Maybe you’ve admired (and envied) the woman in sparkly sneakers at a cocktail party. Or spotted a jumpsuit at a black-tie gala. Or realized that your classic white T-shirt is a perfect match for the brocade skirt idling in the back of your closet. Dress codes, once a set of rigid rules about how women should adorn themselves, have evolved.
Women are ready for a change—but many brands are not. Most continue to follow the same playbook, particularly in evening wear, with looks designed to check the box on "black tie" or "cocktail."
Sachin & Babi, on the other hand, sees these disappearing boundaries as an opportunity. The New York-based fashion label, led by husband-and-wife team Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia, made its name over the last seven years with sophisticated silhouettes and bold colors. In its early years, Sachin & Babi hewed to tradition.
"There was this gold standard that a lot of the senior designers set: This is evening wear—beaded tulle dress and big princess gowns," Sachin says. Sachin & Babi looks reflected that standard, with heavy fabrics and a ladylike sense of occasion.
Then, this past year, the husband-wife team started to pay closer attention to customer feedback offered up at their trunk shows—and ultimately decided to turn their approach to evening wear on its head.
"The world does not dictate the way she dresses, she is dictating it today," Sachin says, referring to the modern fashion client.
The results were on display last week at the Sachin & Babi showcase in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Models stood tall in the dappled September light, wearing soft lace and ruffles that fluttered as they shifted their weight and slowly changed poses. At the window, ballerinas in signature looks from the collection moved through the classic positions, en pointe.
"We looked at ballet in motion, which is a great juxtaposition—these women are so graceful, but at the same time they come from a position of strength," Sachin says. "That dictated a lot of the terms—the choice of fabrics, the silhouettes, the ruffles. We made our fabrics a little bit softer, free moving, to have a relative ease."
In addition, many of the looks are designed for versatility. Sachin nods to a black-and-white dress, its black bow, tied at the neck, an echo of Paris. "She could go for lunch outside and be very trendy, but at the same time she could wear high heels and use this dress for a cocktail event," he explains. "She can incorporate it in so many different places."
The challenge for designers today is to deliver that versatility without compromising on style.
"She wants fashion," he says. "She doesn’t want to wear a little black dress anymore."
Just don't tell Holly Golightly.