Dressed in a dark blue Pochampalli outfit with a woven choker-necklace, Ritu Kumar’s personal dressing aesthetic reflects her design aesthetic. In the city recently to showcase her latest collection at a bridal couture show, the 69-year old barely looked her age; instead she emitted a quiet radiance of no-nonsense, but stylishly so. Which is perhaps why her clothes are preferred among the who’s who of the today’s women – from the power house business ladies to the emerging housewife finding her voice in the melee to the college graduate ready to take on what comes her way.
But Ritu credits this bursting confidence to the traditional weaves of India, a USP that she lamented India is underselling. “You must write this down dear, India’s USP is its hand made fabric,” she asserted, going on to add, “China is copying India. They are building their powerlooms to recreate our handlooms. Their silks are starting to look like our Tussars. We need to take our fabrics for what it is. We need to encourage Indian fashion.”
Starting her own career with just four hand block printers and expanding into the bespoke eponymous brand, Ritu doesn’t agree that the industry has explored much of the handloom heritage we have, despite the relative boom in business over the past five-six years. “We’ve barely explored the potential the country has. We are going through a post colonial hangover where everything from the West is better. But cotton will do us a lot of good, especially in this hot country. It has all the right things going for it. There has to be more facilitation from the government.”
Pointing out that the Deccan, and more specifically Andhra, sits on most of the best artisans, Ritu is hoping that more and more people will realise the novelty of the craft and the material. Explaining that her designs are an attempt to egg the buyer towards more indigenous clothes, she elaborated on her bridal showcase.
“The collection was divided by four themes. The first was a display of the whites of India. In fact, our cotton grows in different shades of white. The second was a more naughtier theme. It was more Bollywood glamour from the 60s-70s. It also reflected a semi European-colonial fun. The third was all about layered elegance – ghararas, farshis and the likes. A few of the outfits were particular to the Hyderabadi sensibilities. In the finale was the bridal couture with zardosi embellished lehengas, bandinis and so on. These were a reflection of the repertoire of the craft relations of the country.”
As much as the collection of 27 outfits were in tune with the upcoming wedding season, Ritu says she is more specifically designing for the Indian women who is more confident and is looking to cloak herself in something that reflects ‘her’. “The average Indian woman has become more fashion conscious and has access to more. You have to bring fashion to her, and not the other way around. She is more international and better travelled. So while designing Indian fabric and handlooms, it is also important to give it modern cuts and colours.”
However, speaking more specifically about southern Indian women and the saree fashion, she shuddered from over-the-top fashion experimentations and believes that less is indeed more.
“I don’t want a jamdani saree with kaboothars (pigeons) on it singing ‘ja ja ja’. The traditional weaves of Venkatagiri, Kanchipuram, etc are 2000 to 3000 years old. They are aesthetically so right. Careful intervention by designers is required to make sure that we don’t lose anymore of the traditional. Otherwise, we will be left with neither chalk nor cheese,” she stated flatly.
A quick reflection over her collection shows a fascination for the 70’s. Agreeing, the designer explained, “Historically, I find the 70’s interesting. India had just woken up from a 200-year slumber. There was a change from black-and-white to colour on screen. It was the first post colonial Indian generation. But I think now is more interesting in terms of what’s happening. I am very piqued by the present as well.”
And it is this happy marriage of both old and new that Ritu is trying to give the country by stressing on the handloom industry.