Dongre hopes India can become a fashion mecca

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The collections of Indian fashion designer Anita Dongre displayed here recently were just what I had imagined they would be: rich in detail and color.

What I did not expect was that the silhouettes were so modern and came out so clean cut (blame it, if you will, on the Indian movies and soaps that portray women in either traditional saris or 80s-style outfits).

Rather than pure saris and shalvar kameez (traditional Indian dress), Dongre goes with neat two-piece blouses and trousers, or even evening gowns and jumpsuits, but with detail containing Indian elements such as embroidery or beads.

With a career spanning 15 years and being one of India’s top designers, her trademark lies in the fusion of international or Western silhouette with the soul of India.

“Various Western designers are influenced by the East. They (the designers) always travel to the East for inspiration because we have such a rich culture, rich colors and rich details.

“However, the women of today are really becoming global dressers, which is a bit sad because they are dropping traditional costumes. Being a designer, I combine both aspects. My designs have this festive Indian connection but are very comfortable. I specialize in fusing styles. I don’t do very traditional outfits,” said the 38-year-old Bombay native.

Graduated from the fashion school at SNDT University, Dongre set up her own company which designs and produces Western and ethnic garments.

She has two lines: ANITA DONGRE and AND. The first one is the couture label, which translates some forms of traditional Indian techniques like batik, tie and dye, and vegetable dye prints into contemporary silhouettes.

This line is retailed in leading stores across India and is also supplied to stores in the UK, the Gulf, Singapore and Canada.

Among the creations from the first line that she has brought here was a beautiful long sleeve shirt with floral handmade embroidery.

The embroidery, called Lucknowi Chikan, meaning a kind of cloth wrought with needle work, comes from a place called Lucknowi, located in the center of India.

“This type of embroidery can only be found and made there, and is done by Muslim women only. They pass it down from generation to generation. The women in the family usually did it in the past. For one outfit, it can take around a month to get it done,” Dongre said.

She uses both Indian and imported fabrics for her collections. For the Chikan collection, Dongre uses crepe, georgette and chiffon in soft, feminine colors and flowing designs, with the delicate embroidery as the main focus.

“Accessories are also important as they make the look complete. I like simple clothing that is heavy on accessories. Again, the East is rich in crafts that have to be sustained,” she said.

The second brand, AND, meanwhile, has made Dongre the first Indian designer to launch an accessible, ready-to-wear collection of Western women’s wear.

“In India, more women are working in offices, multinational companies, and they prefer Western outfits. So, I offer them clean and reasonable outfits. I also design denim and casual lines,” Dongre said, while showing some of the pictures of her collection, which is sold nationwide in India.

It is her aim to make wearable and accessible designs, which is the secret of her success.

“I don’t want to be like those sensational designers who are just good in fashion shows and then make a hype in media, but people can’t really wear their clothes. Selling is really important. I like my clothes to be worn by people. That’s why I like Giorgio Armani, because he has this clean style and creates wearable clothes with different lines. That’s why he has survived for so long,” said the soft-spoken and friendly Dongre.

She is not, however, influenced by any particular Western designer as she only refers to them to identify today’s trends, which are still determined by the four cities of fashion — London, Paris, Milan and New York.

“Fashion now is really ruled by the West. I really hope that in the near future, the East can take over. Because we are really rich, you know,” said Dongre, adding that she could not wait to see the batik here.

The main obstacle for Eastern designers in penetrating the West was their lack of marketing and financial capabilities.

“Western designers are brilliant at marketing and promotion, beside being financially well-established. So far, only Japanese designers are able to do it here,” she said.

Dongre herself once tried to gain a foothold in the West after she was invited two years ago to the CPD Dusseldorf, the largest fashion fair in Germany, becoming the first Indian designer invited to showcase her collection in the finale of the CPD fashion show.

Despite the successful show, she was unable to penetrate the Western market as it required an agent and finance, while she was not ready for that.

So, for now, she is still based in her home country where she said the fashion scene is now really happening.

“We have amazing, amazing talents. I really hope that one day, in the near future hopefully, India can become one of the fashion capitals of the world,” Dongre said, smiling.

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