By Archana Heenpella
Photos Lalith Perera
At the beginning of every year, Colombo’s finest design talent, fashion enthusiasts, and the media descend in a frenzy on HSBC Colombo Fashion Week (CFW).
Celebrating its 16th year, the show didn’t fail to open with a fashionable bang, promoting and even retailing designs from some of Sri Lanka’s most promising designers.
With its runway rolled out at none other than the Hilton Colombo, day one of CFW 2019 – the Emerging Designers Show – roared to life at 7.30 p.m. in the outdoor area behind the hotel’s Curry Leaf restaurant.
A graduate of the prestigious University of Moratuwa, Himashi Wijeweera’s collection caters to a growing demand for luxurious resort wear. Working closely with craftsmen from the South, the label fuses contemporary style with local fabrics like beeralu lace.
Jumping between shades of pink, off white, and gunmetal grey, day and night wear were represented equally on the runway. With the slinky dresses, skirts, pants, and tops all featuring one or more unique embellishments including lace accents, crocheted work, and soft asymmetrical drapes, the collection exuded stylish comfort – perfect for dreamy vacations.
When we spoke to her about her advice for young designers who wish to make their way to the Emerging Designers Show, her advice was simply to be unique. She shared that designers should not look at what’s being done as a reference to what will get them selected. She believes that having “a clear idea and direction” is the best message for aspiring artists.
Manasha Silva’s mathematically-inspired brand, FIBONACCI 1.612, showcased its collection for the first time at CFW and displayed her experience as a stylist for both local and international brands.
Effortlessly cool and sophisticated, her models strutted designs clearly inspired by the all-consuming streetwear movement. Striking uniformity across all pieces, her industrial-inspired neon orange belt was a central piece the designer proudly curated.
Her striking graphic tees also featured one interesting detail – the prints were photographed by the designer herself. The images were then digitally altered to add oomph! to the universally-popular white tee.
Against the background of enthusiastic, fist-pumping music, Shehana Dayananda’s models walked down the runway in 90s-inspired black, grey, and pink workwear-inspired skirts, pants, and jackets. Featuring sequinned inserts and bejewelled net caps, the collection struck a careful balance between edgy design and practicality, with a bold attempt to reinterpret traditional feminine attire.
Shehana’s piéce de résistance, so to speak, was an outfit featuring an asymmetric purple tutu and cropped work blazer, finished off with a delicate diamante belt – one of the more unforgettable looks from the opening night of CFW.
A designer intent on conveying a clear message, Marlon Rae’s collection was one of two lines featuring elements of the azure ocean Sri Lanka is renowned for.
With his fabrics dyed and stretched like sea foam, the collection gave life to jumpsuits, pants, and tops in mesmerising hues of green and silver – a clear attempt to capture the effect of sunlight on rippling water.
What was particularly noteworthy about the collection was the message it conveyed. Models walking down the runway carried transparent bags filled with the rubbish found in our seas – a subtle reminder that our careless practices degrade the beauty of mother nature’s pristine oceans.
When we spoke to Marlon after the show, we asked him one crucial question – how does he stay true to his vision as a designer? With great confidence, he confided that having a compelling story and staying focused on what you want to do is important if you want to succeed as a designer.
Sticking almost religiously to her earthy green and soft grey palette, Nilusha’s collection featured seemingly utility-based designs for stylish and practical women.
Her loose-fitting asymmetric drapes didn’t just look comfortable, they also featured oversized pockets and subtle zippers. Some of her designs even styled daring slits and mid-riff baring cut-outs – a blessing in this humid weather. A favourite from her collection was her high-neck cowl linen top with baggy pants – a stylishly casual combo, perfect for the modern Sri Lankan woman.
Featuring embroidered work that hit all the right notes of classy, Nadeeshani Ratnayaka’s collection was inspired, in large part, by Japanese folk fashion.
Featuring tops and pants in classic monochrome shades, her clothing for women struck a healthy balance between simple, elegant, and comfortable; a collection many would agree was practical for everyday wear.
When we asked her how she maintains her vision in the light of so many pervasive trends and competition, her response was simple – “don’t follow trends, just create your own”.
Easily the quirkiest collection of the night, Ayesh Wickramarathne turned to a somewhat unconventional source for inspiration – Hollywood blockbuster, the Pirates of the Caribbean.
With the calls of the (in)famous Jack Sparrow resounding down the runway, the designer artfully piled denim on denim to create a stylish reinterpretation of traditional pirate attire. Items from the collection included long denim coats, denim shirts with front-facing hoodies, and printed pants that were style statements all on their own.
With models styling jauntily placed pirate hats on their heads, they made the loose pants and long-sleeved shirts look comfortable even in the heat of the evening!
Ridma’s collection was one of the most memorable collections from the show. Drawing inspiration from Sri Lankan history, the collection was not just feminine, it was also both traditional and modern – an utterly chic juxtaposition, executed to perfection.
Featuring beeralu lace, dramatic, flared collars, and sculpted fabric, all of the pieces were those that would have been gladly styled by the audience for other high-fashion events. Calf-length lilac and pink rompers featured feminine ruffles and lace panels added an elegance that was unmatchable.
All said and done, the collection was utterly feminine and familiar with a tastefully modern spin.
Featuring pieces for both men and women, Udarika Dalugama’s models walked the runway looking effortlessly cool in their black masquerade masks.
With certain outfits completed with bags that boldly stated: “UNVEIL THE UNDEFINED YOU”, the whole vibe of this segment of the show and its designs were about being bold and unique. The outfits were produced in staple shades of green, brown, and white and featured heavy layering.
The most memorable look from the collection was easily the artfully baggy shorts and unbuttoned shirt styled by one of the final male models – an outfit befitting the quintessential bad boy.
Inspired by the vintage Havana aesthetic, flamenco flounces, and old-world Cuba, Shimalka Bodaragama produced one of the most memorable collections of the evening.
Featuring tartan prints, dramatic constructed ruffles, and fit-and-flare bell-bottom pants – to name just a few of her pieces – the collection was both retro and modern in an almost equal ratio. Incorporating a diverse colour palette, the designer made selecting a favourite look from the collection almost impossible. She also skilfully juxtaposed different fabrics to create pieces that were fresh, fun, and reminiscent of a vintage music video.
Rounding off with a structured, midnight-black pantsuit, both breathtakingly edgy and feminine, Shimalka didn’t fail to make an impression with her fun and flirty designs.
Achala Lee Koh
Similar to Marlon Rae’s collection, Achala also produced a line of elegant dresses, skirts, and tops that mirrored the beauty of a pollution-free ocean.
Featuring the hues of crystal clear waters, mesmerising sea life, and the pastel shades of undisturbed corals, her evening wear was also adorned with pearly beads that resembled frothy sea foam. With romantic sleeves that draped to the floor, silky ruffles, and even a vibrant white and orange print reminiscent of exotic sea life, it’s safe to say that Achala brought the curtain down in true CFW style.
To sum it all up, the Emerging Designers Show was a thrilling indication of what the next generation of Sri Lankan designers have to offer the local and international fashion market.
This was a sentiment shared by President and Founder of CFW, Ajai Vir Singh. When we spoke to him after the show, he confidently shared that this year’s event and designs were “bigger, better, and completely next level. I’m very excited – it was a fantastic show and a very good start!”