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'Fashion is fashion when it reaches the streets'

According to Narendra Kumar, one of the doyens of Indian fashion industry, clothing should be aesthetic and involve the consumer at all levels. The designer, who is showing his collection at the IFW on Wednesday, talked to Meenakshi Sinha in an exclusive interview.
PTI | By Meenakshi Sinha, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON APR 28, 2004 02:38 PM IST

You are considered one of the pioneers of the Indian fashion industry. What made you wait so long to join the India Fashion Week?
Well there was no market for the kind of clothes that I like and make. Since I'm known for more tailored clothing, which are predominantly western, there was not much market for it till sometime back. People didn't understand tailored clothing, as they were not focussed. It is only off late that people have gone in for good cuts at retail levels and the kids have especially set this trend with greater awareness for fashion and stylised clothing now. Besides there was no lifestyle designer brand available like the kind I have been doing. This year retail is going to be the calling of the day and that is why I have decided to participate in IFW.

What are your expectations from the event?
I expect to generate greater awareness for my kind of brand and my stores in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai. I'm opening a store in Mumbai this month and one in Delhi's Metropolitan Mall in the second week of May. Besides this, I would expect the event to generate retail market at a larger level. I would be looking for retailers in India who provide a lifestyle alternative to stores and not just go in for 20 -30 pieces to mix and match in the name of a collection.

At one time you were known best for your menswear. How has the shift to women's designs been?
Actually I started as a womenswear designer working on the women's prêt line for Tarun Tahiliani for three years and it was later that I moved on to menswear. But I felt that there was a level of stagnation in men's line what with button down shirts in twenty thousand colours hitting the market everywhere. There was hardly any creativity at that stage. I was looking at a more lifestyle image whereby my tailored look could be tapped to the maximum and with people already aware that I had been a women's designer it wasn't difficult to make the shift. It was good for my image as well since from being a tailored men's designer the transition to a tailored women's designer was relatively easier.

How would you describe your design philosophy?
Firstly, clothing for me should be aesthetic and should involve the consumer at all levels and this mainly comprises my design philosophy. For example my prêt line is different from couture. My Chai collection is for everybody. Fashion is fashion when it reaches the streets - and that is the guiding idea of Chai. It doesn't make sense to sell good-tailored jeans for Rs 1000 or above if it can be created for Rs 350 and above. Since jeans has always been an elite wear, which has had universal appeal amongst all strata, the youth today lead the pack when it comes to choosing a good tailored jeans. And they are not looking for basic jeans at affordable prices.

What will you be showing at the IFW and what's been the inspiration for this collection?
It will be too premature for me to give out the details at this stage. But since I mostly do westerns, I'd say it would definitely figure in my collection for IFW '04. As for the inspiration, my collection would certainly be driven from what's happening in society. The trend today is more towards western wear as the youth cater to this trend for 80 per cent of their wardrobe comprises of western wear. I see very few Indian wear especially Salwar Kameez amongst the youth except in certain belts. So my inspiration will accordingly vary form the area and the need of the market.

You launched your prêt line 'Chai' sometime back. What are the plans for that? Do you believe that 'Haute' couture as we knew it is dead and that designers will have to sell at prices comparable to mass-produced outfits in order to survive?
I feel there will always be the need for an elite wear. Having said that, I also feel that lifestyles in India have changed dramatically. People have become more aware as they don't shop for mere weekend wear. They shop for more day to day wear, which can go down as both day and night wear. It is to this effect I feel that a prêt line cannot be sold at Rs 3,500 and above. With day to night wear coming of age, I feel that one must incorporate Rs 500 - Rs 600 tops, which can be mixed and matched with a single pair of jeans to add that element of versatility in one's wardrobe. Unless you aim to reach the masses, you cannot create a market for yourself. My Chai line starts from as low as Rs 325/- and goes up to Rs 900/-

Being based in Mumbai, have you considered designing for films?
I did design once long back for a film called for Akshay Khanna, but my experience hasn't been very good. The problem is that they have very erratic schedules, work hours and design concepts. There is no serious designing in films as they mostly buy mix and matches from Singapore and other places to put together a collection. That way, there's hardly any creativity, except for some designers, in a film's clothing. Besides, I do not have a very serious fascination for films with the exception of dressing individual stars like Simi Grewal and other celebrities.

Do you think IFW needs to settle down in any one city? Between Delhi and Mumbai which would you choose?
IFW requires to settle down in future, as is the worldwide experience. However, it will all depend on the look of the IFW, as is the case with London, Paris or Milan who are all distinguished with their respective looks. Whilst London is more aristocratic, Milan is known for its flamboyance and has always been the one venue where trends and styles come from. Similarly it will have to percolate down to IFW and it this stage it is very premature to predict its look. Presently I see it more of a Delhi centric event as most of designers are based there and some of them are very good. Availability of space is another criteria whereby Delhi scores over Mumbai. Whilst Delhi is louder with embroidery and colours, Mumbai is more Prêt wear. But then, it will all depend on the look that evolves from the events in future.

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