De­signer Naushad Ali reimag­ines sus­tain­able de­sign

India Today - - FASHION - By CHINKI SINHA Pho­to­graph By BANDEEP SINGH

It was a chance en­counter with a cutout from a news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ment about ad­mis­sions in NIFT in his late fa­ther’s diary that led him to ap­ply for a seat. Per­haps his fa­ther wanted him to be­come a de­signer. “Maybe that’s why I found the pa­per tucked in the diary,” ex­plains Naushad Ali—the 32-year-old Puducherry-based de­signer—of his first brush with fash­ion. Or maybe, it was all those years of do­ing home­work sit­ting on stacks of tex­tiles at home that pre­pared him for a ca­reer in fash­ion. Ei­ther way, it all seems to have worked out well as he pre­pares to rep­re­sent In­dia in 2019. He is among the 16 de­sign­ers cho­sen to par­tic­i­pate in the In­ter­na­tional Fash­ion Show­case (IFS) held an­nu­ally in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil. This is the first edi­tion of the IFS bi­en­nale and Naushad Ali is among the two In­dian la­bels that made the cut.

The theme for this year’s IFS is sus­tain­abil­ity, which is what rules his de­sign phi­los­o­phy and not just

in the use of hand­loom tex­tiles but also in the con­cept of reusing left­overs. For Ali, who lives in a small town with its her­itage build­ings and the sea and its spir­i­tu­al­ity, the be­lief in re­cy­cling comes from his ex­pe­ri­ence at Auroville where he lived for many years be­fore mov­ing to Puducherry. “I want to recre­ate my stu­dio for the in­stal­la­tion in London be­cause I want to tell the west that left­overs can be used for mak­ing beau­ti­ful things. It is sim­ple and I want them to be tele­ported to the stu­dio with the aid of sounds and tex­tures,” he says. And for a de­signer who has ditched city life be­cause he felt choked, it is no small feat to de­but among doyens talk­ing about sus­tain­abil­ity in fash­ion.

Mod­est be­gin­nings. But it all started with the diary. Born in Vel­lore, he spent the ground­ing years in Chen­nai and later in Ban­ga­lore, after which his par­ents moved to Puducherry. His fa­ther was a tex­tiles trader; it was a mod­est house but high on as­pi­ra­tions. Ali wanted to be an astro-physi­cist since he was good at botan­i­cal draw­ings, but when NIFT Chen­nai hap­pened in­stead, he knew he would do things dif­fer­ently like any small town per-

son, who is used to a slow pace of life,” he says.

The sus­tain­abil­ity mantra. That is per­haps what makes him a cham­pion of slow fash­ion among other de­sign­ers, who are try­ing to usher in a new mind­set that fo­cusses on sus­tain­abil­ity through their de­signs. For Ali’s Lakme Fash­ion Week (LFW) col­lec­tion, the in­spi­ra­tion is a tex­tile clus­ter in Tamil Nadu called Musiri. When he went there for the first time, he was fas­ci­nated with the sim­plic­ity of the colour schemes. The col­lec­tion is called “Spring /Sum­mer, Fall/ Win­ter and Spring again” be­cause he be­lieves in cu­rat­ing things that are not sub­ject to trends or dic­tated by con­sumerist fash­ion.

In­spi­ra­tion “As de­sign­ers, we try to reimag­ine things but it takes time even for an ex­per­i­ment; we have to weave 30-40 me­tres of cloth.” But un­like other young de­sign­ers, Ali is un­daunted by the idea of bring­ing slow fash­ion to the run­way. “I want to make clothes where the fab­ric is rooted in our cul­ture but the look is global,” he says. “We like to use lo­cal ref­er­ences in the fab­ric but not in the de­sign.” It was the stretch of the brown land­scape along with the blue skies and the red of the tem­ple tiles with the colours of dry­ing peanuts that de­cided the colour scheme of his col­lec­tion. For the ramp pre­sen­ta­tion at the LFW, he has remixed an old Tamil song. “It is all about the sim­plic­ity of cot­ton, the stripes and the checks,” he ex­plains. In his sim­ple de­signs, the touch of min­i­mal­ism is bal­anced by a fine sen­si­bil­ity of con­trasts—an ob­ser­va­tion of how na­ture con­trasts with hu­man con­structs. Life comes full cir­cle. Hav­ing come this far, the jour­ney, he says, is long and full of chal­lenges. But he be­lieves in his in­stincts. After grad­u­at­ing from NIFT Chen­nai, he took up a few jobs but re­alised the city wasn’t meant for him. He de­cided to re­turn to Puducherry and set up his stu­dio in Auroville that helped him un­der­stand sus­tain­abil­ity from a spir­i­tual view­point. “I never be­longed in a city,” he con­fesses. But it wasn’t easy be­cause ev­ery­thing, from but­tons to trained staff, had to be out­sourced. “I gave my­self five years; I thought, let’s see what a small town has to of­fer.

It is all about long walks, and a lot of time to see things around that make their way into his de­signs like the yel­low of the colo­nial build­ings in the White Town quar­ters of Puducherry, the grays of the ashram build­ings and the blue of the sea. The plen­ti­ful time helps,” he in­sists.

Look­ing ahead. In 2014, he set up Stu­dio Liam in Auroville to re­visit and trans­fer the ex­per­tise of In­dian crafts­men to con­tem­po­rary fash­ion. In 2017, three years after launch­ing his la­bel, he re­ceived the Grazia Young Sus­tain­able De­signer award. Ear­lier this year, he was cho­sen to rep­re­sent In­dia for the first IFS bi­en­nale at London Fash­ion Week in 2019, sup­ported by the London Col­lege of Fash­ion and Som­er­set House. Jaspreet Chan­dok, VP and head of fash­ion at IMG Reliance says the win reaf­firms that In­dia is fos­ter­ing some ex­cit­ing young tal­ent. The ex­hi­bi­tion is the cen­tral el­e­ment of the London Fash­ion Week. “It is a great op­por­tu­nity to see what oth­ers are do­ing,” Ali says. For now, it is a slow town with its im­mense sea and its beau­ti­ful colo­nial build­ings, the left­overs from a past and peo­ple who have come here to un­der­stand spir­i­tu­al­ity that lets him be. Away from the mad­den­ing crowd. Away from the grip of fash­ion sea­sons and away from ev­ery­thing that will take him away from who he is—a small town boy with grandiose dreams. And some of those are al­ready begin­ning to come true as he takes a leap of faith.

Ali’s col­lec­tion for Lakme Fash­ion Week 2018 (top and right)

Shani Hi­man­shu’s de­signs cham­pion sus­tain­abil­ity (above)

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