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Fashion
September 24, 2017

Designer Rimzim Dadu On Her Interpretation Of The Sari Receiving Cult Status

Text, concept and styling by Sohiny Das. Photographed by Charudutt Chitrak. Hair and make-up: Savleen Manchanda. Models: Mili Soni, Rodali Dutta. Fashion assistant: Basudev Sinha

In the 10 years since her runway debut, Dadu has built an inspiring mini-archive of textile innovations. She speaks about her tactile approach to design, her hallmarks and the launch of her bridal line

Your runway debut in 2007 versus now — any difference in the pre-show jitters?
The jitters have only gotten stronger: when I was younger, I felt no added pressure of people’s expectations. Now there’s more pressure to live up to my past work, which can be unnerving at times. But I’ve learnt that the key is to keep myself hydrated and take deep breaths.

Does a runway show have the same relevance now, as compared to a decade back?
With new forms of media and tools emerging, the way we interact with our audience has also changed dramatically. Brands have shifted their focus from being exclusive to being more relevant. The importance of the runway being the sole platform to introduce new collections has also dipped; the use of digital and social media is increasing. I love this shift – it’s so much more democratic!

Did you have clarity regarding your speciality area right from the start?
By the time I graduated, I realised that I like working on surface textures; it’s something that I naturally gravitated towards. From my very first collection, I started working on experimental surfaces.

A core ideology that has stayed with you from the inception of your label, My Village, to the current Rimzim Dadu?
Constant experimentation has been at the heart of everything we do in our studio, which my team likes to call a lab. We have dabbled with stainless steel wires, metal, acrylic, silicone and even paper. It’s not about experiments just for their sake, but we create unique textures than can be adapted on garments. We never pick fabrics off the shelf. Surface creation has been our strength and it has stayed on from the very beginning. In short, we like to fuse art, science and design.

Any ‘failed experiments’ in your design lab?
Once I tried to create a new material by mixing fabric and paper — we started by breaking down fabric using a domestic kitchen mixer and grinder. Not such a great idea! We had five broken mixers by the end of it, and had to move to industrial machinery for development eventually.

A personal favourite collection from your archives?
Spring/Summer 2009 came straight from the heart. It was very early on in my career, and I did not make it to please the buyers or media. I was just a happy kid, doing what I loved — in a meditative, Zen space that all creatives aspire for. I explored cording for the first time, which stayed with me and became a signature.

How do you pick up on the retail aspects of your craft and still retain your desire to innovate?
I love all forms of creative problem-solving, but achieving a mix of commercial viability while retaining my desire to innovate has been one of the most difficult challenges. Only after many years of observing the market, meeting people and sensing their likes, dislikes and tastes have I understood this. Retail is changing dramatically — alongside brick-and-mortar stores, I’ve had to adapt my tactile textures to digital retail. The test was to bring a sense of touch to a virtual space. At our e-store, the process of creating each textile is elaborately explained and all pieces are completely custom-made. The idea is to make our customer feel like they have walked into our studio.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a couturier?
The definition of the word ‘couturier’ is something that I haven’t been able to reconcile with. My techniques may be more experimental than the ones that create traditional couture, but yes, I make bespoke clothing. Perhaps by definition I am one, but I would never use it for my brand description.

At trade fairs, has the perception of ‘Indian design’ undergone any changes in the last decade?
Absolutely! When I started, buyers would be apprehensive of Indian quality standards and delivery timelines. Many wouldn’t understand how we were coming up with innovative design and shifting from being a manufacturing hub. That perception has changed for the better, but getting a buyer to pay as much for an Indian label as a European one is still not as easy.

What led to your reinventions of Indian handloom textiles?
The ideation process was very organic. While I was researching heritage Indian textiles, my love for experimenting with new materials and playing with weaves sort of trickled into my ongoing research at that time. Thus the silicone jamdani and the leather Patola were born.

Your interpretation of the sari has received cult status. What’s the reaction of the clients been like?
I had never seen myself as someone who could make saris, so I was surprised by how well my idea of a sari was received! Sonam Kapoor wore the metal sari at Cannes last year, and it instantly trended. But unlike things that go viral and fizzle fast, the metal sari is still going strong with clients. Women of all age groups — from all over the world — have ordered it. My own mother has a metal sari — the fact that it appeals to everyday sari wearers is what excites me!

Have celebrity endorsements helped business?
Definitely — a celebrity brings instant eyeballs! Although, it has to be someone who resonates with the brand’s ethos, who our loyalists can connect with.

In this landmark year, how was your first trousseau designing experience for your own wedding?
It was all-consuming, to say the least! I did multiple rounds of stores to buy something off the rack, but missed a sense of connect with what I saw — after a point, it all started to look the same. So I decided to take the plunge and make my own wedding outfits with zero trousseau designing experience! I had very little understanding of the technicalities, but maybe the fact that I did not know the rules helped me create something that I felt was fresh.

How is the new Indian line shaping up?
I received a lot of requests from people who saw my personal trousseau, so I developed an Indian line over the last six months, which will be launched next month. The aim is to put a fresh spin on traditional clothing — you can expect a lot of 3D textures for sure — at prices that will not make you bleed! Festive and wedding outfits are sometimes obnoxiously overpriced and I want to change that with my line.

Another landmark moment was The Maze in 2016, noted for its multisensory approach. Is this something that you wish to explore further?
I truly believe that artists cannot be aloof from their reality. The idea behind The Maze was rooted within a growing sense of anxiety about the current times we live in. The presentation was a metaphor for the constant loop of feeling lost, making chance discoveries and eventually finding a way out.

I collaborated with conceptual architect Rajat Sodhi to explore the symbiotic relationship linking fashion, textiles, performance art and installation design, to create a unique interactive experience. The audiences were invited to take a journey through The Maze. Upon entering, they were given a map and headphones playing a specially mixed soundtrack; they navigated through the dark to installations and eventually found their way out. Rajat and I now plan to take this to international art fairs and showcase it to people from around the world.

Will you explore more interdisciplinary collaborations in the coming years?
I am working on a collection of sculptural lights with Paul Matter, to be launched early next year. But there is so much more I want to do! I want to make home textiles — I know very clearly how the collection would look; just need the right time and space to see it through.

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