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Elle India|June 2021
SEASONED INDIAN DESIGNERS REMINISCE ABOUT THEIR FIRST COLLECTIONS. RUMAN BAIG JOINS IN THEIR NOSTALGIA
RUMAN BAIG

These are some names that are definitive of the Indian fashion industry: Anamika Khanna, Raghavendra Rathore, Anita Dongre, Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla and brothers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra. You’ve seen them take a bow with their showstoppers on countless runways but we bet you can’t recall their maiden collections. In fact, we wondered if they could too! So we asked them to jog their memories and take us back a couple of decades, to their raw beginnings. Here are stories of working out of backyard tailoring units, discovering classic trends from fashion faux pas and more, as the creative visionaries share anecdotes from their rookie days.

ANITA DONGRE

HOW IT BEGAN

“I started with two sewing machines in my Bandra flat. My younger sister Meena, who was also a fashion design student, was my first colleague. We started this small venture together, later joined by our brother, making it a family affair. From cutting, sewing to ornamenting, everything was in-house. I vividly remember sitting at the dinner table and embroidering because it felt therapeutic. For the first 10 years, my work and clientele were local; only after my first official show did things accelerate.”

FIRST COLLECTION

“In 2001, I was chosen to represent India in Germany for the IGEDO fashion fair. I showcased my debut collection inspired by our indigenous crafts. It took me six months to complete the line. I travelled to Jaipur for the authentic block prints and then rerouted to Lucknow to complete the Chikankari part of my collection.”

HURDLES & CHALLENGES

“Juggling various facets of a business was difficult. I wore multiple hats; whether it was managing production, marketing, designing or dealing with vendors, it was all a part of my job role. Also, it wasn’t financially feasible to hire a large team back then. Challenges occur during all stages; it's just their nature that changes when your business grows.”

MEMORIES

“I bet I know every nook and corner of Bombay (as we called it back then) because I have sourced from every part of this city. Discovering new talent and skilled artisans in the slums during my frequent trips was exciting. Back in those days, I used to spend my day there getting my work done. My highest milestone has been the gradual arc of my journey. Upgrading from a match-box-sized space to my dream sustainable office in Rabale is my most cherished achievement. The dream office came together 25 years later, but I wouldn’t trade my eventful ride for anything.”

REINTERPRET OR PASS?

“I have always looked at fashion from a practical lens; even when I incorporated a craft in my early days, my emphasis was on keeping it functional. What you do with a craft and its interpretation is the real challenge. Take Indigo as an example: I have worked with the colour innumerable times, but each time, I experiment with a new shade and never run out of options. Even back in the day, I integrated the handcraft to the best of its ability, which is why I wouldn’t want to change that. I feel ecstatic when I run into customers who own pieces designed by me that are 25-30 years old. That speaks volumes about our heritage and textiles that transcend generations.”

SHANTANU & NIKHIL

HOW IT BEGAN

Nikhil shares, “My interest in fashion sparked when I was in class 7. I used to manipulate the uniform, which was a little tragic, to make sure that I looked good in school. Following my passion, I went to Pearl Academy and then to the United States for further studies. Shantanu was from a business background, and when he came to Los Angeles for my graduating line, he looked at me and said we should start a business from this. He is not a designer but a businessman, and he is better at commerce than I am. Shantanu brings structure and sets a path to my creative chaos.”

FIRST COLLECTION

“Lakmé Fashion Week, 2001 was where we showcased our collection for the first time. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the actual inspiration behind it because it was just so arbitrary. I remember there was a collection inspired by the Nihang warrior group; and another one called After Death, which was influenced by the last days of Jesus Christ. It took us 4 to 5 lines to figure out the voice of our brand. It is such a deep and emotional process.”

HURDLES & CHALLENGES

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