The story of Indian fashion is a tale of several registers of artisans, designers and manufacturers, whose trajectories form a much larger narrative. Looking at it from the outside, one could often mistake the wood for the trees, which tends to happen when contemporary filters of fashion recognise brands as a function and response of their retail or social media presence.
While this might be an accurate window for many, several reputable names have imbibed the business with a melange of experiences that shape their offerings across stores. Travel, research and fieldwork in less-than-salubrious surroundings are not the typical foreground for a celebrated fashion designer. However, it is true for Ritu Kumar.
Kumar indulges me when I call her a “fashion designer”, but truth be told, that is the way she is perceived. During the course of our freewheeling interview, she frequently dips in and out of memories of a journey that began with a course in museology. Academic training gave her a filter from which to perceive the origin of skills and objects, and thereby discern where and in what form they might end up. Few voices in the business have the advantage of a wide historic arc, and perhaps this influences her understanding of what is ‘current’, almost always a departure from what is a ‘trend’.
In the decades following Independence, as a fledgling nation took flight, the garb of its citizens was decided by multiple voices.