recall), they’ve recently opened their latest (and now only) store in Delhi – at Moonriver in Defence Colony. Aware of the legendary tales of their punctuality (even for parties that infamously start three hours late), we reached half-an-hour in advance and met them at the café located in the store. On a sunny morning, over dry cakes, sandwiches and copious amounts of black coffee, they told us about how everyone in fashion needn’t be nasty and how they’ve made their friendship work for over 20 years.
Why just one show a year?
David: Because you need to have something to say every time you present a show. It needs to have substance. And you can’t say the same thing again and again.
Your brand style has been consistent, though trends change all the time. How do you balance both?
David: Trends are important and need to be acknowledged but they can’t drive a collection.
Rakesh: The idea is to take a single key piece and incorporate the new trends, be it neon, metallic or floral, by way of accessories.
You started with home furnishings, then designed clothes, and that too in London. Did that worry you?
David: There was no organised retail in India when we started (in the early ’90s). So we would often go to London with our samples to get buyers and soon we were picked up by the Conran shop in London. But we weren’t worried, apart from the usual anxieties that come with a new business. We were aware that there was a market for our kind of clothing overseas and we tapped it.
David, you had a Chinese mother and Rakesh, you grew up on a farm in Tanzania. Does it take an outsider’s viewpoint to appreciate our culture?
Rakesh: I would agree, because for the first few years we worked on what the international buyers expected from us and Indian textiles, handloom were most in demand.
David: Also, our training at the National Institute of Design (NID) was firmly grounded in textiles. Ironically, our professor who set the program, Helena Perheentupa, was from Finland. And she insisted that we study and use indigenous embroideries and that’s how our design language got shaped.
NID in the ’80s produced some of the most of a generation. What was it like to study there?
David: At that time design wasn’t an accepted profession. Being there gave you a feeling that you were sort of a revolutionary. The teacher-student ratio was 1:4 and only 20 people were admitted into each batch.
Rakesh: There was no grading for students since it was slightly idealistic. You were encouraged to find your own path and not compete against each other.
What is it about college friendships that they last for years? How do you balance friendship and business?
David: Because in college you practically spend all your waking moments together and have the time to invest in getting to know each other. There are similar
experiences that mould everyone in a similar fashion.
Rakesh: For us, it’s very difficult to separate work from friendship but we have reached a neat little system over the years where we converse directly and exchange a lot of ideas. We have developed a common handwriting for the brand, where we both work towards whether a particular piece is ‘A&T’ or not.
Fashion is a club where being nasty is often a prerequisite. But you are among the politest people...
Rakesh: We have never been interested in behaving like celebrities. We’d rather be ourselves instead of being awful for no reason. Everyone is trying to do their jobs. We are here talking about our product and you are trying to get a story out of it. We always try to be professional.
David: Fashion is like that the world over. And there’s a deliberate anxiety created around it so as to make it more desirable. Unless you keep people out, you can’t deem those inside as important, so it does act as a differentiator. Even in India, everyone wants to consume fashion, be a part of the events and read about it.
Why such a long fascination with black and white?
A&T: They are both the purest colours and are visually the strongest. Black and white are high contrast forms that are so clearly modern and architectural. They convey a stark sense of aesthetics, which is so appealing when used together. And also, they photograph the best!
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From HT Brunch, October 6
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