FASH­ION’S PIED PIPER

Through her unique take on fash­ion and her own per­sonal style, ANAMIKA KHANNA ex­erts a be­nign in­flu­ence over the classes and the masses alike, says Shradha Agar­wal

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR - The au­thor is spe­cial writer: fash­ion & lifestyle at The Tele­graph

It was In­dia’s first cou­ture week. Septem­ber 2008. A star was born. And an­other was re­born.The one-film-old Sonam Kapoor made her cat­walk de­but, and Anamika Khanna went from be­ing ‘the most un­der­rated de­signer’ to the one who mat­tered. Back then, Sonam wasn’t the style icon we know to­day.

Saawariya (2007) might have launched her, but it was on Khanna’s ramp that the fash­ion­ista was born. Sonam emerged as the voice of fash­ion, and Khanna sup­plied her vo­cab­u­lary. Over the years, they have col­lab­o­rated to de­liver one style su­per hit af­ter an­other: The girl-next-door in Dilli 6 (2009), those pas­tel lehen­gas in Aisha (2010), count­less red-car­pet ap­pear­ances, and that jaw-drop­ping open­ing act at Cannes 2013, the ivory lace sari paired with an em­broi­dered, trail­ing jacket.

How­ever, on that day in 2008, Kolkata’s ret­i­cent de­signer ceased to be­long only to Kolkata. Ev­ery­one wanted a piece of her; lay hands on her zipped dresses. And since then, Khanna has set the path for In­dia to fol­low, both through her col­lec­tions and her per­sonal style. She is the rea­son why twen­tysome­things are no longer in­tim­i­dated by the sari. She twisted the tra­di­tional to make it trendy. She ex­per­i­mented with the drape like few oth­ers have. She fused it with a lehenga; she showed us how to wear it with the pant. She showed that the hum­ble mul is ca­pa­ble of look­ing ex­quis­ite, and ex­alted those an­ti­quated zardozi skirts, belted lehen­gas worn with white shirts, crushed saris, big bootas, and the jaali jacket, just to name a few. One of In­dian fash­ion’s big­gest in­flu­encers, she her­self has never for­mally stud­ied or trained in the field (her ca­reer kicked off in 1995 with the money she won along with the Da­ma­nia Fash­ion Award), and she ap­pears on best­dressed lists across the coun­try reg­u­larly.

Like the rest of us, she goes through fash­ion phases, which may be the rea­son she is easy to fol­low. A few sea­sons ago, she was in a one-shoul­der phase. The world was wear­ing Anamika Khanna crushed silk toga dresses. Sonam wore hers with se­ri­ous strands of polki five years ago at the IIFA Awards in Ma­cau. Khanna rock-chic-ed hers with McQueen booties and Chanel quilted bags in the party cir­cuit. Then came the high-waist days. Ev­ery­thing had to be high-waist. In the fall of 2013, she was in a dhoti-cape phase. Born on the cat­walk a cou­ple of sea­sons ago, both are mod­ern-day fash­ion he­roes, these are It pieces, they top the lust list. Ev­ery­body who is anybody has the dhoti. The su­per women, like Per­nia Qureshi, work the cape.

These days, she’s all about dress­ing sim­ple and su­per­sized. “Ev­ery­thing should just hang on me.” Doesn’t sound very high-main­te­nance. And it isn’t. That’s the thing with her. Even when she’s dressed up, she never looks ‘per­fect’. “I don’t like to look like I have just spent two hours in the salon. I might have, but I don’t like to look it!” There’s that ca­sual vibe about her, even in those Raj Mah­tani jewels and lat­est cou­ture pieces she prob­a­bly finds ly­ing around

on her fac­tory floor (oh, the joy of be­ing sample size). Be­ing on best-dressed lists ev­ery­where is just a happy by-prod­uct. “This is who I am. This is what I do, morn­ing to night. I am a fash­ion pro­fes­sional.”

But the real dress­ing ‘up’ is strictly re­served for af­ter-hours. Dur­ing the day it’s dressed­down yet very se­ri­ously chic. Her usual de­scrip­tion of her day look: “I am look­ing like a mess to­day.” Her favourite line. Big. Fat. Lie. On any work­day, her typ­i­cal is far from it. Be­spoke bri­dal ap­point­ments and im­por­tant pri­vate or­ders (on speed dial to the who’s-who; she re­fuses to drop names), brain­storm­ing with the de­sign team (for shows, sched­uled fash­ion weeks, and charity fundrais­ers), the twins’ col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions… her work uni­form has to be easy and fuss­free. Worn-out denim pants plus an even more worn-out denim shirt look haute cou­ture on her. A rather im­por­tant hand­bag lies around some­where, and OMG shoes. Her shiny black hair is en­sconced in an art­fully messy up-do; she’s ob­sessed with those joora pins, buy­ing them by the hand­ful at fair trade shops.

Her shop­ping is im­pul­sive, she ad­mits. “I don’t shop all the time,” she says. “But when I do, I do!” Peo­ple like that know ex­actly what they want. They don’t win­dow shop. They shop shop. And Khanna shop shops Dries Van Noten, Vivi­enne West­wood, Ba­len­ci­aga, and closer home, Ra­jesh Pratap Singh and Ro­hit Bal. The lat­ter was also the first de­signer piece she bought. “It was an ivory floor-length kurta. I still love it.”

But for many of us in In­dia, Anamika Khanna is the first de­signer piece we saved for. In fact, once you buy an Anamika, you are hooked for life. You just have to go back for more. Anamika ad­dict Kalyani Chawla can vouch for this, be­cause when not in Dior, she’s al­most al­ways seen in an Anamika.They are also old friends; the Kolkata con­nec­tion. “She has a dis­tinc­tive style that evolves ev­ery sea­son, and is not stuck in a groove like other de­sign­ers. She is a creative ge­nius,” says Chawla, adding that Khanna is not the kind of de­signer who hands you a rule­book with ev­ery gar­ment. “Wear this like this, these shoes, this jew­ellery.” The key to mas­ter an AK en­sem­ble is to in­ter­pret it your way. And fash­ion­istas love a chal­lenge. “The big­gest plus of her out­fits is that they are so ver­sa­tile; they are real in­vest­ments. I wear the jack­ets with tights dur­ing my trips abroad, and then the same with saris for a wed­ding here,” says Chawla. “I can wear all her pieces in 10 dif­fer­ent ways.”

“Copy­ing by the sec­ond rung of the mar­ket

is okay. We de­sign­ers set the look.

It’s when the as­pir­ing de­sign­ers copy us that I feel sad.”

Then there’s the par­al­lel in­dus­try, the copy-cat mar­ket that ranges from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk to Cal­cutta’s Park Street. But she’s rel­a­tively Zen-like about the ram­pant pla­gia­rism. “Copy­ing by the sec­ond rung of the mar­ket is okay. We de­sign­ers set the look. It’s when the as­pir­ing de­sign­ers copy us that I feel sad. But I have closed my mind,” says Khanna of the al­ter­na­tive in­dus­try her de­signs have spawned. Tina Mal­ho­tra of Evoluzione be­lieves that Khanna has re­de­fined the very essence of In­dia’s wom­enswear. “Her dhoti-sal­war and the draped sari have be­come clas­sics. Her in­tri­cate work and orig­i­nal­ity make her a force that is im­pos­si­ble to match in this in­dus­try.” To­day, there are many A-lis­ters who echo the same sen­ti­ment. Ka­reena Kapoor and Deepika Padukone turn to her of­ten. Sonam Kapoor is a loyal mas­cot. And it’s not be­cause she is a la­bel. Khanna’s school is a dif­fer­ent kind of cool.

Anamika Khanna

Khanna at her flag­ship store in Kolkata

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