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‘Designers don’t copy’

Ritu Kumar on why Indian designers and traditional craftsmen cannot survive without each other.

fashion and trends Updated: Dec 15, 2009 19:09 IST
Rochelle Pinto

Recently in town to speak for the Cherie Blair Foundation, Ritu Kumar represents the first batch of Indian women entrepreneurs at a time when fashion wasn’t even on the Indian map.

Your contemporaries Bina Ramani and Anju Modi are hardly in the limelight. How have you kept yourself contemporary?
My Ritu Kumar Label that aims at women in the age group of 15-35 has kept us young. My son Amrish’s joining me has helped, because he took the traditions of my label forward and made them more relevant.

There is a critique that Indian designers depend more on the craftsmen, than on the strength of their own designs…
I agree. But 40 years ago, everybody was wearing chiffon from France. Designers have changed that. I design the textile from scratch, making it my own handwriting. Designers don’t copy; we take what the craftsman gives us and make it market worthy.

When a large chunk of the design industry, sources their designs from the same set of craftsmen, doesn’t that make their designs homogenous?
I’ve always been strong on identity. The evolution of the garment comes from the sketchpad of the designer. It wouldn’t be correct to say the craftsmen do the designing. We don’t have to stick to Indian crafts and silhouettes, but we should stick to their strengths.

How much of a designer’s profits go in helping these craftsmen and furthering the craft?
It’s difficult to generalise, but a large amount from wedding ensembles goes to the craftsmen. For people who lacked confidence and self-esteem, they’re doing very well. They also sell their goods directly as a parallel industry.

Only a couple of seasons old, American designer AlexanderWang has alreday established his own line of shoes and bags. Why don’t young Indian designers develop a holistic label?
We are trying. I’ve launched accessories, bags, perfumes and bed linen. Foreign labels have a 150-year head start. India will soon be the only country outside of France and Italy where fashion houses can be established.

Does the Indian fashion industry still need Bollywood?
Glamour sells in this country like anywhere in the world. It’s tied up with Bollywood in a very big way. Every country has its own way of projecting its culture, and to India, Bollywood is very special.