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Let’s get fresh

They’re young, rather radical and forward looking. Meet seven designers who are determined to change the way we dress. Parul Khanna tells more.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2009 18:57 IST
Parul Khanna

They’re young, rather radical and forward looking. Meet seven designers who are determined to change the way we dress. Parul Khanna tells more.

Rahul Reddy | Debut: 2008
USP: Simple and soothing designs

‘‘It’s not necessary to get India into every collection”

“I don’t think it’s necessary to get India into every collection,” says Rahul Reddy. The young designer doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like India. He just means that not everything he does has to be India focused. So he began his career with western prêt (ready to wear) clothes. His collections include dresses and tunics that he says can be teamed with churidaars. But while his cuts and silhouettes are western, his Indian sensibility can be seen in the embroidery, interpreted in a modern way.

A protégé of Rajesh Pratap Singh, Rahul shares with his mentor a love for simplicity. That apart, he is individual. “Every designer is different. Even if I want to think like somebody else, I can’t. Rajesh’s work is uber sophisticated, mine is playful.”

Originally from Hyderabad, the 30-year-old did a two-year course at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi, and then a course in printing in London. After that, he assisted Rajesh Pratap Singh for three and a half years before launching his own label in 2005 and debuting in the 2008 autumn / winter Delhi Fashion Week. He was immediately noticed because of his emphasis on simplicity and detailing like snipping, pinching, curling and pleating. His outfits didn’t scream. They politely asked to be looked at.

A simple person himself (he is generally dressed in a cotton shirt, pants and chappals), his quiet personality spills into his designs. “Wearbility is a big factor for me,” he says. “I like to give my garments a simple twist. My skirts would have rounded ends rather than the usual straight. And I love decking my clothes with graphics, made with fabrics or modernised
embroidery.”

Along with his wife, Shruti, Rahul works on colours that may at times be dark but are always peaceful. A dark maroon, for instance, will be paired with a deep purple. His strong points are his eye and focus on detailing. Restrained, yet intelligent designs make him a favourite. Apart from Japan, where he exports his clothes, Rahul is happy in India and has no immediate plans to look west. Especially now, when fashion here is “so young” with lots of young designers with distinct sensibilities.


Gaurav Gupta | Debut: 2006

USP: Phenomenal draping technique, edgy designs

‘‘I have filled the gap for high-end, edgy fashion here”

Very few designers are inspired by a technique. Even fewer dedicate their entire design aesthetic towards one. But Gaurav Gupta, he of the rebellious streak and gothic leanings, loves drapes. So, always looking for newer and newer ways to do them, he now excels in delicate, yet very technical and difficult-to-execute drapes. Gaurav’s drapes are unlike any done in India before. “Tarun Tahiliani, called the master of drapes, is very different from me. My work is more technical, edgy and sophisticated,” says Gaurav.

His vision is global. A NIFT alumnus, Gaurav was often selected for international competitions in Japan and Russia, while he was still studying. Later, he went to Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London and graduated in 2003. After several competitions, and participation in the Italian Fashion Week, he was selected as one of the designers expected to set international trends by the Italian trend and design journal, Creativita. He also did a stint as the art director of a multi-million dollar company, juggled job offers from fashion bigwigs like Galliano, and finally returned to India in 2005.

Gaurav likes to challenge the norms. In a collection titled Beautiful Military, he showed some of the most un-military wear possible. “I had models wear beautiful shades apart from green. I had loads of contrasting fabrics and silhouettes like draped jackets made of chiffon teamed with flowy dresses and jerseys with satins and florals.”
It worked like a charm, which explains why Gaurav sounds so confident when he says: “I have filled a gap in Indian fashion. That of high-end, edgy street fashion.” Pleats, ruches, drapes and cuts define Gaurav’s western wear. A chiffon dress which loosely drapes the body, beneath which there is a contrasting fitted bodice, is his trademark style. Gaurav’s sarees might have a triangular pallu.

Pankaj & Nidhi Ahuja | Debut: 2008

USP: Beautiful shades & a sense of discovery

‘‘Rich crafts and the history of the world inspire us”

Though Pankaj and wife Nidhi launched their collection only in 2008, Pankaj has been in the business of fashion for a long time. A NIFT alumnus, Pankaj worked with an export house first, then joined Rohit Bal with whom he stayed for 10 years as head of Bal’s design division.

“I was happy with Rohit and would have never ventured out on my own, because it isn’t easy,” says Pankaj. “It was Nidhi who convinced me to branch out.” Pankaj and Nidhi had met when they worked together with Rohit Bal. But Nidhi moved on to an export house while Pankaj continued where he was.

“From the export house, Nidhi picked up nuances of fabrics and feminine cuts. Her influence is very different from mine. And, contrary to what people think, she is as much part of the creative process as me.”

Their first showing at the fashion week got them rave reviews and a lot of interest from international design houses. The duo specialise in western wear with an Indian soul. “It isn’t just India,” says Nidhi. “We are inspired by the rich crafts and history of the whole world. Before starting work on any new collection, we refer to history books for an insight into artwork. Though we modernise it, our interpretation most of the time is Indian. It’s not a conscious decision, but a genuine and effortless expression of ourselves.”

Their designs are worlds in themselves. One garment inspired by the tribals in Japan uses authentic Benarsi brocade, but with Japanese emblems. Another outfit uses modernised Madhubani art without the bright paint and broad lines.
“So, you see, we are inspired by the rich crafts of the world. For instance, we picked up a rakhi from Chandni Chowk and loved its intelligent cross-stitch design. So we now have garments with cross-stitch and have introduced a square design of sequins,” says Pankaj.

The duo mostly work with indigenous cottons and silks. Though they love colours that Nidhi develops with care, the shades are never over the top. So, a bright orange and a red will be calming, never flashy.

Ask them what reaction they want to evoke with their designs and they say almost in unison: “A sense of intrigue. A feeling that makes the wearer wonder, ‘how did they think of that?’ That’s what design is about.”

Vineet Bahl | Debut: 2006

USP: Variety in cuts and global appeal

‘‘The only Indian aspects in my designs are colour and fabrics”

Vineet Bahl doesn’t believe in frills. But he means that metaphorically, not literally. “I don’t understand how some designers get inspiration from esoteric things like a thought. It’s highly pretentious. But I guess people are impressed. Only something visual can inspire me. I react to cultures, but only the part that’s translated in colours, shapes and so on.”

Vineet has loved fashion since he was at school. His interest began with sketches, then he designed costumes for plays in school. A degree from Nottingham Trent University, London, later, Vineet began work with Tarun Tahiliani, looking after the western women’s wear section. Two and a half years later, he set up on his own.

Last year, he was selected to showcase his collection at the Australian Fashion Week, where he got rave reviews and stores like Brown started to stock his clothes.
Specialising in prêt western wear, Vineet looks at the world, including India, for his inspirations. “

I love the Indian techniques of embroidery and embellishments. But I don’t limit my sensibilities,” he says. “I was once given a Romanian shawl by a friend. I was mesmerised by it. So, I started researching their culture and tradition. That’s how I proceed.”

Because Vineet’s outlook is global, he charts out designs in shades that are universal. He uses lots of whites and off-whites. “In Rome, white is considered virginal. In India, it’s a colour of restraint. I play with colours a lot. The only Indian aspects in my designs are colour and, of course, fabrics. I use matka silk, chanderi and so on, in shades that don’t shout.”

Tarun Tahiliani focuses on drapes. Vineet concentrates on cuts. Every season, he develops new shapes and silhouettes. The idea is to create outfits that skim a woman’s body, not cling to it or fit it. He also avoids embroidery, preferring to texture fabrics instead. Vineet believes that Indian fashion is beginning to accommodate new perspectives. “This generation can identify with what we are doing,” he says. “The senior lot had grown up seeing Indian wear and they revolutionised that. But we are blending the Indian and the western in a different way.”

Abhijeet Khanna | Debut: 2007

USP: Interesting twist to embroidery and colours

‘‘Indian fashion is not targeted at any specific region”

If a film were to be made about him, it would be called Kanpur To London. Even before Abhijeet Khanna showed off his collections in India, he was handpicked by a jury and invited to set up a stall at the London Fashion Week. And just days after his show in Delhi, he went to London again. “It’s a great time for us in India,” says Abhijeet. “The world has opened up. And today it doesn’t matter if you are one year or ten years old in the field. If your work is good, you will be noticed.”

Abhijeet has participated in the London fashion week for the last three seasons. A NIFT alumnus, he passed out in 2004 and joined Manish Arora. In 2006, he branched out on his own.

Though he mainly does western wear, India surfaces in the techniques he uses – embroidery, tie ’n’ dye, patch work, block prints, fabric creation.

But he doesn’t cash in on exotic India. Rather, he globalises Indian techniques. For instance, a top embellished with zardosi would not be embroidered with the usual gold thread, but with swatches of silk and cotton and metals. He wouldn’t have sequins on an outfit either. Rather, he would use cutouts of woven felt fabric and blotches of tie and dyed shaded cloth. “I retain the basic stitching technique but change the ideology,” he explains.

Of course, he also loves colours. He couldn’t have been able to work with Manish if he hadn’t. But Abhijeet also experiments with shades. A single shade, for instance, would have gradients (light to dark or dark to light). It was Manish who taught him to work without limits, says Abhijeet. “Like him, I start with many ideas. I don’t limit my inspirations or my collection.”

The best thing about Indian fashion, he says, is the fact that it is not targeted at any specific region. Designers are not fragmented into cliques “catering to European taste,” or “Middle Eastern taste”. Instead, Indian designers cater to the world. “I send the same collections to Japan, Middle East, India and even London.”

Atsu Sekhose | Debut: 2008
USP: Understated, chic, wearable western

‘‘It’s all about making women look good”

When Atsu Sekhose launched his own line in 2006, he mingled his experiences from his stints with designer Tarun Tahiliani and popular Spanish high street brand Zara to create his unique style – western clothing with Asian (not just Indian) influences.

“My sensibility is more western since I grew up in the North-East,” says the designer who hails from Assam and who describes his clothes as controlled chic – not avant-garde – wearable clothing. “It’s all about making women look good,” says the Delhi-based designer, who is a graduate of NIFT.

“Working for Tarun, designing a prêt line, taught me how the market in India works and how to deal with domestic and couture clients. At Zara, I learned how the high street operates in Europe,” he says. All this came in useful when he decided to go solo. “Your work experience comes in handy when it’s time to find your own signature style,” explains Atsu.
Atsu cites a wide variety of inspirations for his collections –the places he travels to, different cultures, the textiles of the North-East. “Once, I picked up an embroidered antique Chinese jacket that became my inspiration.” His spring / summer collection for Delhi Fashion Week was inspired by American sportswear.

Atsu’s had stellar success since striking out on his own. His first line for Ensemble was a success – selling 30 pieces in just one week. His clothes began to be featured in fashion magazines like Elle and Vogue. You’ll also find his clothes in boutiques in London, Paris and the Middle East. In fact, adds Atsu, “Even when buyers from the Gulf approach me, they don’t ask for things like kaftans. They prefer outfits with a global sensibility.” Atsu is set to premiere a collection that will be “luxurious”, notwithstanding the recession. “I’m not cutting my prices because I believe women prefer to buy two or three quality outfits rather than six ordinary ones.”
— Mignonne Dsouza

Nachiket Barve | Debut: 2007

USP: Couture-quality western outfits at prêt prices

‘‘I provide women with solutions”

“My look is about effortless chic, even though I know that term has been flogged to death,” says Nachiket Barve. This Mumbai-based designer graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, in apparel and accessory design and then, after winning an award sponsored by the French government, worked at fashion label Celine. “It was there that I realised how Indian my sensibility really is,” says Barve.

His next stint was with designers Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, after which he took up a teaching post at NID for six months. From there, Barve went on to work with renowned textile designer Neeru Kumar for a year, just before he decided to go to work for himself.

Barve prides himself on starting from scratch when it comes to designing. “I use couture quality textiles that I design myself,” he explains, focusing on texturing, cutwork, detailing and embellishments to make his designs stand out. “They’re not ethnic,” he says of his clothes, “but they still have a touch of India.”

Adds Barve, “I’d describe my line as couture-quality textiles for prêt chic. It’s luxury, but off the rack.” He points to a jacket hanging on a dummy in his studio. “That took 280 hours of work.” The work that has gone into an outfit is not immediately apparent. “It is for women who know what they’re wearing and enjoy that,” says Barve.

What has been the hardest part about going solo? Devising your own viewpoint, responds Barve. “Knowing what your label is about, because all your experiences come out in the clothes.” Barve does not believe in being limited by seasons. “My clothes capture the essence of the season but allow women to team them with clothes they already have.”
— Mignonne Dsouza