Designers

How to recognize a Peachoo Singh when you see one

Avant-garde, elegant and distinctly Indian

Peachoo Singh, who returned to New Delhi by way of Paris a few years ago, doesn’t do fashion week. She has no PR team, and until recently, she only made clothes in three broad colour schemes: black, white, and a brown that shifted delicately from sand to champagne.

You’ll know a Peachoo piece when you see one: those neutral bases are a backdrop for highly detailed floral beadwork (some of her abstract embroidery resembles cell formations). Hems and edges are asymmetrical and elegantly unravelled. She plays with volume in her tunics, dresses and kurtas in a way that lets them flatter figures while moving gracefully with the wearer. And then there’s what Peachoo calls the cocktail sari: light handloom cotton, chiffon and georgette host intense, glimmering embellishments in Art Deco-esque designs. In some ways, she’s reviving a historical trend: in the 1920s, French couturiers such as Jeanne Paquin would design evening saris for Indian aristocrats, who, at the time, largely eschewed Western formal wear. Singh says her library in Paris houses books and papers dedicated to the pieces. “I was always fascinated by those non-traditional saris.”

Singh’s former Paris-based label, Peachoo + Krejberg—with Roy Krejberg, formerly of Kenzo Men— didn’t feature saris, but a more experimental form of draping. Though she rejects talk of inspirations and influences in fashion, the designer acknowledges the dominance of Commes des Garçons in the high fashion scene of the 1980s and ’90s. It’s evident in Peachoo + Krejberg’s layered, raw-edged, delicately Goth designs, though the duo made it their own; pieces were often simply black and white, with spider-web threads or skeletal bodices connecting sections of fabric. Singh’s feat has been translating this avant-garde Euro-Japanese aesthetic to her eponymous line, designed for the Indian market, and making a success of it. “You think they won’t like this because no one else has done it, but it has worked.” Though she’s begun to introduce more colour into her clothing, she’s been surprised to find that, “It’s still the blacks that really sell."

Her upcoming collection—available at Ogaan, Ensemble, Chennai’s Amethyst, Bangalore’s Cinnamon, and Elahe in Hyderabad—skews slightly more Western in its silhouettes than previous lines, which have been dominated by kurtas and tunics that do double duty, as well as loose pants and saris. “I’ve done more of what they call contemporary shapes,” she says, referring to the new line’s jackets, tops, and trousers—though in silk and georgette, and with her trademark bead embroidery, they won’t be casual. Her boldest deviation is the introduction of vivid reds into her otherwise neutral palette. “It includes solid reds, embroidered reds on off-white prints and black-on-red embroideries.” Singh has also used heavier materials, such as silk velvet, that are simultaneously on-trend and another throwback to the flapper era.

When asked what prompted her to move in this direction, she says simply, “I just felt like it. I don’t work with themes. My ideas are instinctive.” Perhaps that’s why there’s been such a coherent, organic progression in her designs over the years: she doesn’t overthink them. With years of experience and a rich knowledge of fashion history to rely on—and no fashion week to cater to—you don’t need to invent a new concept every season. What is important to her, she says, is that her clothes are something you can “wear everywhere, while you retain an Indian sensibility.”

Photographs: Nayantara Parikh

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