If there is anyone who can use Indian fabrics and crafts to create a completely fresh look, it has to be Aneeth Arora. Her recent fashion week collection was resplendent with pleasing hues (mostly blues) in trademark checks and chikankari fabrics. It’s a rarity when you can look at a designer’s collection and see almost every piece in your wardrobe. It’s relatable, wearable but unique. “The USP of our brand [Pero] is that we do not offer garments to people, we offer a piece that is touched by the hands of many craftspeople and ends up being a unique piece of clothing. By doing this, we try to keep alive the age-old Indian handicraft tradition where the mother makes each and every piece for her daughter’s trousseau by involving the village rangrez (dyer), chippa (printer) and darzi (tailor), and finally embellishing it with her own hands. Our buttons are handmade and every garment carries a label that’s hand embroidered.”
Aneeth’s aesthetic could be similar to that of her favourite designer Sabyasachi, who she credits for creating such a strong style statement. “During my Gen Next show, most of the stores were saying that this clothing is too expensive for a plain piece of textile. They were saying that no one will pay so much. But Sabyasachi said, ‘Continue doing the same thing, I can see this selling like hot cakes’.” His words have come true. Along with becoming the ‘it’ designer in India, she has dressed actress Kate Hudson and designed costumes for Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. She also retails at around 60 stores worldwide, which could make her one of the most successful designers of her time. “I design for anyone and everyone who is sensitive to what he or she is wearing, who is interested in knowing the story behind it—how it is made rather than what brand it is,” she says. She also credits her success to living in India. “The visual vocabulary available here, from traditional Indian textiles to the way people dress in the remotest parts of India, is amazing. One doesn’t even have to refer to forecasts to create a trend. We see the trendiest people in various parts of the country. If Burberry originated in India, they would get their checks woven in West Bengal, Louis Vuitton would print their logo with brass blocks somewhere in Gujarat or Rajasthan.” As for her own personal style, she smiles, “I can spend my whole life wearing a clean white shirt with a pair of jeans and sneakers.”
~ by Aastha Atray Banan
It was 2011 and Cannes was, as always, buzzing with beautiful people in beautiful clothes. One of them was Sonam Kapoor in a black-and-white polka dotted sari. That was Masaba Gupta’s a-ha moment. Rhea Kapoor and Sonam loved her creation. Most Indian critics hated it. “That was one reason I knew I had arrived because Indians didn’t like it. It just shows how outdated our sensibilities are. The best thing about being an Indian designer is that our critics don’t know about fashion, and hence most opinions don’t matter,” says Masaba, who’s based in Mumbai.
Her unique prints and shapes look good on anyone aged 16 to 60. At her last Lakmé Fashion Week show, she showcased a jacket with retro cameras and cows printed on it. That jacket has since been spotted on Neha Dhupia and Rhea Kapoor. Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra are Masaba’s fans. “What worked for me was that when I debuted, people really needed a change. Mothers and daughters both wear my clothes, and they fit real woman shapes. I have women from the middle-class as my biggest customers. All they need is the right attitude. I am sure some people regard my clothes as garish.” Her first moment of inspiration came after watching women labourers on the streets of Mumbai. “They put together things that don’t match so well together. I knew that’s the kind of raw feel all my collections would have.”
Masaba is now in talks with a company to create a signature home décor line. “Fashion is dead without style,” she says, “You need to interpret who you are, and that’s the most important thing.”
~ by Aastha Atray Banan
You take one look at Ruchika Sachdev’s Bodice line and think she wanted to be an architect once. There is geometry in her shapes, an aesthetic so modern that you could perhaps wear her clothes anywhere in the world and fit in, or stand out. They are inspired by her stay in London and her fascination of the city’s street style. “I was surrounded by so many eccentric people in London who did so much with their clothes. They spoke of their identities through their clothes,” says Ruchika, who lives and works in Delhi. Her work is marked by muted colours, bright panels and eccentric cuts that would flatter any body shape. Most of her clients are upper middle-class aspirational folk who want their dressing to be a notch above the regular. “A person who wears my clothes has to be ready to experiment. They have to know that they are going to be noticed.” She does Western looks best, but also mixes in tradition as long as it doesn’t interfere with her aesthetics. “In my last collection, I used little ghungroos as embellishments. And people thought they were skulls hanging from the top.”
Ruchika is also sure that India is where she was meant to be, even though many designers are now focusing on the international market. “The West is saturated. India is going to grow so much more. And look at the facilities we have here—cheap labour which makes us able to afford such beautiful fabrics and handiwork.”
~ by Aastha Atray Banan
Rani-pink splits any landscape wide open: the desert backdrop of Sanjay Garg’s native Rajasthan, a wedding party full of dizzyingly intricate saris, or the visual chaos of Delhi streets, populated by thousands of mismatched people and signboards. Design, to Sanjay, is about respite—the respite, perhaps, of a sparse home after a day full of noise and work and traffic and nerves. “Maybe you have a blank wall,” he explains, gesturing to the mustard exterior of his Chhatarpur workshop, “and maybe you put just a single brass lota against it.”
Maybe there is a little bowl of mogra on the coffee table to infuse a damp evening with perfume, just as there was when Sanjay and a colleague were brainstorming motifs for a simple and spectacular colour wash of a Raw Mango sari. That handful of flowers can now be found scattered in pale gold across olive green organza. Elsewhere, little fuchsia parrots stand on a field of teal silk.
Sanjay works with a whole vocabulary of such visual pleasantries, developed over a lifetime of absorbing images from his surroundings. He uses them sparingly, combining them with full-throated colour to arrive at the personal aesthetic he tentatively describes as ‘Indian minimalism’. Minimalism, he insists, is not the jaagir of the West. Or Japan. Is it also a protest against the Bollywood kitsch that has become synonymous with India? “It is a way to stand out, yes. But minimalism has always been in me,” he shrugs. His colours and motifs are what make the expression of it so distinctly Indian.
Textile became his medium because of a lifelong affinity for craft. On a visit to Chanderi while consulting for the Ministry of Textiles, he was struck by the unexplored extent and variety of textiles in India. Sanjay began working with a handful of weavers in Chanderi to make their designs more contemporary, “so that women would see themselves, not their grandmothers, in a Chanderi sari”.
Sanjay is clear that the craft must change, must adapt to modern life and be adopted by contemporary wearers if it is to survive—it cannot flourish if left to languish as traditional wear. He has been careful not to sideline the weavers’ own wealth of skills, their techniques of patternmaking, in pursuit of his minimalism. His design innovations have often had practical motivations—such as his decision to work in silk, which assures weavers more money. He also had the processing of silk modified to keep saris from cracking at their folds after years of use, and had the weaves adapted to make the fabric lighter. The result is silk saris with a beautiful translucent sheen and lachak. “Design,” Sanjay says, “is creation that comes out of a cause, out of a need for a solution.”
Despite a slew of lacklustre copycats, Sanjay has a loyal if rarefied clientele. Raw Mango has been worn by everyone from Rani Mukherji to Ritu Kumar, Shalu Jindal to Arundhati Roy. “Craft is a luxury,” he acknowledges. “That is a rough truth.” This is precisely why—Sanjay is emphatic—it must be made personal again. “We have to live with it to make it alive. If it lives alone in a glass case in a museum, it will die. I have a greater right over it than a museum does.” There are, however, five Raw Mango saris in the permanent collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Just for good measure.
~ by Devika Bakshi
For her debut collection as part of the LFW Gen Next Summer/Resort 2012, Tanya Sharma had a simple inspiration—a classic white shirt. The looks that she created were anything but simple. They were quirky and inventive, like the white shirt that served as a collared blouse under a multi-fabric, multi coloured sari, and paired with candy-coloured shorts and a cape. Though her designs may only seem suited to the adventurous, Tanya says, “Varied people buy my clothes. I get orders from places like Nagpur and Kolkata.” Originally from Chandigarh, she now lives in Mumbai. She founded Gaga before Lady Gaga made the moniker famous. She loves the fact that as an Indian, she can run a riot of colours and surface ornamentation, but rues that invention is not a forte of Indian designers. “Designers like Karl Lagerfield invent shapes. We need to experiment more.”
Tanya seeks inspiration in music and well-style music videos. “I love the artiste M.I.A. And I don’t just watch videos, I listen to interviews and totally get into the mind of the artiste. I love singers who are strong girls, like M.I.A. And my clothes are for women like those who are independent and mighty wily. She has to be ready for change.” Tanya is also a stylist on the side and may soon be working on a movie. She regards it as the logical thing to do as competition is rife, and to make it internationally, understanding the business is very important. “Designers like Manish Arora are doing very well internationally but that takes time. Right now, I am just taking one day at a time.” Ask her for the season’s hottest trends, and she says, “Sheer and colour—you can’t go wrong with them.”
~ by Aastha Atray Banan
SHANI HIMANSHU, SMITA SINGH RATHORE
It wasn’t crazy, their decision to have models walk backwards on the ramp. Shani Himanshu and Smita Singh Rathore, founders of CellDSGN, a design studio in Hauz Khas village in Delhi, received a standing ovation for their innovative approach in showing off the rich detailing on the back of their clothes. They have been called ‘new age drapers’, but Himanshu says he is a designer who also designs theme parties, like the one he did for Penguin’s 25th year celebrations at Jaipur, where he brought helium balloons and designed curiosity shops. Since that show with models counting their steps backwards, the two haven’t showcased their collections on the ramp because they feel the money could be used for research.
Himanshu and Smita met at Domus Academy in Milan, and started their own design venture in 2008. They were later joined by Mia Morikawa and Arya John Akkara, who have been coming up with designs that integrate their two missions of recycling things and discovering lost local traditions. Himanshu, originally from Gujarat, has been spending a lot of time in the Kutch region, getting a hang of bandhani techniques and marble dyeing, and then using these to create fusion lines that make tradition vibe with the contemporary.
At their workshop, Himanshu and Smita are busy brainstorming their new line. She is exuberant, full of ideas, while Himanshu is focused, an executioner. He had already graduated from Domus Academy when Smita joined. A NIFT Gandhinagar graduate, he mentored students while he worked as a fashion consultant in Milan. They first dabbled with menswear, and when Gitanjali Kashyap of Delhi Fashion Week saw their collection, she asked them to design a women’s wear line for the fashion week. In 20 days, they were ready with a collection for the show. That’s how 11:11 was born. Himanshu was obsessed with these numbers, and he saw them everywhere. “We have no creative differences,” Smita says, as Himanshu stands smoking. “He makes things. He is a perfectionist, a genius workaholic—a ball buster. He also throws things when he gets angry.” That’s their thing. They get along, and they have their own descriptions for each other. Mia Morikawa, who happened to walk into their store one day and felt she had to team up with them, is a calming influence. “Smita is like mulled wine,” says Mia, “and Himanshu is like a Tequila shot.”