Anyone who’s seen Vikram Phadnis’s designs will tell you that they are high on glamour, bling and flamboyance. He admits it himself. So when the NGO Swades approached him to collaborate for a collection at the upcoming Lakmé Fashion Week, he was thrown off track.
“When I heard about the work they were doing in places like Raigad, I was touched. I just said yes without thinking of what I would make, its commercial viability and how people would perceive it as my work,” says the designer. “I’ve done sponsored shows before, but I created clothes according to the product. This time, it’s about emotion. The achievements of these people in rural areas are my inspiration.”
Arguably, Vikram’s biggest challenge was to deglamourise his designs. “That’s what the people coming to my show will expect, because it’s what I have been giving them. So my challenge is to make this small thing big,” he explains. “Pinks and purples are not the shades of rural India, so you’re going to see earthy beiges, reds and maroons. Instead of Swarovski and zardozi work, you’ll see gota and dull brocade on linen and voile.”
The collection will feature nearly 50 garments, and Vikram claims that they are something that a person in Raigad would be able to wear. “I went there and learned that less is more. Their simplicity struck me. It’s a thought I plan to use in my work henceforth too,” he says.
Meanwhile, the rural men and women — who are serving as his inspiration — have no idea what to expect. “We are going to make them walk the ramp with some celebrities. It’s going to be an experience unlike any other fashion show. They are proud that something big is happening for them, but there’s no question of being excited, nervous or scared because they have no idea what’s going to hit them,” says Vikram.
Meet the inspiration Chandrakant Pawar
After completing a diploma in agriculture, he moved to Mumbai, but came back unsuccessful. Then he started participating in monthly self-help, group-training sessions conducted by the NGO. The team motivated him to put his barren land of two acres to use, so he started cultivating marigold and ladyfinger. He’s also pursuing a long-distance course in social work and travelling to the Open University in Pune for classes every Sunday. “I am very moved and excited at the thought that people from big cities will get to witness the lives that we lead here in the villages and realise how beautiful rural India is,” says Chandrakant.
She underwent a six-month training in sewing, after which she started taking orders. She is also being trained to become a Swarakha Mitra (health worker). Thanks to this education, Vishakha has even saved a young boy’s life in the past. She’s also later managed to motivate six villagers to undergo cataract surgery. About the initiative, she says, “When Vikramji came here, I was very happy. He makes clothes for all the big Bollywood actresses. It feels good to know that what we have achieved is going to get noticed and recognised by such big people.”