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Verve People
March 14, 2013

Panache For Dazzle

Text by Viseshika Sharma. Photograph by Manpreet Singh.

As she prepares to take on the honour of presenting the finale show at this month’s Lakmé Fashion Week, Namrata Joshipura talks to Viseshika Sharma about the journey that got her there

Her sinuous designs make regular appearances on red carpets; the last year alone has seen Deepika Padukone, Yami Gautam and Lisa Ray glittering in Namrata Joshipura gowns. This month will see the designer make her Lakmé Fashion Week debut, made all the more exciting by the news that she is slated to close the week.

It has been a long road from Pune, where the designer spent her formative years. She recalls dragging her mother to salons in the centre of the city, all the way from the army cantonment where her father was posted, insisting on new haircuts and being very specific about her clothes. Her parents’ approach to child-rearing changed that. “There was no difference in the way they treated my brother and me,” says Joshipura, “and I wouldn’t say I became a total tomboy, but we moved to Delhi when I was 10 and I played hockey for the state, so it was anything but feminine and glamorous.” Growing up was a montage of jeans and T-shirts, befitting her utilitarian take on clothing herself at the time.

Joshipura went on to enroll in a Bachelor of Commerce course at Delhi University, but quickly realised that it wasn’t her calling. A conversation with her mother led to her exploring her options and deciding to apply at the recently established National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). For many years, the Indian Ministry of Textiles’ college was the kingmaker when it came to fashion designers and Joshipura thrived there. “It’s where my instruction in fashion happened; I encountered beautiful minds that influenced me and are still close friends, and I discovered my passion. My teachers there have seen me from my first interview, through all the semesters to graduation, and it’s great that they can now witness my shows,” she says. Graduating in 1994, the year that produced Manish Arora and Payal and Rajesh Pratap Singh, Joshipura stays close to the other designers and considers them her mentors. “We started our labels around the same time so talking to them was just so stimulating,” she says.

But before the label, there was a stint working for couturier Suneet Varma, where Joshipura discovered her love for travel. For two years she spent every available penny on travel, and discovered how it stimulated her ideas of fashion and design. Her label was launched in 1996 and Joshipura started stocking at New Delhi’s iconic boutique Carma. She married and moved to New York in 1999 and the city further informed her sensibilities, yet her studio and workshops remained in India, where she kept travelling to show. Five years ago, she made the move back to India, so her young daughter could grow up with family around her. Now Delhi and Mumbai are home to her two stand-alone stores and she has a strong presence on other retailers’ rails, including Chennai’s Evoluzione which performs on par with her own boutiques.

“Back in 1996 or ’97, it was only the same 100 or 200 women that formed each store’s customer base, in Delhi or Mumbai, now over 300,000 women out there have the spending power and they are coming out of Nagpur, Indore and Ludhiana,” says Joshipura. The label’s Facebook page regularly posts photos of celebrities wearing Namrata Joshipura gowns and the interaction there is proof of how appealing Joshipura’s creations are, as well as an illustration of how the profile of the Indian consumer has changed. “We have people messaging us saying ‘I want this dress, how much does it cost?’ and it’s a real high when we get these queries from tier 3 and tier 4 cities,” says Joshipura.

Despite this popularity, Joshipura has gotten flak for being too safe. “To become good and feel good about what you do, you have to continuously do it in different ways, even at the risk of being repetitive. That’s the only way you define and create your signature.” Her Spring 2013 collection, presented months ago in Delhi, aptly illustrates this way of developing her work. Her signature jumpsuits and gowns made an appearance, but the textures and colours were a touch darker and more sophisticated. “It’s a sensibility I’m trying to accomplish. A fully embellished garment makes it easy to conceal flaws in the fit. I’m working on making more engineered garments, detailing is my focus right now. Even the armholes were finished differently in the last collection,” says the designer.

Looking at her instantly covetable creations, one is moved to ask if she has ever made anything she looks back on in horror, and impossible as it seems, there is one memory that stands out. “It was my first term garment at NIFT and we were working in groups. My group’s concept was ‘psychedelia’, and that early in the course, you have a very limited set of skills. We tried to throw in every patternmaking and garment construction skill we had acquired, so we could impress the teachers. I made a skirt and bodice, and back then I thought it was very hip and cool, but now I know it was anything but! It was good in terms of finish, but aesthetically, it was a disaster,” says Joshipura, laughing helplessly.

Travel has always played a huge role in inspiring her work. “My collection for Spring 2012 was inspired by a trek. The textures echoed the melting heart of a glacier, and the way in which the snow settles in and darkens and deepens,” says Joshipura. “I feel moved when I am in nature. Sometimes I’m at 15,000 feet and can barely breathe, but I feel struck by an idea. Nothing clears my mind like a run in Lodhi Garden – I feel awake, alive and joyous. It could be the first thing in the morning or the last thing at night.”

And she needs those runs to keep her sane – Joshipura has taken on the Herculean task of creating two different collections for two fashion weeks! “It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” she says. “I’m doing a Fall/Winter 2013 collection for Delhi and a Spring Summer 2013 collection for my Lakmé Fashion Week finale show. I think this is the most complex situation I’ve been in – working simultaneously on two contrasting collections.” And how does she manage this? By pushing her worktable into the centre of her studio space, keeping the collections in different halves of the room and working on one collection with her back completely turned to the other. “It’s tough to focus and this is the most disciplined I’ve ever been, but it’s great to be pushing my boundaries,” says Joshipura. “I’ve had a very monochrome sensibility so far and so I’m developing the skill of using colour together effectively. I think my signature is the contemporary use of embroidery, but it’s still a work in progress. It’s not arrived there yet. I’ll continue to explore every shape, size and colour of sequin that exists.”

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