Bespoke elegance

FASHION TALK

Bespoke elegance

When Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace, vice president of the Versace Group, said, “Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream!’’ she must have really been thinking of Indian designer Ritu Kumar.

Indian women including celebs, film stars and ordinary mortals dream of dressing up in Ritu’s clothes at least once in their lifetime. Almost every actor — Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Dia Mirza, Soha Ali Khan, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha and many beauty pageant contestants have chosen Ritu for many events in their lives. 

Clocking nearly 50 years in the fashion industry, Ritu Kumar also has the distinction of dressing up many internationals names like Madhur Jaffrey, Jemima Goldsmith, Mischa Barton, Anoushka Shankar and many others, including late Princess Diana.

She is the first recipient of Padma Shri Award in the fashion world and is also applauded as the Indian crafts and textile revivalist. She is the first designer to have put Indian crafts and textiles on the national platform, making it commercially viable. In fact, Harvard Business School features Ritu as one of their creative members of the emerging projects.

Talking about her work with karigars and the revival of old crafts, she says, “It’s an effort not to lose our legitimate legacy of the handloom unlike the rest of the world.” To emphasise her conviction, she toured India and other countries with a ‘Tree of Life’ exhibition, informing and educating everyone about the potential of Indian textiles and how it can evolve to become ‘the’ textile of the century.

It is her earnest interest in the Indian textiles that had her on the Handloom Board of India and on the national jury to select award winning master craftspersons for many years. The first to introduce ‘boutique’ culture in India under the brand name ‘Ritu’, she has also been the recipient of the French honour of “Chevalier Des Arts et Des Lettres”. 

Excerpts  from an interaction:

Tell us about your entry into the world of fashion.

I began with just two tables and four hand-block printers way back in 1969 in a small village near Kolkata. I was involved in the crafts of textiles even then. The transition to fashion was accidental. I started off by producing saris and then ready-to-wear apparel.

Your love for Indian ethnic designs shows through your apparel...

I have always enjoyed ancient designs and traditional crafts. India has a glorious heritage of embroidery and textiles. I love designing with our textiles, colour and crafts. In fact, Indian fashion designers today are doing a great job with our crafts. They are a force to reckon with and are doing very well.

Youngsters today prefer Western wear. Are they opting for it purely for its comfort or copying the international trends?

I think it is a bit of both. And in a way, it’s good. It’s leading the country to a really diverse culture. Bringing together both Indian and Western cultures in their wardrobe ensures them a diversity.

Design schools are now mushrooming by the day. Do they ensure good quality of designers? 

Today, we have a formalised system of teaching designs, which perhaps also keeps in mind the Indian context. The reality is that India dresses differently and so, our fashion schools tend to reflect that. But, among the innumerable design schools today, there isn’t much homogeneity in terms of quality. And by and large, there are more design schools than there are opportunities for the students. Ultimately, one has to put in one’s own effort to succeed.

How fashion-intelligent is the average Indian, in your opinion?

There are always fashion interpretations in a newly growing economy, which will experiment. India is a growing economy and so, at present, fashion is sometimes over the top. However, we do understand textiles and our own indigenous fashion and dress well.

And when it comes to choosing bridal attire...

I would advise Indian couples to keep it classic so that they can stand the test of time and, perhaps, be able to pass on the ensembles to the next generations.

Changes in Indian women and their sense of fashion...

The newer generation has many options. These women are educated and make their own choices, which range from traditional to avant-garde. There are few social pressures to dress in a certain way, but we are seeing an independence of thought and choice which is, by and large, a healthy trend.

Are our local craftsmen getting their due today?

Handlooms and weavers are in a state of definite crisis. And not many of the younger generations of the weavers want to continue in the same profession. It is a complex problem that doesn’t have one single solution.  There are multiple issues within this profession...to address which we need to find sustainable solutions — like a revival programme, for instance.

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