Indian fashion industry needs to go far: Ritu Kumar (Interview)

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) The Indian fashion industry has grown from being virtually non-existent to being rich and vibrant but still needs to go “very far” and needs to do something to preserve the nation’s rich handloom heritage, says veteran designer Ritu Kumar, credited with starting the boutique culture in the country.

“The Indian fashion industry has grown from a non-existent industry to a rich, vibrant one now. There is a revival in indigenous textiles. However, we need to go very far… though the beginning has been made,” Kumar, active in the fashion industry for over 40 years, told IANS.

Amongst India’s most successful designers, she is equally concerned about the deprived condition of handloom weavers in the country.

“In most crafts, handloom weavers are in a poor condition and not enough attention is being paid to preserve the heritage,” the 68-year-old fashion veteran told IANS.

Talking about her love for textiles and how difficult it is to present old fabric in a modern way, she said: “I usually keep the original aesthetics in mind while modernising the process.”

It would be wrong to call the fabrics “old” as “they are classic and can be contemporised very easily”.

The pioneer in Indian design, known for her ethnic wear, began with four block printers and two tables in a small village near Kolkata and was the first woman to introduce the boutique culture in the country with her brand Ritu.

She has since become one of the most formidable names in the country’s fashion sector – the fashion industry is estimated to be worth Rs.720 crore – and has also helped in making the local textiles global. Her clientele includes Jemima Khan, Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai and almost all Miss India title winners. She had even designed for the late Princess Diana.

Kumar’s use of tie and dye so appealed to former Spice Girls singer Mel B that she asked her to design the band members’ clothes for one of their shows.

Kumar has been designing wardrobes comprising swimwear, eveningwear, traditional Indian wear, casual wear and formal evening gowns. Apart from making clothes, she has also penned a book titled “Costumes and Textiles of Royal India” published in October 1999. It chronicles the history of textiles and art design in India.

She has had her stint with movies too.

Kumar was recently in the news for designing costumes for a wedding sequence in Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children”, based on Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel of the same name. Earlier, she had designed for films like “Love Breakups Zindagi” and styled Freida Pinto for a few of her scenes in the Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire”.

As Indian cinema celebrates 100 years, Kumar says styling in the movies has evolved big time.

“The earlier eras primarily designed clothes reflecting society favourites or period dressing. In today’s films, designers are creating theme-based clothes for stars and creating the right mood. Fashion is cyclic and comes back and this is the reason why we have seen some of the trends coming back in Hindi cinema. But at the same time Bollywood is also creating new handwriting,” said Kumar.

What is your take on the new generation of aspiring designers?

“They are very talented and some have an amazing amount of dedication. Fashion is one of the most difficult professions, very few make it to the individual designer outlet or multiple stores bracket. Long hours and drudgery also accompany the creative process; so be sure you want to take fashion as a profession,” she said.

Kumar will showcase a collection in Bhutan in June this year. The event will coincide with the opening of the textile museum in Thimphu.

(Nivedita can be contacted at [email protected])

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