Ananya Birla

The Fusion Forerunner: Anita Dongre

The Fusion Forerunner: Anita Dongre

Leading designer Anita Dongre has been styling Indian women with her tasteful designs for over a decade and a half. She is known as one of the most powerful women in the business by Fortune magazine.  Kavita Shyam chats up the ace designer…

One of the most sought after designers having a special role to play in the Indian fashion industry. From churning out outstanding Indian wear for daily wear, bridal wear, chic western wear to classy jewellery. No fashionista’s wardrobe is complete without incorporating this designer’s label in the closet.

Anita Dongre, a mecca of fashion adventure, design and innovation. She grows finer with each passing year, revealing nuances to celebrate fashion under one roof in the best possible manner. From fashion weeks to fashionable boutiques of her own across the country, this lovely lady is a class apart which is evident from her classy creations.

How it all began for you? How did you find a spot in the world of designing?

I knew right at the early age of 12 that I wanted to be a fashion designer, and aspired to create a fashion empire in India. After obtaining a degree in fashion design, from SNDT College Mumbai, I started supplying ready to wear fashion to small boutiques in Mumbai. While a commercially viable venture, it did not satiate my creative appetite to address the fashion needs of the contemporary urban woman- a woman who sought functionality coupled with elegance, in her ensembles.

While Indian wear was readily available, I realised that most Indian women were getting their western wear tailored or buying it from their trips abroad. I wanted to address this gap and offer stylish, comfortable and accessible western wear to Indian women. Back in the 1990’s “fashion design” wasn’t considered a serious profession, and I faced a fair share of opposition from my family members.

But I was determined, and started a small workshop in my bedroom balcony with support from my sister, and started designing for friends and supplying to boutiques. Seeing my unrelenting passion, my father relented and offered me, an interest payable loan to start a small factory of my own. That laid the foundation of my fashion house ADIL in 1998 and I started my first brand, AND which was launched in 1999 at Mumbai’s first ever mall- Crossroad.

What would you advice the current crop of designers?

There is a lot of scope and opportunities for young designers to showcase their talent today. You have to be passionate, driven and always remember that there is no shortcut to success. Learn and imbibe as much as you can from your seniors in the industry, and always dream big and be willing to chase your dreams!

What do you think is your forte/USP?

Understated elegance and offering the consumer “accessible luxury” would be my forte. My signature label Anita Dongre, which offers bridal, couture, pret, menswear and jewellery, is bound by a common thread of sophisticated elegance sans decorative detailing. I love all things Indian, and being inspired by Rajasthan, my collection sees the use of lots of Indian weaves and techniques, with gota patti being a signature element.

What is your personal choice when it comes to dressing/fashion?

It’s simple and elegant. If I like a certain style, I’m likely to own it in 5 different colors.

How/Where do you see India as compared to fashion overseas?

India has seen a tremendous growth in the fashion market, in the last 10-15 years and the fashion weeks have played a huge role in this success story. The fashion weeks have seen a lot of international buyers from across the globe proving that Indian fashion is getting international look-ins. Indian fashion is growing at a rapid rate and will continue to do so in the years to come with so much talent booming in the country. You also see a lot of international celebrities wearing donning creations of Indian designers, and international luxury brands like Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Louboutin etc, creating India inspired lines.

Indian fashion has the potential to be a serious money maker, given that we are a melting pot of culture, heritage, design, art etc, and there is inspiration peeking at us, from every corner. We definitely have greater diversity in design and styles, given that only here would you see a designer creating both, traditional Indian wear- lehengas, sarees, salwar suits etc. along with western wear- Indian but with an international appeal.

What is your inspiration when you design clothes each season/collection?

My inspiration, is drawn from my travels and the varied and diverse culture of India. I have always been fascinated with Rajasthan and its rich culture and heritage coupled with beautiful architecture -all of which finds way into my designs as it caters to my creative sensibilities. Travelling inspires me a lot since it gives you the perfect opportunity to think, reflect, absorb and assimilate and give wings to your creativity. I also draw my inspiration from music, and thus, always have a live musical performance at my fashion week shows.

What would you suggest / forecast for college goers/ housewives/ brides/ working women this season?

For college goers Sheer is a big trend this season, and while a tricky trend, if styled well, it can spell both classy and chic. Sheers in prints or textures, offer more coverage and can be styled with minimal accessories. Sheer skirts or dresses in solid colors, paired with statement jewellery, is a great party look. For housewives- invest in colourful printed tunics, palazzo pants, net brocade straight tunics with pants, or even digital print shirts and tunics paired with denims and leggings- stylish yet comfortable. A modern bride to be, can ditch the conventional ensembles, and go for a crop top style choli paired with a lehenga skirt, for the wedding,  a long structured jacket with embroidered slim pants for a cocktail or sangeet etc.

Must-haves in a wardrobe for women would be?

A digital print tunic, can be worn as a dress or with leggings, an occasion led outfit like a ombre gown or an anarkali, or a lehenga skirt ( versatile enough to be worn with a traditional choli, a shirt or even a crop top ) a beautiful saree, a LBD, a pair of well-fitted trousers or denims.

How did you manage to tailor your business? Your tips to the budding designers?

To be successful, creatively and commercially, you need be organised, focussed in meeting your long term goal, and have to run your fashion label, like one would run a corporate business. The business of fashion is so dynamic, with new trends and styles cropping up every few weeks now, that you need to be a step ahead in the game.  We live in the age of ‘fast fashion’ and what truly worked for me, was my vision to have a ready to wear label, back in 1999, when most other designers were concentrating on bespoke bridal wear.

Thanks to a dedicated team of professionals, I successfully ran two high fashion ready to wear labels, before I ventured, into bridal wear and eventually jewellery, and now all my creative energies are solely focussed on designing for my signature label, while, thanks to an organised business model, the other two brands are managed by a team of professionals.

What gives you a kick and your biggest high?

My biggest high is, designing. Am happiest, when I’m at my design table with my team, visualising and sketching a new design, and it’s a wonderful fulfilling feeling, to finally see that design to completion.

Who did you love dressing up so far and who would you like to design for or dress up?

I don’t design keeping a single personality in mind; I have dressed women from all walks of life, from a Bollywood celebrity to a housewife to a working woman. I love designing for the modern day woman- who is independent, knows her mind, is progressive in her thought process, yet values her traditions.

Your favourite designers?

I have always admired Giorgio Armani- for his creativity, his philosophy of style and the subsequent empire that he has created. I love his simple, clean and classic silhouettes – where he acknowledges the elegance of the uncomplicated

Your experience as a Gennext Mentor?

It’s been a wonderful experience, since this platform facilitates a huge exchange of ideas. We all learn something from each other- it’s heartening to see their creativity, craft and their passion for fashion. Their energy and zeal to express their craft is truly infectious.

Your experience at LFW year after year and other fashion shows?

Over the years, Lakme Fashion Week has emerged as the country’s premier launching pad for young designers, through a variety of programs designed to cultivate and promote new talent. Interesting and informative debates, fashion workshops and of course the entire getting together of the fashion fraternity under one roof is always an exhilarating experience, and I look forward to it, season after season.

Has the brand evolved over the years?

Creativity is about constantly reinventing and innovating yourself and your creations, while keeping your design philosophy intact. So with each season my label evolves whilst retaining my signature design aesthetic. The strong Rajasthani influence in my designs will always shine through my collections, beautifully juxtaposed with the vibrancy of current trends

Your target wearers? How would u define your wearer?

My muse has always been a modern independent woman, progressive in her thought process, yet traditional in her values. She is a global citizen, who is not afraid of dreaming big and is willing to chase her dreams. In her sartorial choices, she seeks a blend of fantasy and functionality in her ensembles, with a hint of traditionalism.


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