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Fashion is all about versatality

The dress that can become six dresses. The jacket that's also a duffel bag... Meet seven talented and imaginative designers who are putting flexibility into fashion.

fashion and trends Updated: Feb 26, 2011 16:03 IST
Dhanishta Shah

Cut, colour and design are the basics of fashion. But there can be more to clothes than just one particular look. Today, designers are striving to create pieces that set the ramp ablaze not only with their colours, textures, style and cuts but also with their versatility. Now we have garments that do much more than merely clothe our bodies. Some outfits can be converted into bags and pillows! Some are made from scraps of leftover material. There are outfits that let you be the designer, allowing you the freedom to choose your shape, colour and drape. And still others that can be swimwear at 10 am and evening wear at 9 pm!

Meet seven talented and highly imaginative young designers who make of fashion what they want - and what you'll want.

Rahul Mishra
Rahul Mishra has a background in science. After a BSc in physics, he went on to pursue design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and Istituto Marangoni, Milan, Italy. His inspiration lies in traditional Indian fabrics and weaving techniques that have stood the test of time.

We talk to him about his collection presented at his first Lakme Fashion Week show in 2006. Kerala is the inspiration for this collection. A lot has been written about the beauty of Kerala. Yet, there is more below the surface. Take for instance, the rich handloom industry. This 2000-year-old craft celebrates its presence in the modern world, with Mishra's collection. God's own country gets a new disciple!

Why did you choose Kerela?
Actually, the topic was given to me. During my second year at NID, our mentors gave us the areas we were supposed to work on for our design projects. After all, design is a lot about demographics too.

So how did you approach the project?
I did a lot of research and then decided to take a system design approach. Tourism is a big sector and can promote growth like nothing else. Hence, I thought of a unique line of clothing especially for tourists.

How do you address the problems of Kerala's tourists through your designs?
All the designs in this collection are reversible. The tourists would thus have to carry fewer pieces and would get more variety in clothing. The fabric used is Kerala handloom. Needless to say, it is very comfortable and suited to the climate of Kerela. It is also a light weight garment that dries very fast. However, on a deeper level, the identity of the garment is important. I realised that tourists wanted to wear Indian attire but were not comfortable with the drapes. This collection balances the two. Besides, the off white colour used throughout the collection is a complementing contrast to the greenery of Kerala. Clothing indeed sets your mood and is one of the most important things!

Reverse DressHow did you market the line to achieve your specific aims?

The line retails from stores in India and abroad. I also wanted to market it like a souvenir that one can take back home and that creates a feeling of identification with Kerala.

You worked integrally with local craftsmen…
Yes. I was very clear from the onset that I wanted to maintain the identity of the craft. Craft should lead the way and the design should not overpower it. The weavers were all local and we did create a win-win situation for all!

You have used traditional handloom. But the cuts and styles are very modern. Was that a conscious decision?
Most definitely. Design has to have a modern feel. Global garments must be effortless and yet look so very fashionable. That's where the designer's role becomes important. I mean, handloom saris have been around for ages. But we would all agree that it is not very practical for modern women to wear them on a day-to-day basis. Yet, the fabric is most comfortable. So such designs achieve a perfect balance.

Are you thinking of a similar collection for men?
Yes! And for kids too! But it is all still in the pipeline. The women's wear has been an overwhelming success and we are still meeting all the orders!

What is your favourite piece in the collection?
A particular piece in the collection is much more than a reversible garment. It also embodies a philosophy that is deeply Indian. One side of the garment is a Kerala handloom fabric woven by a Hindu weaver from the south. The other side is strikingly different. It is Banaras silk woven by a Muslim weaver from North India. Both the fabrics are hand-woven and represent our varied rich cultural heritage. Yet, the cuts are modern. In totality, this garment takes the best from the past, conceptually presents a unification of India in order to create a modern garment. In short, it represents my vision of independent India.

(This garment also won Rahul the International Designer of the Yearaward in the Commercial Design Category at the International Apparel Federation held in Netherlands.)

Niki Mahajan

Niki Mahajan does not have any formal training in design. Yet her label has earned respect worldwide. She retails from over a hundred stores around the world, with Japan being her largest customer.

She has achieved a Yuv Rattan Award for excellence in promoting the production of unique fabrics, by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. Niki has also created a new fabric called 'Reeds', which is made by splitting grass and treating it with natural elements.

She talks about her collection, Manthan, showcased at the Will India Fashion Week in Autumn-Winter 2010.

You have no formal training in fashion design. How did you learn the skills?
I was always interested in design from a very early age. I have worked closely with craftsmen from all over India and have learnt from them! I am an English Literature graduate. But I never had any career switch. I was always into fashion. It's been over 25 years now!

Tell us about Manthan
Manthan means amalgamation. This is a very unique collection where each outfit is made up of leftover fabrics, all put together in a coordinated fashion.

How did the idea of using leftover fabrics occur?
Today, the whole world is talking about recycling. Sustainable fashion is a big thing worldwide. I realised that when we design garments there are so many leftover fabrics and embroidery pieces. It was then that the thought of putting them all together occurred.

What were the special challenges that you faced while designing the collection?
It is certainly not as easy as it sounds! I have sat for hours together with bits of fabrics, brainstorming ways and means to make them look good together. I worked with a whole lot of "data" in the form of this mountain of waste fabrics! The colour combinations had to right and the various pieces had to look good together. That was the greatest challenge! Also, we cater to a very wide community of people. One has to get the balance right and the whole collection has to appeal to a vast audience.

What is a typical Manthan piece like?
Each outfit would have at least 30 bits of fabrics or embroidered pieces! We also experimented with hand painting graphics on the outfits.

Can you tell us about a particular outfit that you like?
Two of the silhouettes have been designed specially keeping in mind the nature of the relationship and the mindset of the individual. The 'man's' look has been designed in a very loose fit and ease style - maintaining low style and baggy lowers with highly styled tops. The tops are very masculine in shape, even the feminine element of gathers and frills have been kept exaggerated. The 'girl' look has been designed with utmost care in texturing. We have layered the garments to depict emotions. Each garment has been created with layers of embroideries, fabrics, beadings and pleats.

Amalraj Sen Gupta

You walk around with a smart jacket that can be made longer or shorter as per will. Then you take it off, make a few folds here and there and you've got a perfectly comfortable sleeping bag with a pillow attached!

Transformation? Yes, that's what Amalraj Sen Gupta set out to do in his collection showcased in the Lakme Fashion Week Summer2010. This young NIFT (Kolkata) graduate used to freelance for designers till he took the plunge by sending an entry for the Lakme Fashion Week. At around the same time he also won the FDCI Van Heusen Emerging Designer Award for menswear, which was like the cherry on the cake. The rest, as they say, is history!

What was the inspiration behind the collection?
I got inspired after watching the movie Transformers. It made me feel like transforming clothes into something else and not just into another garment.

What makes the garments in the collection versatile?
The garment is not only reversible but it changes its form, utility and colour as well. One of my jackets can be turned into a backpack. Another one transforms into a sleeping bag.

What fabric has been used in the garment?
I have used cotton, linen, and silk.

Any special challenges that you had to overcome in designing this collection?
The entire collection is a big challenge! This is because it is a collection which can transform one thing to another. Thus, it is based on creative patternmaking. It comes with a lot of trial and error. I learnt from the faults and modified the design as I executed the project. My initial sketches were so different from the final product! Once I started developing the patterns, the designs also had to meet the demands of the pattern. The challenge was to keep the pattern wearable as well as transformable and functional.

Could you choose one outfit from the collection that particularly appeals to you?
That's a difficult question as all the pieces in the collection have different utility. But yes, if I just have to choose it would be a sleeveless jacket which works like a raincoat with a hood and then you can zip it up in such a way that it transforms into a side duffel bag in which you can carry things.

You started out in the Gen Next category of the Lakme Fashion Week and were recently nominated for the Established Designers' category. How has the journey been so far?
Honestly speaking, it's been a dream come true for me! Lakme Fashion Week is one of the best in the country and has given an amazing platform to designers. It's been three seasons since I have been associated with it. I am glad to be a part of it!

Anuj Sharma

A simple humble button can create wonders. And, who would know better than Anuj Sharma? This design graduate from National Institute of Design has worked closely with craftsmen and explored creativity from the roots!

His collection is one that has no machinery involved and no cuts. Only buttons and straps! This makes up Button Masala. It is an idea, a product that carries the same zing as its name.

How did the idea of button masala evolve?
I was toying with the idea of doing something with buttons for a while. I had my tailor make button holes on a fabric just to test out a few ideas. He did one piece and then refused! After all, it was too much of a task. So I told him to reverse the process. We put in buttons at regular intervals on a stretch of fabric instead. That was the beginning. We then needed two straps with button holes and voila! We could create magic!

The design actively involves the wearer. Was that something you consciously set out to do?
Of course! That's what it was meant to be. Otherwise it just does not make sense. I wanted to give freedom to the wearer. We are just so used to being served things on a platter. I wanted to elicit active participation of the wearer.

So we've got straps and a fabric with buttons. How does it work from here?
It now depends on the person wearing the garment! You can tweak the outfit to create a gamut of fits and styles to suit yourself! In fact, during the Lakme Fashion Week, I had models modifying the outfit just before the show. They could choose a style they wanted. It was quite empowering to see that!

How would you define the woman who wears this garment, or rather this idea?
She would be fearless and intelligent. It needs someone like that to experiment with this!

When and where was the collection showcased?
It was showcased at the Lakme Fashion Week in September 2009.

How did you take the concept ahead?
Firstly, I wanted to hammer the concept and not dilute it with embroidery and other embellishments. That part I took care of in the show. I then turned towards the craft sector and tried to explore the idea there. Our problem is that we don't let craftsmen be themselves. I wanted to empower them too. So, we used this concept to create a number of items such as cushion covers, scarves, skirts, bags and so on. If one thing does not sell, they can change the form and sell it as the other!

Where is Button Masala headed?
One idea leads to another. I magnified the concept of button and used chai glasses to make some more art creations. (It has been aptly titled Masala chai!) As of now, we are focusing on promoting this concept and making the clothes more wearable. We are letting it grow on its own and making improvements wherever we can!

Shrivan and Narresh

Wear it on a hot sunny day as you laze in the pool. Let it transform you into a femme fatale under the stars at night. Swimwear or evening wear? Maybe both…

Shrivan Bhatia and Narresh Kukreja have been recipients of several international awards for design. Educated in New Delhi and then Italy, they shifted their studio to India after the launch of the swimwear collection. They are the first mainstream beachwear designers doing 100 per cent handcrafted stitch free beachwear along with ready to wear swimwear and complementing beachwear.

When and where was this collection showcased?
The brand, Shrivan and Narresh was launched in Cannes (France at Mare di Moda) in November 2008 with a 100 per cent stitch free line of swimwear. Mid 2009 we moved back to India and launched the brand in India with Lakme Fashion Week in March 2010. Since then we have been showcasing prêt lines of swimwear at Lakme Fashion Week for the past two seasons in March and September.

What was the inspiration behind the collection?
Our latest collection was inspired from 'gynoid', a woman of the future, who is free from this world which constantly treats her as a mere tool of procreation and enforces this idea to be her only identity. The collection celebrates this woman, her identity and her freedom. She takes over this cold hued world with her vibrant appearance dominated by a color palette of coral, sea green and turquoise fused with somber mauves, nudes and lace. She is a woman who impresses every sphere she is placed in, from beach to city. She reflects the vision of the fantasy future woman who lives, seduces, impresses and inspires!

What makes the line versatile?
As a holiday brand our idea is always to do a complete wardrobe of a woman who's out a holiday, cruise, resort, honeymoon or spa. This lifestyle requires swimsuits which can complement resort-wear to make ensembles suiting different time slots & occasions during a day.

So your tankini can be worn with hot pants for mornings and trousers for afternoon-city look. A kaftan, dress or sari can be slipped on the swimsuit for an evening look. A maillot can be styled with shorts for the day and with pencil skirts or trousers for the evening. A bandeau or bikini can be worn with cotton trousers and open shirt for a city look or with sarongs for a spa. The cover-up or house robe can be used for lounging at home or the hotel room. As a result you needn't keep coming back to your hotel to change throughout the day!

An illustration?
The versatility of the collection is such that it allows you to wear all your holiday clothes comfortably even on an everyday basis styling them differently to suit various city looks. Look at the pictures attached. The first two and the last two have the same swimsuit. Spot how you can be creative with swimwear!

The fabric would play a very important role, especially in this collection…
Yes! For the swimsuits in the collection we have used a special fabric made in Italy. It is resistant to chlorine, UV rays, sun screens, oils and lotions. For the cover up materials such as the sarong, we've used silk and for the trousers and jackets, 100 per cent cotton has been used.

Your association with Lakme Fashion Week started in March 2010. Plans to participate this year as well?
Yes! The March 2010 collection was followed by Winter Festive in September 2010. We would be participating this year as well as in March 2011.

Purvi Doshi

Pull the strings….tie the knots. Let the garment take you into its own world. Change the colour. Change the drape. Let your will prevail. Behold the chameleon. Here it comes!

'Kachindo'… that's an interesting name for your collection! Why this name?
Kachindo means chameleon in Gujarati. I chose this name since each garment in the collection can change colour like a chameleon.

When was this collection showcased?
At Lakme Fashion Week summer resort, March 2010.

I understand you have had no formal training as a designer…
Yes. I did an MBA. But my true calling is fashion. I learnt the ropes of the trade while I was at it. It has been over ten years now. After numerous exhibitions both in India and abroad, I have found my forte in using simple Indian traditional motifs in a trendy way. I design Indian and Indo-western garments using Indian embroideries, fabrics and colors. Colour combinations are my strong point too!

What was the inspiration behind this collection?
I had a stray thought once about how it would feel, if one morning, I opened my cupboard, took out a garment, and just wore it without thinking where the neck was, which was the front, or whether it was inside out. This gave birth to the idea of making a garment that can be worn inside out, upside down and so on. I thought of making a garment that gives a completely different look such that we can wear it differently multiple times in a day!

What makes it versatile?
One can make a number of silhouettes from this garment. Wear it as a dress, a short top or a skirt, long or mini or mid length! You will have a completely different look every time you wear it. This feature makes it versatile. In fact, during the Lakme Fashion Week show, the first six models wore the same outfit draped in six different ways. This continued with the next six too.

Could you choose one outfit from the collection that particularly appeals to you?
I recall a sari that I made for this collection. It is reversible and there is no limitation posed by the pallu. One layer of the sari has a complete geometrical pattern and the other layer is completely embroidered. You can wear it either side. The pallu is such that one can see both sides of the sari. I have used soft silk fabrics for both the layers.

Which direction do you see yourself going?
Well, things are going great. I have also run a fashion store called Opium Style Gallery in Ahmedabad for the last four years. I have tied up with an NGO and I design for them. I strongly believe in contributing to society and am planning to go for garments that are hand woven, organic and herbal dyed and use a lot of hand embroideries and thus give livelihood to many women and make a difference in their lives.

Pawan Sachdev

Fashion was always Pawan Sachdev's calling, so even though he was an internationally known volleyball player, he joined NIFT. In the business for 14 years now, Pawan does menswear and his forte is versatile clothing.

"Unlike women, men have to often repeat their clothes because they are limited by lack of styles. It struck me that if I introduce clothes that men can wear different ways, it would solve a lot of problems," he says.

He specifically launched the versatile range for the wedding season as it gives people more room to be creative. "Men can style themselves and their looks in many ways. It is empowering," says Pawan. His range starts from Rs 16,900.

His versatile jackets are a hit with men so Pawan plans to keep the technique going even in the women's wear range he plans to introduce this year.

Pawan uses materials like corduroy, suit material, tweed and wool to make coats that can be worn in three ways, for three different occasions.

The coats can be worn to a formal do as well as a casual one. The technique is to strategically stitch the buttons, so that the coat changes shape. So a two button formal coat can be worn with a tie like a suit. Button the coat up till the neck, and it becomes a bandhgala that can be worn on semi-formal occasions - with jeans and even pants. The coat can also be worn as a high-collared jacket.

His favourite piece: A black versatile jacket made with shiny suit material.

From HT Brunch, February 27

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