FASHION’S NEW ORDER
The ultimate guide to 2019’s indie designers, as they push the envelope beyond handloom and opt for a different kind of storytelling
Every fashion week introduces us to a new wave of designers. However, considering the kind of investment required — from ₹8 to ₹10 lakh — many indie labels are opting out of the runway race. Instead, they’re looking for different ways of retailing, including social media, pop-ups and collabortions. With many coming from non-traditional fashion backgrounds, it’s a refreshing approach, says Shefalee Vasudev, editor, The
Voice of Fashion. “I constantly hear the term democracy used in the same breath as fashion. This has broken down the fashion formula... even though unbridled democracy can sometimes affect originality,” she says.
A majority of labels today work with handloom and natural fabrics. Have we reached a tipping point? Malika Verma Kashyap, founder of digital publication Border & Fall, believes we are “at that apex moment where there is just too much of the same... someone is going to take a radical step and break away. So, we can look forward to innovation within handloom and embracing other types of materials. Mill-made fabrics have their own space and use, and can do things that handloom cannot.”
So what does it take to make it as an indie designer today? Vijendra Bhardwaj, former fashion director at
GQ, says candidly, “A functioning left brain, an understanding of business, finance and networking. And yes, a reasonably thick skin!”
We navigate the multi-designer stores, pop-ups and campaigns to identify the brands to track this year.
European undertone White Champa
Anjana Das divides her time between Berlin and New Delhi, with frequent visits to Manila, where she collaborates with local artisans. Her label is known for its handembroidered patterns on flowy silhouettes, and her line of accessories features organic jewellery made using by-products of the food industry (like cow bones and scrap wood). While Das works on a consignment basis in India (overseas, it is a 100% outright buying), she speaks for many of her colleagues when she says, “I feel like the consignment method puts all the financial strain on the makers.” From ₹6,800 to ₹25,000 on whitechampa.com.
Pattern manipulation Notebook
Niharika Gupta admits to being scared of bright colours. So you’ll find an ‘academic palette’ — with plenty of blues, whites, greys and terracottas — that is in keeping with her fascination with school uniforms (“they suit all body types”). What sets the minimalist Delhi designer apart are her clean silhouettes and love for pattern manipulation. “I enjoy combining two classics, like a T-shirt and a dress, or a vintage pinstripe suit and a jumpsuit,” says Gupta, 25. Working almost exclusively with fabrics used in menswear, like cotton gabardine and poplin — which give her clothes structure — she eschews trends but follows seasons. “Buyers work with a fashion calendar and since we are looking at global reach by participating at the upcoming India Fashion Week, we follow it too,” she says. Gupta, who works on consignment with stores like Ensemble and Atosa, believes exhibitions are key because they help her gain valuable insights into fits and preferences. From ₹6,500 onwards, on thenotebook studio.com.
Of Mughal motifs Ode to Odd
Ranchi-based sisters Priyal Mewara (24) and Shreya Mewara (28) use handwoven biodegradable fabrics in a structured, unconventional format. “We don’t believe in seasonal collections and take time to work with our craftsmen and weavers in Bengal and Banaras. Our next collection — due in September — takes inspiration from Mughal architectural motifs,” says Priyal. In June this year, they were selected to showcase at Scouting For India, a collaboration between FAD Institute and Vogue Talents (of Vogue Italia). Available in Ogaan, Delhi and Mumbai, Kolkata and stores in London. ₹5,000 to ₹35,000 at odetoodd.com.
Vintage florals Soutache
With many designers highlighting handloom as their USP, Gaurika Sharma wanted to make sure that there was something to set her designs apart. “We settled on hand-embroidery, and the vintage florals are quite popular,” she says. While some designers are hesitant to shell out the money needed to show at a fashion week, or even hold a stall, Sharma insists it is worth the investment. “We’ve had stalls for the past two years, have shown at Vancouver Fashion Week this year, and will be on the runway at India Fashion Week. It’s what helped us take the brand international, and opened up options for exporting and the wholesale market,” she says, adding that they retail in 16 stores across the country now. From ₹ 4,000 upwards; details on soutache.in.
Vintage lace accents Swoon
Boho looks are a favourite among indie designers, and Sakshi Astir of Swoon incorporates it with dreamy vintage French lace. Sported by the likes of Taapsee Pannu and Malaika Arora, their signature looks are in white, including maxi dresses, breezy blouses and the occasional structured bustier. Follow @swoon.designs on Instagram.
Sindh inspired Torani
“Social media has been the oxygen for the brand,” says Karan Torani, 26, sharing how Ensemble’s head merchandiser had seen his Instagram posts soon after they launched last July and reached out. Today, his Delhi label retails at 22 offline and online stores across India. Are fashion weeks the next step? “For the moment, I’d rather invest the money in my production and photoshoots.” With heritage weaves and chintz as his USP, Torani draws inspiration from his Sindhi background. “I’m retelling stories of my community, reviving Sindhi embroidery and designing clothes that my mother and nani wore, like phirrans and short patialas.” Even his ‘western’ silhouettes take inspiration from Indian garments like gheras, angrakhas and kedias. “I take more risks with my menswear. A popular piece is the highwaisted trousers that take off from vintage Japanese patloons, with the nada (thread) becoming the belt.” With a couture line due in October, his pret pieces start from ₹8,000 and heritage from ₹35,000. On Instagram @toraniofficial
Innovative Banarasi Kshitij Jalori
The NIFT Delhi graduate is drawn to the looms of Banaras because “they are the most technically-advanced” and the weavers, adaptive. “I do pashmina brocades with them, fusing the dupatta and the shawl,” says the 29-year-old. A self-proclaimed ‘preservationist’, his Delhi-based brand’s first two collections — Coromandel Colony with its kadhwa technique (where each motif is woven separately) and chintz roots, and Gul Bulbul that used tanchoi, and was inspired by 13th century Persian artwork depicting the story of the bulbul and the rose — got him into Ensemble and Ogaan. Expect to see him next at the Lakmé Fashion Week in August, when he will launch his new Art Deco line. From ₹15,000 to ₹1.25 lakh. On Instagram @kshitijjalori.
Fusion code Richa Khemka
This four-year-old Kolkata-based label has won a niche following for its experimental fusion pieces. “I add drapes and layering to basic garments to make it more interesting,” reveals the designer. While she has not exhibited at any fashion weeks, Khemka reaches out to most of her clients through exhibitions and pop-up events across India (most recently, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai) and even one in Dubai. On Instagram @richakhemkalabel.
Slow pret SGBG
“'Made in India' fashion tends to be seen as derivative. But that’s changing dramatically now," says Suraj Giri, who co-founded the Chennai-based label with his mother, Bindu Giri. They're challenging these assumptions via modern design thinking, ethical production, sourcing and sustainable waste-mitigated production. If you're looking for slow fashion, each piece takes between 20 to 1,200 hours of work. The prêt range is priced between ₹3,000 and ₹90,000. Details on sgbgatelier.com.
A metallic story Itrh
They were classmates at NIFT (knitwear), but it took Ridhhi Bansal and celebrity stylist Mohit Rai a while to team up for their new brand, Itrh. Soon to become a wedding staple, with its traditional ethos, Itrh has straight kurtis, maximal bottoms and the most decadent yet lightweight saris crafted from metallic wire. “Glossy, in metallic and pastels, they have visual texture and are a little heavier than regular chiffon saris,” says Rai. Don’t miss the hand-crochet resham fringe, the glamorous dupattas and the Lucknowi vibe. Coming soon, a new collection in saturated colours. ₹50,000 to ₹1.5 lakh at Ensemble, Ogaan and Aza.
The minimalist Buna Studio
Pallavi Shantam follows a slow-make philosophy and aims to capture the vision of an Arcadian life in her latest collection. “Our signature silhouette is our Ambrosia dress made in mulmul khadi with hand block printed yoke and billowy sleeves,” says the designer, who has presented a collection at Lakme Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2018. Apart from their webstore, Instagram and Pinterest have helped increase their reach. “We’ve also changed our production model to ‘make to order’ and do fewer pop-ups to minimise over-production and wastage,” she adds. From ₹4,500-₹18,000 at bunastudio.com
Old craft, new language Graine
Mannat Sethi’s work with khadi and linen go way back, but this NIFT graduate and artist also has an interesting approach to upcycling – discarded metallic wires and scrap from markets like Chandni Chowk are repurposed as embroidery. No wonder then that her recent collection, which includes ethereal pashmina Kashmiri and organza bomber jackets, has just won her a sustainable award at Helsinki Fashion Week, and will be showcased there on July 22. A London pop-up might be next. The chikankari champion, who presents the celebrated bakhiya stitch in contemporary motifs, says it is all about “old craft in today’s language”. Cautious about showcasing and retailing on Instagram, Sethi likes to retain some of the mystery around her brand but plans to open a store in Delhi this year – clients can “have a cup of coffee and keep it casual”. ₹7,500 onwards (tops) and ₹25,000 onwards ( jackets),at Ensemble.
Fantasy ride Pushpak Vimaan
Styling and photography are key to a designer’s success online, and Smarani Vuppala, creative head of this Punebased brand knows as much. “When we started out, we used big-name photographers and stylists, but it really overshot our marketing budget! Now, we collaborate with young and experimental artists, sometimes on a barter system,” she says. Their sub-label, Mela, which is priced between ₹3,000 and ₹8,000 is ideal for those who have just been introduced to the brand. Pushpak Vimaan is priced upwards of ₹10,000. On Instagram @pushpak_vimaan.
Moral Science | @moral_science
Stylist Isha Ahluwalia has used fabric like Japanese rayon from the ‘80s and shirting material gifted to her father during his wedding to create her debut collection. Apart from 80% of her Goa-based line being upcycled, she’s also about accessible fashion — check out her handkerchiefs with Braille. ₹2,500 to ₹30,000 (on Instagram).
Fawn | @nikhildx
Nikhil D, stylist and co-founder of talent agency Feat Artists, is not a prolific designer, but every few years he launches a collection of singular pieces. The latest: a 48-hour only online auction of 30 garments made from fabric waste (from labels Bodice, Ekà, Shift, Péro and Akaaro) on the Border & Fall Instagram account. “Creating something one-of-a-kind is special,” says Nikhil, who hopes to do another auction soon, with the remaining 50 pieces. A good lookbook is key. Most indie brands use fabrics and silhouettes that are beautiful, but often don’t photograph as well as structured garments. Stylists and photographers should be mindful of this PERNIA QURESHI, founder, Pernia’s Pop-up Shop The sustainable conversation is here to stay — people want to be environmentally aware, and know where their products are coming from. But designers can move away from the organic, loose silhouettes [that have been trending] EDWARD LALREMPUIA, Fashion Director, Harper’s Bazaar From a business point of view, trunk shows and pop-ups make perfect sense. It’s where the crowds are, and brands get noticed and make money. But for brands and designers looking to go national or international, fashion weeks are a great platform.” SHAHIN ANSARI, co-founder, MaalGaadi