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Past has a present

Designer Rina Dhaka’s forte lies in blending the old and the new

No doubt fashion has to move forward. But in its onward journey, it cannot afford to forget the richness of our past,” says New Delhi-based designer Rina Dhaka.

Unveiling her new line “Unleashed” at Collage on Greams Road, the designer says, “Today, the Indian woman has become a global woman. Travel and media have exposed her to Western sensibilities like never before. Things are fast-changing in the fashion world. Sensibility has evolved. Mindset has changed. People who refused to show their elbows are now keen on wearing dresses. Only hope the sari, a symbol of our tradition, does not become an archival piece like the kimono. Indian clothes have now become festival clothes or occasion wear! It’s the responsibility of designers to keep our tradition alive — by tweaking it to suit modern tastes. Remember the lycra churi I designed some seasons ago?”

A look at her new line explains Rina’s efforts to blend the old and the new. And she does this seamlessly. A pretty scarlet dress with an intricately crafted neckline doubles as an ethnic ensemble when worn with a churi and crushed stole. Tunics with ethnic motifs, trademark lace embroidery and tribal workmanship display her way of combining urban chic with the Indian idiom. “I’m a complicated person when it comes to design. I source the fabric from one place and send it to various other places for the craft embellishment. In fact, I work extensively with tribal people too. The funny thing is that they are capable of suddenly disappearing on their bullock carts!”

Talking about her 20-year journey in stylebiz, Rina says, “I’m actually beginning to look into the finer aspects of design now. When I started out, I was more focussed on the creative side of the business. Somewhere in between, I was caught up with establishing my label and honing my entrepreneurial skills. Now, the wheel has turned to where I began — and fortunately to the time I set foot in fashiondom. Yes, the late 1980s are back in vogue. And I’m loving it.”

About the mix-and-match trend, the designer, who was one of the pioneers to introduce separates explains, “Now, people have an individualistic style sense. It works better to give them versatile, practical clothing that can be worn whichever way they want. The best thing about this trend is that fashionistas now prefer to shop in India than abroad. We have an edge when it comes to pricing — besides, the styles are not over the top. At the same time, we like to welcome foreign brands on Indian shores. Only after their entry does the customer understand the value of branding. Besides, no one makes accessories like they do. So bags, shoes, sunglasses and watches… foreign brands complete the work of Indian designers! They add those fashion extras that count.”

The designer, who has an A-list clientele from Hollywood and Bollywood, is currently working on Lara Dutta’s clothes for the film “Blue.” “Lara is a designer’s delight. She has a fabulous body and avant-garde sensibility. But films are a different ball game. It’s time consuming and demands coordination at many levels.”

Talking about the burgeoning band of young designers, the seasoned stylist says, “Some of them are incredibly brilliant. But they need to polish their technical and trade knowledge, improve their communication skills and learn to handle labour.”

With many fashion weeks happening (she’s participating in the London Fashion Week too) and a flourishing retail business at home and abroad, Rina’s date’s diary is jam-packed. But she isn’t complaining. “I seek peace within myself. The key to success is to identify one’s drawbacks and try to overcome them without much ado.”


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