Fashion

From Urvashi Kaur to Kallol Dutt: 5 designers on what it takes to keep the fashion industry captivated for 10 years

They're all taking their victory lap this year

Sanjay Garg: In 2008, designer Sanjay Garg launched his label Raw Mango from his home in Delhi, with no more than `90,000 in the bank, because he wanted to prove that the sari—and India’s design heritage—is relevant to the present and the future. And his very first show, held at the former Prince Of Wales Museum, Mumbai, sold out. At a time when other multi-designer stores couldn’t recognise Garg’s vision, the label’s first stockist was Good Earth—the store’s founder, Anita Lal, has remained a close friend of Garg’s ever since. Fiercely loyal to his roots, the designer still works with the artisans from Chanderi, Benares and Bengal that he started out with. And his latest festive collection, Heer, which takes us into pre-partition Punjab, reflects everything he has stood for this past decade: unconventional campaigns featuring real women, and vividly hued textiles in endearingly simple silhouettes, as the hero. Garg’s plans to celebrate this milestone year include creating music under the brand’s umbrella, as well as hosting a baithak—the last one he hosted at Good Earth’s Tulsi Farms was a huge success—in Mumbai soon.

Kallol Datta: Oversized black kurta, shoulder-grazing salt-and-pepper hair and a French beard—you could spot designer Kallol Datta from a mile away. The designer admits he owns 40 sets of clothes in the same colour and style for the purpose of comfort and convenience, and hasn’t changed his look in 10 years. Ironic, you’d think, for someone who designs clothes for a living, but Datta has always been more than just about garments and never even a little about trends. His debut on the Indian fashion scene elicited mixed reactions, being labelled morbid, anti-fit, experimental—and only over the years, as it is often with the revolutionary, was revealed to be way ahead of its time. Having grown up in the Middle East, much of his inspiration for his signature oversized monotone garments came from all-enveloping robes and kaftans native to the region. A master in pattern cutting, his nimble play with proportions and drapes in his fashion showcases and art residencies, as well as his exhibitions in recent years, have effectively blurred the lines between the fields.

Monica Shah and Karishma Swali: Indianwear designers Monica Shah and Karishma Swali have dressed brides all across the world, from the US to the UK, and even Australia. The story of this global domination began 10 years ago, when the duo launched their label JADE, based on a shared vision, deep friendship and the wealth of knowledge they possessed from having worked with an international export house. Their travels across India, and Mumbai’s historical monuments and modern architecture inspire their garments: think regal lehengas and separates in a burst of colours, with exquisite hand embroidery and surface embellishments. Earlier this year, they released a limited-edition collection recreating their most memorable ensembles over the last decade. With some of the pieces taking over 5,000 hours to complete, it was a sight to behold.

Urvashi Kaur: Growing up as an army kid let Urvashi Kaur explore some of India’s remotest villages, where she encountered rich textiles and ancient crafts like tie-dye, block printing, hand-pleating and layering, upon which she founded her eponymous label. She also had access to international, contemporary fashion because of her grandmother’s love for travel, whose tenets she fused with her traditional knowledge to create dynamic, transitional clothing for the new-age woman. Another hallmark of her garments over the years has been their gender neutrality; on launching her menswear line in 2016, she realised there wasn’t a vast difference between the construction of male and female garments. The designer admits it takes a village to run a successful brand, crediting her mum with being the ideal Urvashi Kaur woman, her husband for being a hands-on dad to their three children, and her niece who works with her. With this strong family support system in place, she says, plans are already underway to take the label international with retailers in Sri Lanka, the Middle East and most recently, Europe.