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Fashion
April 05, 2018

Celebrating The Indian Woman: Anita Dongre On Her Designs, Inspirations And Changing The Status Quo

Text by Zaral Shah

Her creative journey saw its genesis in a small workshop and today Anita Dongre’s label has gained national and global recognition. We explore the mind of the acclaimed designer of repute…

She knew she wanted to be a designer by the time she was 15 years old. A full-time three year course at SNDT Women’s University endowed her with a formal education that would provide the foundation for her career. She learnt about different aspects of designing like cutting, draping, embroidery, techniques and more during her stint at the institute. Ever since she started designing two decades ago, the Mumbai-based Anita Dongre has drawn inspiration from the informed Indian woman — someone who is well-travelled and fiercely independent. In conversation with Verve, the designer talks about her tryst with the world of fashion design, what continues to inspire her, the SS’18 collection and what the future holds for her lines.

On Being An Entrepreneur
“Back in the ’90s, ‘fashion design’ wasn’t considered a real profession in India. I hail from a conservative family and so I was allowed to set up my first ‘studio’ in my bedroom balcony where my sister, Meena and I designed for friends and local boutiques with two sewing machines. But seeing my unrelenting passion and determination to make this work, my father eventually gave in and supported me in starting a small factory. I believe that evolution is retrospective. After 30 years in the fashion business it is the little things that stand out for me, things that have marked me both as an individual and an entrepreneur. I remember having to bite my tongue the first time a mall developer laughed at a woman (me, of course) coming to negotiate a retail space or the time when I had to fight for a voice at negotiations. That has changed significantly over the years and it has affected who I am as a person. I also understand that not everybody has the same support system as I did. And now that I am in a position to do so, I work every day to empower working women by creating accessible economic opportunities in their villages.”

On Overcoming Challenges
“I think one of the greatest challenges I faced was in staying true to my core beliefs and also changing the status quo. I have always held that men, women and animals deserve the same respect, and from Day One have consistently refused to use leather in my bags and accessories. I love our cruelty-free bags and shoes and these are my everyday staples.”

On The Magic of A Mall
“Setting up in Palladium was a business decision. Being almost equidistant from the suburbs and South Bombay, and as one of the only luxury malls in the city, it was an obvious choice for us to be here. We’ve been in Palladium for almost nine years now and have loved every moment of it. Our particular favourite event was the launch of Anita Dongre Man.”

On The SS18 Collection
“Songs of Summer is a celebration of a wedding ideally set in a forest or a beautiful garden blooming with summer flowers. With this collection, we are bringing back ’50s-inspired silhouettes in the form of pleated midis, wrap tops, loose palazzo pants, lehngas and draped saris in cool fabrics such as modal and lightweight handwoven silks and cottons from Varanasi. Summer is the time to wear easy-breezy silhouettes. Nothing should bog you down, even if you are the bride or attending a friend’s wedding. You will also find light hand embroidery in beautiful pastels.”

When Fashion Meets Design
“I have always looked at design as a way of thought — to look at what somebody wants, understand it and deliver that. Fashion in that sense is a product of design. For me, any creation of trends and patterns comes from studying where the woman I am designing for sees this article of clothing fitting into her life. Fashion and design have always been interconnected.”

On Preferred Techniques
“The core of my inspiration comes from Rajasthan. It is amazing how that state continues to motivate me with each visit. Every time I am there, I see and feel something new that rejuvenates my creativity. The crafts here are thousands of years old like the gota patti, which we revisit with every collection to bring life to our different ensembles including tunics, kaftans, lehngas, bandis and jackets. Gota patti as a design creates a luxe look fit for royal occasions, and yet is surprisingly light and easy to wear — which is what makes it unique.”

The Way Ahead
“My brand has always been a reflection of the woman of today and what she seeks. My design evolution has put wearability and effortless grace in focus. With more women expressing themselves with strength and clarity, my clothes will continue to evolve and reflect their voice with dignity. Future plans remain centred around celebrating this woman and Indian craftsmanship in the best way we can — by championing slow fashion and doing better each day when it comes to following sustainable practices.”

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