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Originally published Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:22 AM

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"Slumdog" shines spotlight on Indian fashion

Thanks to the hit Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire," there's a renewed interest in Indian fashion.

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If there was ever a time we needed a Mumbai makeover — or at least a nudge toward the cheery colors, metallic threads and dazzling embroidery that are staples of Indian clothing — it's now.

With "Slumdog Millionaire" winning the hearts of millions — and dominating the Oscars — there's no doubt it will spawn an interest in Indian design.

"I think that movie will be extremely influential," Ports 1961 designer Tia Cibani said before her show at last month's Fashion Week. Cibani's fall line — inspired by India's Mughal Dynasty — includes sari-draped dresses, dhoti skirts, cinched salwar trousers and asymmetrical Angarkha coats.

"Everyone's somber today," said Cibani, citing the economy. "We wanted to be joyous, to celebrate."

Suze Yalof Schwartz, Glamour magazine's executive fashion editor at large, agrees that "Slumdog" may jump-start an interest in Indian aesthetics. She points to the growing popularity of designers of Indian heritage, such as Rachel Roy (who is half Indian) and Naeem Khan, whose "clothes just pop — never have they been hotter than right now."

"I'm proud of that heritage," says Bibhu Mohapatra, who was raised in Orissa, India, educated at FIT and was design director at J. Mendel. Last month he debuted his first eponymous collection, which hits stores this fall.

Hints of India emerge in subtle ways in Mohapatra's designs. A glorious chiffon strapless looks simple from the front but cascades in dramatic, sari-like drapes in back. An uber-luxe coat and dress are made from peacock feathers, hand-loomed and woven in an ancient Indian technique.

American awareness of Indian culture is growing, notes Mohapatra. "In fashion, film, art, ... " he says, moving his hands like a spinning wheel. "It's a big storm that's brewing."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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