Amit Aggarwal and his bedazzling world of couture lehengas lures a clientele that is “spread all over the globe,” and rightfully so, as his brand is grounded in “intricate craftsmanship.” As of last month, Aggarwal’s international patrons can make purchases through their newly-launched digital store. I had the privilege of being able to interview Aggarwal and in this interview, I was given a glimpse of his creatively nuanced eye and what that means against the backdrop of today’s unnatural reality.
Out of the infinite possibilities, what particular design from nature has inspired your artistry in the time of quarantine?
This collection depicts the weightlessness of the ocean, the caress of the wind, and the cradle of earth as they nurture you in their promise. We’ve been strongly inspired by the beauty of nature: sea foam, deep forest green and sky blue are the main collection colours. We have used intricate, handwoven, traditional embroideries inspired by organic forms in nature along with modern industrial byproducts being used for our signature textiles.
With your brand being based in India, I’m curious about what places outside of India inspire your creative designs and how.
Architecture is the foundation for our designs and I specifically keep a lookout for it during my travels. And traveling is inherently a very big part of my life. I tend to notice corners that most [people] overlook and I get inspired by the things that I see. For example, there have been collections in the past where I have been very inspired by Turkish architecture. A lot of architecture by Zaha Hadid that I have personally visited has also subconsciously made its way into our designs through various elements of the collection. And Italy has always served as an inspiration because of its picturesque beauty. Architecture is mainly what I always tend to come back to when in need of inspiration.
Do you have any specific memories of those places? Which (imagined or real) places has your mind been wandering to during quarantine?
So many special memories at all of the destinations! I always tend to come back to Turkey when I get nostalgic of my travels. It’s one of my recent visits and whether it’s the structures and nature that I saw in Cappadocia or the beautiful Islamic architecture in Istanbul, all of it leaves you so amazed. Other than that, I visited Bali recently too. Thailand is a place that I also consider as home. But I think this is how it’s been for everyone during the pandemic. We’re all just trying to look for an escape.
How has the process of developing a collection for a digital audience been different? What do you see as the future of couture runway? Do you have plans to debut any Amit Aggarwal COVID-19 masks?
Putting together a couture show is creating a celebration for all five senses for the audience to take in. Hopefully, through this film, we will be able to achieve it presenting through new modes of virtual content even if it is consumed on screens. It is also about the sense of celebrating oneself more than ever before. We’ve tried to bring this feeling while trying to capture intricate details, structure and form of the outfits. We are making matching masks for our customers with the outfits, however they are not to be retailed separately.
What has been the process behind your Digital Store Launch? What should current and potential clients look forward to?
Technology has been about liberation and we have to evolve and adapt. While the charm and experience of a traditional runway show is undeniable, the ability to weave a narrative and the brand vision digitally is also very exciting. It’s a challenge for us to weave the brand story of intricate craftsmanship and hand embroidery and put together an immersive experience for the viewers. The digital store features our classics along with some exclusive products which will only be available on our website, along with digital bridal appointments with the designer. Change is the only constant and adapting to it is the only key. Embracing social media and e-commerce is the way forward. As such, our e-commerce store is to facilitate the patrons to shop from the comfort of their homes. Our clientele is spread all over the world, we hope the website will facilitate and ease our patrons irrespective of the geographical barriers.
You mention “loyal customers” in your ET article and you’re also talking about your patrons here. Which customer experiences mean the most to you?
All customer experiences mean a lot to us. We try to give that attention to detail to each of our customers — whether it’s the bride or her family and friends. We certainly do have some fond memories with so many of our brides who come to us with a lot of clear, distinct ideas. We have always envisioned our muse to be a kind of woman who is bold and independent, one who has a clear vision for her big day and instantly thought of our brand.
You’ve done an IG Live with Tan France recently that was really fun. Some people say that the future is queer. If this is true, what would you say about your brand in regards to gender non-conforming, non-binary fashion, and androgyny?
I think the future is not queer or non-confirming or non-binary or androgynous or straight or anything. I just think that the future belongs to all of us. The future belongs to you and everyone. And all of us should be paying attention to focusing their individual futures on who they want to be. I don’t think any of us should be defined by societal norms.
With regard to the brand, I think we would say that we’ve primarily been a womenswear brand for the larger part of our existence, but we have gotten into menswear over the last two years and it has done really well for us. But if you look at our menswear collections, they tend to be very androgynous. I think that that’s something as a brand we resonate with, the kind of gender fluidity.
For us, it’s really about the form of the body. Anything that fits beautifully or looks beautiful on someone’s body and their body form. I think a piece is on the right person if it looks beautiful on them. So in that sense, we are very androgynous in our thinking and our approach towards fashion.
During these times, it feels like the world is ending. If this is indeed the apocalypse, then what do you see as the legacy of your brand? How does that differ from your personal legacy as an individual?
Growing up, I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with my name. My parents named me Amit, which means eternal. In my childhood years, I would always wonder how life would be if I was named something entirely different. Of course, as I grew older, I came to be more attached to my name. More than just my personal identity, my name has also been so important to my identity as a designer. I’ve come to really appreciate the meaning of my name and I think my parents did a very beautiful thing by deeming me eternal.
As a brand, the brand has always paved the way for a very unique perspective on design. I have personally worked with very modern, industrial materials, trying to experiment with textiles. The very base of what this brand is built on is experimentation and doing something which was very different than what I saw happening around me. So, I think a very big part of the legacy that we can leave behind would be to create a space for those who dare to be different and for those with modern, futuristic ideas.
From something as age-old as nature itself to crafting futuristically, this ace designer’s brand magically mixes the historic with the modern in radically experimental ways. As Aggarwal says, “It’s something that we definitely see ourselves doing a lot more of, working with Indian textiles, exploring them, kind of elevating them to see how they can work with the brand aesthetic.”
In addition to aesthetics, the designer also talks about having social impact through facilitating “financial empowerment of semi-skilled craftsmen” by empowering them through “skill development and training.” Hopefully, this forward-thinking aesthetic, along with its impact, should guide us towards a brighter future that allows for more experimentation and ideation.
South Asian fashion is nearly always associated with color, glitz, and ornate designs. From embellished bridal wear, weighing as much as the bride herself, to brightly colored sarees, Indian craft and hand embroidery is hard to miss — except when it’s showing up in non-Indian clothing.
South Asian artisans, also known as ‘karigars,’ are the unnamed force behind a designer’s vision. They often reside in rural parts of the Subcontinent and have gathered skill, creativity, and knowledge over generations. During my travels this year, for the launch of my fashion brand Chaa Latte, I witnessed artisans train from as young as seven years old, mastering embroidery techniques by the time they’re in their teens. Crouched over a table in a dimly-lit room, these artisans work tirelessly to adorn yards of fabric with beautiful beads and sequins, or weave glistening gold yarn into silk and cotton with sometimes nothing more than their memory to guide the motif. Some of them have little to no education and have never stepped outside of their village. Yet, hand them thread and a needle and they are among the best embroiderers in the world.
Is Indian hand embroidery as prolific as French lace? I would argue yes, and maybe even more, but without the fame. Established brands and their collections have stood on the craft of these rural artisans for decades but have rarely given credit. Only few Western designers, such as Dries Van Noten and Isabel Marant, proudly celebrate their relationship with Indian craftspeople. Perhaps because of this nearly silent partnership, a label that says “Made in India” or “Made in Bangladesh” does not equate to beautiful, luxurious work — rather, the complete opposite. Fast fashion may be one output, but the true strength of South Asia lies in centuries of incredibly intricate, slow, and artisanal processes.
In a Times of India article, David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore — a well-regarded Indian label — eloquently says that we must recognize the fact that India is one of the very few countries left that can still produce small lot, labor intensive, highly-skilled craft and textiles.
He adds, “And that is the true luxury in a world of growing mass consumerism and an antidote to the very real threats of environmental pollution, global warming and a growing understanding that we need to buy less, pay more for fashion that is more timeless, classic and responsible.”
South Asia’s fashion identity is at a crossroads, and it’s up to designers, especially the younger generation, to build brands that showcase the luxury and painstaking craft of South Asian embroidery, weaving, and the various other hand techniques mastered over centuries. I launched my fashion brand, Chaa Latte, late last year because I believe the true beauty of South Asian fashion is in the subtle, intricate craft and this simply isn’t accessible to North Americans in a way that fits their lifestyle seamlessly. I was set on designing modern pieces for people of all backgrounds, who have a love for art in the form of fashion and have an eye for unique detail.
My first collection encompasses some of my favorite techniques and textiles from India and Bangladesh, including mirror work and silk handloom sarees. The detailing is balanced with simple silhouettes and a neutral color palette. I am now working on my second collection, which will be released in Spring/Summer of 2023.
Like me, many young designers are tapping into their unique heritage to draw inspiration and bring attention to the Western world. I had the pleasure of speaking to two fellow South Asian designers who are making a mark on the US fashion industry, while highlighting their love for South Asian craft. When asked about the role of traditional textiles and techniques in their work, Niharika of Tega Collective responds:
With each collection our designs are co-created with a specific indigenous community highlighting their traditional colors, patterns and natural symbols. Every region in the world has incredible biodiversity so we focus on championing native fibers in South Asia like Khadi (indigenous cotton) and Eri (peace) silk originating from Assam, India.
In a separate conversation with designer Sana Khan Patel, from Aara by Sana, she tells us how she was inspired to start her line:
When a family wedding took me back to my hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, after a long 18 years, I was blown away by the level of skill I saw in the gullys (streets) of Lahore. From fabric dyeing to intricate beading to the quality of tailoring, they did it all so effortlessly and with so much pride. I quickly realized that the artisans simply want to create art but unfortunately, in most cases they are overworked, underpaid and treated extremely poorly. I immediately knew that I wanted to work with and learn from these OG’s as much as I wanted to put them in a position of providing for their families.
It’s the hope that this recognition from up-and-coming brands, like Chaa Latte, will shed light into how much South Asia is truly lending to global luxury fashion and the rich history that makes these art forms unique to our countries.
Making conscious decisions can, and should, go hand in hand with wearing fashionable pieces of clothing. Fortunately, South Asian fashion is making huge strides in the sustainable fashion department, and ace fashion designer Anita Dongre is at the forefront of this change; she’s so dedicated to making environmentally friendly choices in her collections.
Brown Girl Magazine has previously had the honor of featuring her Grassroots Collection; today, we sat down with Dongre to chat about her new vegan luxury line.
Her love for animals is parallel to her love for fashion and she does not sacrifice one or the other. From handcrafted purses to belts, the new collection is made of recycled materials and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
What inspired you to “go vegan” both personally and product-wise?
I have always loved animals. When I was 13 my best friend talked me into being vegetarian and there was no looking back – Sangita and I continued to work together and since then we have both also turned vegan. When I started my business, I wanted the brand to be an extension of my personal philosophies so being a vegan brand was a forgone conclusion. My personal philosophy is to live a mindful life with kindness. This philosophy extends to respecting all life [so] we have chosen not to use leather for our line of accessories. For years I have wanted to create a vegan line of accessories that was high on quality, fashion, and kindness, and technology has only recently caught up with that desire.
Women have always expressed themselves through what they wear. In today’s time, carrying a bag that reflects their core personality is the default, and yet until recently, there hasn’t been a leather replacement that is cruelty-free and kind to the environment. With material sciences finally having the answer it was imperative to design an accessory line that women, like myself who care both about fashion and a world of kindness, could carry with pride.
What material is used in this new line? Why did you choose it?
With MIRUM® we found a partner who creates this beautiful, plastic-free material that mimics the touch, feel, and age of leather without cruelty. The line also features bags made out of recycled glass beads. We’re careful about delivering high quality [products] and both these materials deliver to that benchmark while being plastic-free.
How many pieces does this new line have and what is the importance of the animal symbols of each?
This collection is inspired by nature, my eternal muse. The Swan mini grab bag draws from a swan’s graceful silhouettes; the birds of a feather cross body bag borrow bird motifs that you see across my collections; the haathi belt uses my favorite — the Indian elephant, [which] is a symbol of strength and humility — every piece in this line of accessories is an elegant statement in conscious luxury living. The Anita Dongre brand has stood for elegance, timeless classics, and sustainability. We have always stood for handcrafted luxury while being mindful of the purpose it serves. These same principles extend into this collection of conscious, plastic-free, vegan accessories. While the shapes of these bags are distinctive, they are also functional – a design approach that extends across all Anita Dongre products.
How to promote sustainability in India versus let’s say New York City:
India’s lived culture is based on the practice of sustainability. From clothes that would be passed down to siblings and then cousins to eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, our practices until recently have always defaulted to conscious consumption. It’s exciting to see the rest of the world adapt to that way of living and [it’s] a good reminder for us Indians to go back to the way we were raised.
Anita Dongre allows her consumers to choose ethically-sourced pieces while letting them embrace sustainability as a part of luxury fashion. Soon enough, such cruelty-free products will be synonymous with India’s (and the world’s) top fashion couture brands. This is definitely not a step, but a huge leap forward.
Photos in the featured image are courtesy of Anita Dongre.
The results are in — the Pantone Color for 2023 is here — and it looks like Viva Magenta will be ruling runways, the streets, and (even) your wardrobes.
Viva Magenta is a deep shade of red, and Pantone describes it:
Brave and fearless.
It’s meant to be celebratory, and joyous, and encourage experimentation. If you were thinking of toning it down a notch with your wardrobe in 2023, it’s time to think again. It can really be your time to shine in something bright and colorful!
Aprajit Toor, Arpita Mehta, and Rahul Khanna break it down for you — what to wear, how to pair, and everything in between. Their takes on the Pantone Color for 2023 are simple but they’ll help you make a bold statement anywhere you go!
Take a look at what they have to say.
Rahul Khanna of Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna:
Viva Magenta is a color that suits all skin tones. It’s a color for all occasions; women and men can both wear this color with [the] right styling. Cocktail saris, jumpsuits, and reception gowns are some great options for women whereas, for men, the color has started picking up a lot lately. Men have started experimenting with their looks and we as designers have more options for men as well. Recently, we made a custom-made silk velvet fit for Ranveer Singh in the same color. Apart from your everyday clothing, Viva Magenta is also going to be the ruling shade for the upcoming wedding season.
The best way to do Viva Magenta in your everyday wardrobe is to go top to bottom in [it]. Be it in co-ord sets or a kaftan or any comfortable outfit. It’s such a bold & beautiful color that it looks the best when it’s self on self rather than teaming it up or breaking it with another color.
Viva Magenta is a very powerful and empowering color that descends from the red family. It is an animated red that encourages experimentation and self-expression without restraint; an electrifying shade [that] challenges boundaries. One can easily incorporate this color by picking a statement footwear, bag, or jewelry in Viva Magenta which can be paired with neutral or monotone colored outfits.
And there you have it — three ways you can easily take a vibrant hue and turn it into something you can wear every day. Take cues from these top designers on how to wear the Pantone Color of the year and get started! We’d love to see how you style Viva Magenta!