Aditi Rao Hydari on the red carpet at the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival wearing Sabyasachi

In the past, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Vidya Balan have worn Sabyasachi head to toe for their Cannes appearance and received mix bag reactions for their styles. In the words of Sabyasachi, “The sari is a story I will never stop telling. No matter where we are in the world, it has its place.”

Jury member Vidya Balan in a Sabyasachi saree at the Cannes red carpet, 2013

Kangana Ranaut in a Sabyasachi Saree and jewellery for the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival, 2018

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a Sabyasachi saree at the Cannes red carpet, 2010

One definitely witnesses the style evolution and growth of the designer over the years with the sass and verve taking centre stage in the recent years. Sabyasachi has pioneered the use on high-end luxury Indian textiles in a modern context and amalgamated it with omnichannel marketing over the years to be where he is right now.

“He took his sweet time to achieve the fame he has right now and is ahead in the game mainly because of omnichannel marketing. It acknowledges the fact that there is no one way for people to buy a thing in todays world. When we are talking about a big celebrity, they have a wide palette of designers to collaborate with. And they would naturally go with the most resonating co-branding partner. The level at which Deepika and Sabyasachi are, they both have their set of agendas, a larger audience, so it’s very easy to clip into that” shares Rebecca Reubens, Founder Baka jewellery and Rhizome and a sustainability proponent.

Gaurav Jai Gupta, Founder Akaaro, opines, “People like to talk about Sabya. It’s about what direction you take your label in and he has soared highly in marketing his brand. But obviously, it is a little boring to see everyone wearing Sabya. Of course, he does good work, but we would definitely like to see the celebrities experimenting.”

Secure anchors in fluid times

Over the years other homegrown designers have also created a name for themselves on the French Riviera, but not usually as seen on desi celebrities. When a Hollywood celebrity chooses to wear an Indian label over the several foreign couture houses on offer, it is a source of pride for Indian designers. It gives the business a considerable boost, and the designer profits significantly from the publicity.

Looking back in time, roster of designers worn by Indian celebrities include Anamika Khanna, Neeta Lulla, Rimzim Dadu, Manish Arora, Gaurav Gupta, Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna besides Sabyasachi, each bringing an individual flair coupled with celebrity persona.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival wearing Gaurav Gupta

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja wearing Rimzim Dadu at the Cannes Film Festival, 2016

Huma Qureshi wearing Gaurav Gupta at the Cannes Film Festival, 2019

Diana Penty at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival wearing Amit Aggarwal

“Although Cannes is not the benchmark of fashion events but it’s still one of the important ones. It would be a tremendous honour to be showcased at an event like that. A lot of the small labels don’t have the resources for collaborating with such big celebrities and that’s where the business and marketing aspects factors in and where the bigger labels soar,” exclaimed Rebecca.

Only those creative fashion houses who walked with the changing times could tap on the pulse of market. Launching collections on Instagram at a stipulated time was a novelty, but Sabyasachi did that first adapting to the ways in which youth connects with fashion in the current times. Besides honing the creative side of businesses, collaborations and spotting like these reminds designers of how marketing and strategic liaisons are important for the scalability and growth of any creative business.

“Smaller homegrown brands need to find the right way to approach and pitch a celebrity. The network of a celebrity is very complex with their PR team. Connecting with them is a tedious task and you must be insanely good at marketing to be able to approach them. That’s where unfortunately, most of the basic homegrown brands lack” shares Shirali on why do we see lack of emerging homegrown labels at such red carpet events.

On the other hand, Gaurav shares it’s safer for the celebrities to go with well-established labels. “It’s a lot to do with visibility. People like to wear a well-established label rather than experimenting with something new. They like to go with somebody safer” he sums up for the choices made by current Bollywood celebrities at Cannes red carpet. 

Smaller homegrown labels, too risque for Indian celebs?

Over the years, we have seen many Bollywood celebrities making appearances at the Cannes Film Festival, donning big names like Chanel, Elie Saab, Ralph & Russo, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and such. So, what’s holding them back, not experimenting with homegrown labels from India?

“Indian celebrities are big enough to not be afraid to do anything. But conversely, they are so big that the fall from this craze would be steep. Thus, we dangle between the two extremes. And it would require immense courage for them to take a responsibility like this, to go with a smaller label. Whatever they would take on would be far more impactful than anyone else might have,” said Rebecca adding, “It’s an unfair expectation, but they are definitely in a position of power, and it would be refreshing to see them experimenting.”

Interestingly Tamil actress Regina Cassandra was spotted wearing two eclectic homegrown labels including Advait and Prints by Radhika giving a big shout out to emerging labels. Celebrities definitely hold a position of power and it would be refreshing to see them doing something new.

Regina Cassandra spotted wearing Advait at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival

Can fashion stylists influence in bringing a change?

Stylists have their moment of glory especially when conversations spark around red carpets events, award ceremonies and film promotional events. Anaita Shroff Adajania, renowned stylist and creative consultant, explored an array of Indian, middle eastern and European designers to style fashion entrepreneur and influencer Masoom Minawala. Donning Maison Valentino, Yousef Akbar, Sophie Couture and Saiid Kobeisy for different events, Masoom cut a glamorous figure for a coveted Indian fashion influencer.

Masoom Minawala wearing Yousef Akbar

Besides Bollywood celebrities, TV actresses and fashion influencers are also making a mark at India pavilion for Cannes Film Festival this year.

Masoom Minawala wearing Sophie Couture

Do stylists have the power to change this skewed equation of endorsing only known and established designers ? Talking about if the styling could have been done any differently for Indian celebrities, Rebecca comments,

“Well of course, we all wish it could have been done differently, but Sabyasachi chose Deepika Padukone because of where she is and vice versa. It is obviously important to change this equation and introduce a fresh discourse but well it can’t be a mandate. I think that often stylists and celebrities are prompted by designers rather than something they are doing on their own. If you have a good stylist on board, it can make a lot of difference in how someone carries an ensemble. They could have very easily pitched smaller homegrown labels to celebs, but it would be a tall order for them to get it approved”.

The discourse can continue on what could have been. But the fact of the matter is celebrities want to shine on for their red carpet looks and very few would want to risk the look for the fear of trolling by fashion vigilante. They want to look good and feel at their comfortable best. There is no moral obligation on their part to encourage homegrown labels, but if at all they do it, it gives a huge boost to the emerging designers. Afterall, where is fun in fashion if its not risqué.