Anita Dongre: The Accomplished Reviver Of India’s Finest Craftsmanship

 

Renowned fashion designer Anita Dongre has promoted indigenous crafts through her work and fashion shows in India and has given India’s heirlooms a new international platform. From Bandra to SoHo, Dongre’s journey as a fashion designer spans over two decades and lends milestones to Indian fashion. From launching AND in Mumbai’s first mall, Crossroads, in 1995, to being the first Indian designer to have a store, Grassroot, in SoHo, Dongre is known to make a statement, in style.

Her brand, the House Of Anita Dongre, comprises few major labels — AND (western wear for women), Global Desi (boho chic for women), Anita Dongre (bridal wear and couture) Grassroot (luxury prêt), Pinkcity — menswear and a line of gold jewellery with traditional Rajasthani meenakari and jadau. Last year, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, wore Anita Dongre’s creation — a breezy dress with floral motifs, on her visit to India.

 

 

Dongre’s trademark lies in the use of motifs. Floral motifs, gota patti jail (in Love Notes) and tree motifs (in Tree Of Love), the designer delicately weaves intricate stories of Indian tradition in her design. Her silhouettes come in stunning gold, rich maroon and emerald green. Her heart lies in the craft of weavers and the desire to bring rural craftsmanship to the fore.

Last year, Dongre re-invented the traditional lehenga, sari and choli in contemporary silhouettes and showcased her creations for the first time at the FDCI India Couture Week (ICW). This year, at the ICW, she dedicated her collection, Tree of Love, to the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. Complimented by fine jewellery from her Pink City collection, the models walked down the ramp in vibrant hues of green, indigo, maroon, black and gold. While the men wore traditional sherwani, women wore ornate lehengas and dresses with pockets.

 

Anita Dongre brings the best of two worlds in her dress with pockets.

 

In an e-conversation with Leena Ghosh, she talks about Grassroot’s maiden venture in NY, the future of environmental-conscious fashion and why plagiarism in the industry does not unnerve her.

Tell us the story behind Tree of Love.

Tree of Love is a tribute to the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan and their spiritual reverence for nature. The Bishnoi community is most recognised for Amrita Devi and her village’s sacrifice to save the khejri trees in the region. It is this dedication and identification with nature that inspired me to design this collection and plant a forest of 25,000 trees in the Bassi Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan. In this season, I go back to my muse, the woman of today, to create bridal couture that celebrates effortless luxury. This design sensibility takes intricate Indian craftsmanship and makes it contemporary. It is for a bride who is resplendent, confident and radiant– a woman of today.

 

Back to her muse, the woman of today.

 

Take us through the colours and fabrics used for this collection.

The collection combines traditional weaves and exquisite embroideries with silhouettes influenced by contemporary styles. Beautiful SEWA embroidered tabards are styled with tulle skirts, mushroo and embroidered trapeze dresses share the stage with gottapatti lehengas. Every ensemble tells the story of Nature in hues of blue, rich maroons, inky black, and stunning emerald green.

 

“In couture, the attention to detail is everything.” :Anita Dongre

 

What does couture mean to you?

Couture, to me, has always been about the luxury of combining the finest craftsmanship with comfort and wearability. In couture, the attention to detail is everything.

How do you identify crafts to promote through your work?

The purpose of working with artisans is to bring these indigenous skills into mainstream fashion and continue celebrating the fine work they do. Our efforts have provided year-long employment to several artisans and weavers who are contributing to collections that are relevant in today’s time. Most of them use traditional skills, but we do a design intervention to make these crafts suit the aesthetics of the modern woman. The crafts we work with are identified on my travels, through recommendations of friends and family and a lot of research by my teams.

Why did you choose New York for Grassroot’s first international foray?

I have always loved the multicultural vibe of New York City and its inherent sense of fashion. This makes it the perfect platform to present the finesse of Indian craftsmanship. Numbers from online sales reinforce this belief.

What’s the vision of Grassroot?

Grassroot was born out of the need to provide steady opportunities to India’s skilled artisan communities, translating heirloom traditions from the heart of Indian villages into contemporary, sustainable fashion.

Through Grassroot, we collaborate with independent artisans and NGOs across India to empower artisans with fair wages and pride, helping create better livelihoods. We work with artisans in rural India to bring employment back and reverse the effects of labour migration by embracing design that is good and craft traditions that go back generations.

Our long term vision is to provide sustainable work to artisans and bring back respect and dignity to these master craftspeople.

You talk about bringing technology to promote rural crafts. How do you use it?

We are combining the best of both worlds — heritage crafts passed down multiple generations and new age technology that is making life efficient to present collections that talk about tradition in a modern language. Mobile networks have changed how we work, but the occasional technical failures continue to be a challenge.

What is the future of environmental conscious fashion?

There has been a significant growth in interest for handloom. Today, we are more conscious of our impact on the environment and that has trickled into the choices we make. I am grateful to see that people are now using their wallets to demand change and support indigenous textiles. With Grassroot, we are going one step ahead and making sure fashion benefits the maker as the buyer. The question really is if there is  a future in choices that are not environmentally conscious.

 

Dongre launched a #TreeHuggers campaign, where on every purchase, a tree would be planted in the Bassi Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

How do you fight plagiarism?

My brands were built over many years. I have worked very hard for over two decades to establish four successful garment brands — each with a unique aesthetic. Every brand continues to evolve season after season. Plagiarism and knock-offs are a by-product of the fashion industry. It is difficult to fight it and it continues diluting fashion, but true connoisseurs of fashion will know how to differentiate.

Featured image: From Anita Dongre’s Tree of Love, showcased at ICW 2017.

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