Spearheaded by the doyenne of the Indian fashion industry Anita Dongre, and a group of artisans adept at the age-old art form of Pichhwai, the designer’s newest flagship store is a tranquil oasis. Dubbed as a merry mélange between the sensibilities of the 19th century alongside the effortless grace of the 21st century, the store is housed at the Sassoon Building and warrants a visit from aficionados of art and culture.
Located at the heart of Mumbai’s art district Kalaghoda, the whole shebang was a restoration project in itself, given everything was mindfully refurbished to the T. With signature black and white marble flooring and gold hand-painted Pichhwai, the place is substantial proof of how the forgotten can find a place in the modern world.
We caught up with Anita Dongre and Lekhraj ji – the Pichhwai artist, to discuss all things vision, process and the essence of the new store. Keep reading for more:
ELLE: Firstly, congratulations on the forthcoming inauguration of your newest store, which also happens to be one of your biggest ones. Why Sassoon and what importance does the heritage building yield for your brand?
Anita Dongre (AD): I think I’m really fortunate enough to have this heritage building space alongside having a chance to restore it lovingly, in order to bring it back to its original glory. It was initially in a very dilapidated condition and it’s been very interesting to revive. There were quite a few surprises, indeed. Transforming the place and having it up and going was truly very gratifying. To have a landmark building house my store was undoubtedly the cherry on the cake. One could call it a cultural sustainability of sorts.
ELLE: Pichwai has been a recurring motif in not only your collections but also the interiors of some Anita Dongre flagship stores including the newest one. How did your liking for the art form blossom?
AD: It’s an old art-form from Rajasthan. I encountered these artisans many years ago at the City Palace and thus began our journey. I’ve continued working with the same group since the time we launched a Pichhwai collection that featured hand-painted lehengas. The craft is the same which has been utilised in painting the City Palace. And we’ve sort of done a contemporary version of the craft and interiors.
ELLE: Shed some light on your creative relationship with Lekhraj Ji and let us in on the process from brainstorming to execution.
AD: Lekhraj Ji is an artisan and we began work with him around seven to eight years ago. We started visualising the space where we wanted the hand-painted panels to be there. Then coming to the artwork, that was done by us in our headquarters at Rabale. All our artworks are very nature inspired and were sent to Jaipur where they painted depictions of wildlife in a contemporary manner on a giant mural. They were later brought back to Kala Ghoda where the team of artists came to apply the finishing touches on site. This takes many months but it’s all hands on and feels great to revive an old Rajasthani art form and place it into a heritage building.
ELLE: In what ways would the new flagship store excite the existing or potential Anita Dongre customer?
AD: When you walk in, it’s a quintessential Anita Dongre space, with signature interiors and the entire range of designs available. And for lovers of heritage and culture, it’s obviously nice to come in and see that the Sasoon building has been revived and restored. Kala Ghoda has also now become the hub for all things food and fashion. So that makes it a good space to just walk around.
ELLE: From making Pichhwai art for the City Palace to a fashion collection and now for the store decor for Anita Dongre, what are the differences in the art technique when executing it for different mediums?
Lekhraj Ji: Pichhwai art mirrors the countless effort, minute detailing and intricate handwork. Depending on the size and complexity of the design, it takes anywhere between a few weeks to a few months to create. It is a form of art, which often flows seamlessly between the realms of imagination, skill and meditation.
Pichhwai art can be used in a very versatile way. The medium which is acrylic paint is the same throughout but the base keeps changing, be it clothes, walls or paper. The only thing that changes is the intricacy of the design depending on the base on which you do Pichhwai. If it is a lehenga, then the work done is more intricate, and the proportions used are less or more.
ELLE: Tell us about the history of Pichhwai and the reason you got into this field.
Lekhraj Ji: Pichhwai is a traditional art form which has intricate paintings dedicated to Shrinathji and Lord Krishna. These paintings are typically hung behind the idol of the deity in local shrines. The art of Pichhwai is renowned for presenting nature in all its glorious detail – an element which is revisited in all Anita Dongre collections.
I have always been passionate about Pichhwai as an art form and love painting too. I learnt this art from my brother and it’s been 40 years since I’ve been associated with it. Initially, I started doing Pichhwai painting on cloth, then moved to do the same on paper and later on the walls of the City Palace and Patrika Gate. This is where I met Anita Dongre for the first time. We had a chat about my art and I shared stories of my work. So, she invited me to her design headquarters in Mumbai, and that’s how our journey began and the first limited edition of the Pichhwai collection was brought to life.
Also Read: Return To The Roots: Designers Bring Culture & Tradition To The Centre Stage