Fashion diva Ritu Kumar's 40 years of style

Updated on Sep 20, 2004 09:21 PM IST

Ritu Kumar has once again shown why she remains significant even after 40 years of clothes making.

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HT Image
PTI | ByIndo-Asian News Service, New Delhi

Couturier Ritu Kumar has once again shown why she remains sartorially significant even after 40 years of clothes making and at an age when most of her contemporaries are happy being slightly senile grandmothers.

"I feel joyful," Kumar, face flushed with palpable excitement just before the show on Friday night at New Delhi's Taj Palace Hotel.

"It has been a long journey but I have enjoyed every bit of it. For me it has been a never ending joyride," smiled the grand lady of Indian fashion who began by adopting a sleepy hamlet of embroidery artisans and built an empire of style on it.

Today she can do the entire repertoire from svelte to over the top.

In many ways Indian fashion today is Ritu Kumar - exuberant, proudly textile oriented and always balancing the clinical precision of the cut-and-fall Western barometer of style judgment with unmeasured doses of kaleidoscopic colour.

For over 45 minutes, she sent down every loop of that journey on the white runway.

Cleverly flipping the normal sequence of her show - a move that reaffirmed that she hasn't lost her edge - to begin with the couture line that is usually saved for the finale, she first sent down exquisite saris and lehenga-cholis (traditional richly embroidered skirts and blouses).

As always set to the Sufi love hymn "Chaap Tilak", the saris and lehenga-cholis came washing the runway with gold and coral embroidery which turns cloth to magnificent jewels.

This is India's ancient heritage of craftsmanship that she wants to save.

"Today, I say again that there is nothing like Indian handwork," smiled Kumar, clad in a swishing, long, almost arabesque burgundy and earth coloured gown.

"I have spent 40 years proving it to myself and others that this legacy is priceless."

Even so Kumar has moved beyond just extravagant wedding lines.

So next, from her prêt line Label launched two years ago, came long sleeved T-shirts with appliqué and patchwork coupled with dhoti-pants that billow waist down and taper at the ankles.

The audience - with an average age of over 40 and many having worn Ritu Kumar from the time there was no Indian fashion industry - clapped robustly.

Perhaps they saw in the young clothes, worn on the runway by models sporting stylish beads and tattoos, something their children could pick up.

In an industry that is often described as nascent, this designer is a merry matron. She has been in fashion industry long before any of today's young Turks with their cut-and-slash sexuality.

More often than not, she can take on them on their terms. Evidence: the gowns, leather jackets and little dresses she sent down accompanied by techno-imagery by her filmmaker son.

As she gets older, there is a new noticeable spring in Kumar's step. Earlier this year, at the fashion week she skipped on to the stage to take her bows and then did a little jig-turn.

Clearly, Kumar is at her prime and is enjoying her success without the fretting anxieties of new talent.

Her new muse is the bloodroots between the gypsies of the desert state of Rajasthan and the Flamenco dancers of Spain. So the lady of elegance is suddenly doing beaded hair, gypsy skirts and patch blouses.

That's what sashayed on the runway in the last sequence, with models carrying puppet horses that are the bulwark of Rajasthani handicraft.

The music changed from rustic folk tunes to elegant Urdu poetry to Spanish dance beats to old Bollywood numbers - and Ritu Kumar made sure her touch would endure over many generations.

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