Inherently Indian

Inherently Indian

Mumbai-based designer Anita Dongre has been working with grassroot weavers and karigars from Rajasthan, Gujarat and other states for nearly two decades. She creates designs from the young to the old, from casual, daily wear to festive and wedding wear. She completely believes in sustainable and affordable fashion. Both at the national and international levels, it's a dream of every girl, woman and man to dress in an Anita Dongre creation. From the Bollywood brigade to the who's who in the society, everyone loves her clothes. Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian president, on her recent India tour, dressed in Dongre label. Earlier, it was the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who wore an Anita Dongre creation.

Here are some edited excerpts from an exclusive conversation with the designer:

This Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), you showcased 'Songs of Summer', wherein we saw a lot of embroidery. Has embroidery made a huge comeback in the fashion world?

Personally, I have always loved the intricacy of hand embroidery, a craft that has always been very visible in our work. Our quintessential design element, gota patti, can be seen on most of our pieces in gorgeous Indian weaves - whether it is a classic lehenga, a dress or a jumpsuit. Our signature style is a confluence of modern silhouettes and traditional embroidery, and this season, I wanted to celebrate more of our heirloom crafts.

Can one differentiate embroidery according to the season?

Embroidery is a traditional craft that draws heavily from the communities that have preserved them for many years. The season dictates the choice of motifs and every colour is used to tell a story. In our designs, we draw from these narratives. For example, use lighter work like resham in pastel shades for summer, while winter could have heavier metal work in darker shades.

Any particular form of embroidery that you absolutely love?

Rajasthan has always been the strongest source of inspiration for all my collections. Gota patti is one of my favourite embroidery techniques because of the effortless grandeur it brings to an ensemble. This intricate craft is a particular favourite for being surprisingly light and easy to wear.

You also used a new fabric this season...

For my new collection, we knew we wanted to work with sustainable fabrics and discovered 'R Elan GreenGold', an eco-friendly fabric. This fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles using renewable energy. It was a pleasure designing this capsule collection because of how fluid the fabric was and the rich colours we could achieve with it.

As a designer, are you happy with the research in new fabrics or do you prefer to use age-old fabrics such as pure cotton, mulmul or linen?

I've always believed in designing clothes for the modern Indian woman, clothes that are beautiful, wearable, and hold a purpose. We live in an exciting time where we get to combine age-old, sustainable fabrics like linen, unbleached cotton and ahimsa silk with man-made fabrics that respect the planet. It's the art of using the perfect pattern and design for the fabric, so they fit like pieces of a puzzle. Sustainable clothing, in general, feels great - whether these are easy-breezy handwoven fabrics or new-age fabrics that stretch the boundary of innovation.

What colours, styles and fabrics will rule in India this summer?

Summer is the time to wear easy-breezy silhouettes, nothing that should weigh you down or make you feel uncomfortable. Since light-weight and effortless are the buzzwords, 50s-inspired silhouettes in the form of wrap tops, midi skirts and loose palazzo pants are great options. Classic lehengas and draped saris in soft, light-weight fabrics such as handwoven silks and cotton from Benares are perfect for a sultry summer wedding. In terms of colours, warm pastels and muted tones of blush, sage, powder blue, yellow and pristine white are some of the hues that would certainly dominate the colour palette this season.

You have been presenting at LFW for so many seasons now. How has it changed over the years?

Lakme Fashion Week is a great platform for designers as it helps us reach out to a wide audience all over the world. Over the years, LFW has evolved from being just a sartorial showcase to now actively addressing and highlighting important causes such as gender inequality, women's empowerment, preserving heritage crafts and sustainability. Today, there is also much more inclusivity in terms of model sizes and gender as well.

You are one of the few designers who has been working consistently with grassroot 'karigars' and weavers. Over the years, has their plight improved?

Anita Dongre Grassroot was born out of the need to provide steady livelihood opportunities to skilled artisan communities in rural India. As Grassroot has grown, so have the artisans, who are now able to provide for their family from the comfort of their home, and at their own pace. The active involvement and thoughtful initiatives of the Ministry of Textiles has spread awareness on the importance of providing rural artisans employment opportunities and a respectable income. Fashion schools are also doing commendable work in sensitising the design community to these relevant issues.

Do you think every fashion designing school should make it mandatory for students to do a stint with weavers in their villages?

I have always found inspiration in the villages I visit, sitting by master craftsmen and observing them work. I have been a designer for almost 30 years now and still haven't found a moment when visiting a craft village hasn't been a learning experience. A six-month training with artisans in their hometowns could give design students the foundation they need to truly understand these crafts and bring them into the 21st century. In saying this though, I must caution against seeing these bonds as a mere project or stint. It is important for these institutions to work with artisans over a long term, providing them with the market guidance and livelihood support they seek. I can't stress enough for these apprenticeships to be mutually beneficial to the student/institution, and the artisan. There is no other way for this to be a sustained effort and bring about the change we need.

 

Liked the story?

  • 1

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry