Last weekend, many of fashion's most prominent influencers flew across the country to Kolkata for a fashion presentation. There was no catwalk, no cocktail party and no celebrity in attendance, yet this was a show every fashion editor wanted to write about.
Kolkata's Anamika Khanna is perhaps one of the few designers who, when she does show at fashion weeks, opts for an off-site show. This time, as part of the recently-concluded Couture Week in Delhi, she decided to keep her show not only off-site, but off-city too. In fact, this is the first time the Fashion Design Council of India had initiated a show like this.
Khanna has always been a bit of an enigma. She is not fashion's most profitable or popular designer. But she commands the industry's respect. "She has an aesthetic and sensibility par excellence and I think everyone in the industry respects her for the way she uses craftsmanship," says Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India. "You cannot afford to miss her show."
The last time Khanna showed in Delhi was a year ago and nearly every designer in the city, from Rohit Bal to Masaba Gupta, gave her collection a standing ovation. It was Masaba's first Anamika Khanna show and she says, "She is an inspiration to younger designers. She shows us what beautiful clothes are".
Masaba is not alone in her praise. Designer Gaurav Gupta adds, "I love her. Anamika is very individualistic, she loves beauty and technique and celebrates India with love and sophistication."
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Though Khanna's presence in terms of retail is small (she has only one flagship store in Kolkata, sells from 13 other stores in India and has a store-in-store at Ensemble in Mumbai's Lion's Gate), her stamp on Indian fashion is strong. And though she was one of the first Indian designers to show in Paris, she is all about India. She takes from the past and pushes it forward. She loves traditional Indian crafts, yet loves to experiment.
Khanna revived Indian embroidery techniques such as zardosi, gave Indian fashion the half sari, the dhoti pant, the zipper kurta and the cape dupatta. Her clothes are Indian, but international in outlook.
This year at the Cannes red carpet, Sonam Kapoor, who is something of an Anamika Khanna favourite, wore a pale pink sari dress that had a train. Not surprisingly, the train is now one of Indian fashion's hottest trends: many designers added trains to their ensembles at the recent edition of the Shree Ram Jewellers India Couture Week.
"The thing about Anamika is that she cares more about craft than commerce. She knows how to make something experimental," says Rhea Kapoor, Sonam's sister and a stylist.
Khanna, herself is modest. "It makes me feel good that my work has inspired others," she says. "But I am oblivious to what others do. If they are inspired by me that means my message is being received." Sometimes, her almost nonchalant attitude to Indian fashion can seem like she's being indifferent about the very industry she works in.
ART OF FASHION
Forty-something Khanna has no formal training, which means she is not bound by rules. She has had 15 years in the industry, rarely gives interviews, and has never hired a PR agency. In an industry that loves to play the peacock, her quiet style has meant that perhaps her work has not received its due. And though the fashion media love her work, it is also irksome that she is so inaccessible.
For the mother of twin boys, fashion is a passion, family is life. So if there is one complaint you will hear of Khanna, it is that you do not get enough of her designs. Khanna says this is because you have to make a decision between "quality and quantity," but admits that now that her kids are off to college in America, you will see more of her work. There is talk of her opening stores in Mumbai and Delhi, but Khanna just says, "Right now I want to spend as much time as I can with my boys before they leave for college. And then I am going to be all about work".
Art for fashion
Meanwhile, her latest fashion presentation in Kolkata was vintage Anamika Khanna. While she is not sure if she showed 34 or 35 looks - "I was changing things even that morning, my team was ready to shoot me" - she does know that there were 32 different embroidery techniques on display.
Some of the pieces were mounted like art and sat next to heritage pieces, such as African tribal neckpieces and an Egyptian bridal veil, that had inspired her. Photographs of her new collection were also on the walls. The idea was to present fashion as art, and to juxtapose the old and the new.
The colour palette was in her traditional style: ivories and blacks, with deep reds and colour thrown in. And though the collection had all the signature pieces - jackets, capes, dhotis - it all looked new. Her love of all things gothic had been replaced by a new love of baroque, adding a real vintage feel to her modern silhouettes. Fabrics were mainly light and often diaphanous, adding a sense of romance. And her stand-out technique was the use of appliqué that resembled flower petals.
Khanna's true legacy is a commitment to craft and by showing her pieces museum style, she made this evident. She may not understand commerce, and communication, but she knows the art of fashion.
Sujata Assomull Sippy has been a fashion commentator for almost two decades and was the launch editor of Harper's Bazaar India.
The Bollywood connect
Sonam has worn more Anamika Khanna outfits than any other female star, whether it's at Cannes or a film awards function. She is also Khanna's muse (the designer has said on many occasions that she feels Sonam has a better knowledge of fashion than even she does). Khanna has also styled Sonam for films such as Delhi 6 (2009) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2103). Other actors spotted wearing her pieces: Deepika Padukone, Bipasha Basu, Kareena Kapoor, Freida Pinto and many others.
|Go with the flow
Deepika Padukone wears Anamika Khanna at a Chennai Express event.
Soha Ali Khan in a typical, stunningly draped creation from the designer.
A high necked collared jacket worn over dhotis, Kareena shows how Anamika Khanna combines craft, costume and contemporary chic.
From HT Brunch, August 3
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