Who decides what the WORLD wears?
Ritu Kumar, one of the first divas of Indian fashion, provides some answers as original as her lines, writes BHUMIKA K.
DESIGNING STOCKINGS and Lycra Ts doesn't excite or inspire her. Of course, it wouldn't. One of India's first fashion divas who entered the scene when `designer' wasn't in our vocabulary or on our tags, Ritu Kumar had always transcended beyond unwearable ramp-wear with her unique brand of ethnic handcrafted work.
Ritu splashed zardosi, kashida, aari and other traditional embroidery styles in her collections, and she still holds out in an age when, as she puts it: "MNCs more or less decide what the world will wear. So, if they decide that yellow is the colour of the year, the world will wear yellow. Designers have sold out to them."
Stunners in saris
One can't go wrong with the full six yards, she insists. "You know what is amazing about the Indian woman? We don't have any one type, face or figure or any one look.
Take an Aishwarya, take a Reddy girl, take a girl from Coorg... in India, the variety is stunning. And they all look stunning in a sari, which is of course now worn in rather exotic and sexy styles!" While minimal is the mantra of the prêt lines today, the country also gives so many occasions and opportunities to flaunt the sari, the lehenga and the multitudes of dupatta. Indians are now beginning to say. "This is our statement".
Ritu's Winter 2004 Label and Couture collection in a splash of bright colours inspired by the desert-dwellers of Kutch and Rajasthan, showed to a fashion-conscious Bangalore recently at the Taj West End. She literally stumbled upon her new collection in the deserts.
Borrowing from the silhouettes of the gypsies, the nomadic Rajasthani and Kutchi tribes and Hispanic flamenco dancers, her new line is an exotic mix.
"While I was working on my book on the royal costumes of India, I stumbled upon nomads from Rajasthan who had migrated to Spain over 500 years ago. It is this cross-cultural influence of tribes like the Rabadis and Meghvals in embroidery and style influences that I have worked on," says Ritu. The collection also featured leather, denim, whites and blacks under her Ritu Kumar Label line, topped off with her signature bridal collection, with lehengas and ghagras in the revived Benares weaves. "Bridal wear has always been colourful. We are only trying to get back the old Indian palette."
Inspiration is a much-meditated word in the world of fashion. But Ritu comes across as a practical designer with no qualms about asserting that the market dictates what she designs. She defends fellow Indian designers who are a stark contrast in the style-wars: "India celebrates indigenous designs and designers. We don't follow international design norms. More designers are honing in to what our society and climate demands. So we have fashion being made for our choice. Otherwise, the world fashion scene has become too Euro-centric."
But is Indian designer wear attracting the rest of the world? Yes, India's colourful exuberance does attract. "They love it when they come to India but can't wear it back home!" muses Ritu. On a more serious note, she analyses the hitch in Indian design: "What sells is Indian craft, but it has to be made to fit the foreign lifestyle. Our fabric gives more latitude to design. They can't wear the amount of colour we do."
Starting her journey in the Indian fashion world in the 1960s, Ritu's proverbially seen it all.
"The Indian fashion industry hasn't changed yet as much as it should and could. The beginnings are being made, though. We never had a fashion design council earlier. We need a structure to operate from. Look what five years of the India Fashion Week have done." Indian fashion too is not far from the tangle of the global outsourcing chain.
"People come to India for sourcing (for large brands and labels) because it's cheap," says Ritu, half in distaste. More the international fashion shows we host, more the "outsourcing".
Bangalore's young and happening people, specially the IT and professional crowd, have put the city on the nation's fashion map.
Starting her journey in the Indian fashion world in the 1960s, Ritu Kumar has been instrumental in the changing face of the Indian fashion scene.
"Fashion is no longer retained in the two major cities of Mumbai and Delhi," says Ritu Kumar, explaining the reason for introducing her Winter Collection in Karnataka's capital even before she went to Mumbai and Delhi.
Her own store opened two years in Bangalore and has been doing phenomenally well. As for trends, she's glad that khakis and greys are out. So are chiffons.
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