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
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.
Khanna at her flagship store in Kolkata