Asian fashion crosses cultural divide

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The Independent Online
Yesterday saw the launch of the biggest `Asian Cultural Festival' ever with the BBC, the event's organiser, welcoming the `Asian Age'. Randeep Ramesh examines the success story and wonders when the appeal of the East will reach the High Street.

British Asians are likely increasingly to influence Britain's fashion and music, if you believe the publicity surrounding the BBC's Mega Mela.

There are signs that the marketers may be right. Earlier this year, an unknown 17-year-old girl singer - Amar - was snapped up by Warner for a pounds 3m, five-album deal. Two of London's hippest nightclubs, Anokha and Outcaste, have seen Asian couture handed the casting vote in the capital's style council.

Bashir Ahmed, a St Martin's graduate and design director for Apartment clothes, says it is the "white mainstream that have discovered Asian fashion". "The kids in the clubs are predominantly English. Once it was known Jarvis Cocker came down to Anokha, you saw them turn up in sari tops and jeans."

The appeal is likely to increase with the burgeoning British Asian population. The London Research Centre estimates the capital's ethnic minorities will grow by 40 per cent in 15 years. Added to this is the mixing of cultures by marriage. At present, a fifth of Asian males have white partners.

But while the swish of the shalwar may be heard on the catwalk or in nightclubs, it is still unlikely to be seen on the high streets.

Deepak Mohindra sells Asian fashion to predominantly Asian customers in East Ham and Leicester. Despite developing his family business from a single grocery storeto a fashion empire with sales of pounds 1.6m, Mr Mohindra's ambitions may force him to expand elsewhere.

"After my new store opens in Southall next year, I can't see how I can expand further in the UK. My next shop will be in New Jersey - where there is a large Indian community." The problem, Mr Mohindra says, is he has yet to find a high street store to take his brand as a line of clothing.

Curiously, it appears white shopkeepers can sell Asian designs to white audiences. Paul Garrod sells "Europeanised" designs from his four Chandni Chowk stores in the West Country. "Our customers are mainly white, but they have seen the world and like wearing Indian-style clothes," he says.

Experts believe, however, that Eastern designs will eventually come to British retailers. "It is about latent demand. Look at the parallel with food. Ten years ago, you would need to go to Leicester or Wembley to buy spices for a decent curry," says Ram Gidoomal, author of the UK Maharajahs. "Now you can go to Sainsbury's."