The essence is Indian

Leading man Designer Ajay Kumar

A growling tiger pops its head on the chest framed by pink flowers. Butterflies, blue birds, and bugs adorn a flaming red jacket. Elsewhere, an African elephant hurtles out of the back of a jacket. If you have seen any of Bengaluru-based designer Ajay Kumar’s collections, this one is very much in keeping with his wild and quirky fashion aesthetic. Only, he’s taking ‘wild’ a bit too literally this time.

His eponymous label Mr. Ajay Kumar went to China’s Harbin Fashion Week in January 2018. The Bengaluru-based designer is the first Indian to be chosen and invited to showcase there. Ajay also won the Designer of the Year Award for his collection ‘Bhu: Svah - Arising From Within’.

An alumnus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, and with over 12 years of experience in men’s ready-to-wear retail, Ajay made his debut at Gen Next Lakme Fashion Week Autumn-Winter 2015-16. His flamboyant personal style is pretty much what you see in his collections. He’s never shy of wearing layered garments, loves his reds, purples and pinks, and will easily carry off prints on prints.

His bib shirts and drop-crotch pants, Angarkha-styled shirts, the shurta (worn tucked, it’s a a shirt, and left out, it’s a kurta), pants with kilt-inspired overskirts in his initial collections garnered much attention. As did his bold use of colours and patterns, and layering of digital prints. Keeping things asymmetrical is another characteristic of his designs — it is a way of leaving nature the way it is, believes Ajay Kumar. “When you put too much order in your creations, they look made,” philosophises the designer. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, and having grown up in Jharkhand, Ajay wanted to make ‘hip Bengaluru’ his home always.

The collection of menswear he took to Harbin consisted of his signature layered jackets, shirts, tunic shirts, bomber jackets, constructed jackets, trousers and cowl shirts. All these, with his trademark bold digital prints. The women’s collection was made up of long dresses with asymmetric frills, bomber jackets. The collection was dominated by natural fabrics like silk linen, khadi cotton and khadi wool.

Conscious luxury

The materials, sourced from craft and handloom clusters in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, are an integral part of making the brand sustainable, and in keeping with his ‘Bhu: Svah’ theme, he explains. “There is a dawning realisation that the fundamental problem is not ‘out there’ but ‘in here’, within us, in our consciousness. This is a wake-up call to bring about that change in my way of life, in my brand, and pass it on to my consumers. We cannot change everything overnight, but we are taking small steps towards building a sustainable and conscious luxury brand,” says Ajay. They also try to minimise fabric wastage by engineering prints to perfectly fit designs.

In a new sort of collaboration, Ajay also recently designed outfits for the Indo-French fusion band House of the Gypsies (earlier known as Gipsy Sound Revolution). Their latest album, ‘Return to Rajasthan’, was launched in Jaipur in March 2018 at the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation. The band supports programmes for women’s empowerment and girls’ education in Rajasthan. 

Mirror, mirror...

Ajay talks of how, over the last three years, the way he approaches a collection itself has changed dramatically. Fashion need not just be inspired by what’s around, it can also reflect the present, he points out. “At first, when I started designing my seasonal collections, I wanted to use Indian elements. So, we started with the Lotus Sutra & Benares Collection. We spoke about the rise of the lotus from a miry environment and wove the story of life on the ghats of Benares through our Benares line.”

Over time, he has also started creating a range of fashion accessories including the in-demand handmade leather shoes with prints, bags, ties, scarves and pocket squares. Starting off as a menswear brand, he started designing women’s wear when his clients started demanding that he create something for their wives also! “In terms of garmenting, styling and prints we are international in approach but the essence of the label, and the symbolism used, has always been Indian. Which is why we have been well-accepted in Europe,” he opines. 

Ajay says he wants to capture the story of fashion as a motivator of change from the inside. “We are visionaries, we are storytellers with a cause, and we want to narrate stories through pictorial representations and create awareness that’s reflective of social change. We want to bring our Indian story out — our legacy through our prints, our tales woven into our very own khadi fabric, and glamourise it for the global audience so that they look up to it for their flamboyant evenings and flaunt it.”

 

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