Ekà is all about quiet comfort


Ekà is all about quiet comfort

Rina Singh’s label employs handwoven fabrics and muted colours

By Simran Bhalla  June 9th, 2015

There’s a painting by Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt called 'Summertime', in which two young women sit languidly in a rowboat, looking at the ducks that float on the lake with them. They wear soft, loose pastels, which are reflected in the mauve and rose shades with which Cassatt painted the water. Rina Singh’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection for her label Ekà, called ‘Love is All You Need’, brings this painting to mind — not just because it shares these pale shades, but also because the women in the painting look so utterly at ease, both in their clothing and their surroundings. Singh’s pieces, as with all her lines, are fluid and unrestrictive; they have volume but feel weightless. The colours range from mints to dusty pinks; some dresses feature mellow stripes that fade into one another, others are dotted with a faint rose print. They are clothes one can ease into, thanks to the handloomed cottons, linens and khadi, which Ekà has now come to be known for.

Singh says that this aesthetic, and her desire to use homegrown fabrics, comes from her childhood experiences. Both her parents are from agricultural families — her father’s, in Kurukshetra, grew wheat and rice; her mother’s, from Uttar Pradesh, grew mangoes in one season and sugar in another. Singh spent a lot of her time outdoors, in the fields and orchards.

For her nani, who lived through the freedom struggle, “The charkha was a staple in the afternoons. My maternal aunt had these big looms and would make large durries at home.” The women of the home would weave not for money, but “for themselves, for their daughters, for their daughters’ dowries, for making things to pass on to a grandchild.” Singh studied design as a scholarship student at Wigan & Leigh College in Manchester, and there, she says, “there was a period of going mad about Armani, of course — but in the end, you come back to where you started from.”

Singh met her husband, Sandeep Dua, in college. He now runs Eon Clothing Company, an export outfit that also supplies Ekà with its materials. While in England, they both initially tried Western designs, but realised, when travelling back to India to buy fabrics for their final collections, that their aesthetic was something that related much more closely to their own roots. Sadly, their first attempts weren’t successful in India. “No one was ready to buy handloom kurtas at five times the price of what Fabindia would sell them at. We thought we were the new wave of designers who’d been taught abroad and brought a new ideology and all of that, but it was still intellectual, as a concept.” 

As Dua moved towards the export business, building up contacts and bases for different materials, Singh was able to develop resources for textiles and handiwork. She decided to launch her label and try her hand outside the country. She went to London in 2011, hoping to meet Maureen Doherty, who owns a fabled shop called Egg — a scouting ground for fresh new designers. Singh says, “For me, Egg was the Mecca. It’s the kind of store you read about, hear about, you want to go and see. Like 10 Corso Como, or that sort of thing.” She got to the store, and found Doherty sitting outside, smoking and drinking tea (seriously). Doherty asked Singh if she was wearing her own design, which she was; it impressed her, and Singh showed her a suitcase full of clothes the next day. “They’re the first store I started working with, and I continue to work with them.” Ekà is now also available at boutiques in New York, Rome and many other global cities.

Multi-designer stores like Ogaan in Delhi and Bombay Electric in Mumbai soon began to stock Singh’s clothes as well, and the brand quickly developed a reputation for meticulously made handloom clothes that were timeless, modern and intelligent. “Ekà has always delighted me with pieces that are one of a kind, peppered with subtle detail, and that are both easy to wear and stylish,” says Kiran Rao, who effortlessly glides about in swathes of linen at the shoot. Loyalists like Rao (who Singh describes as being “in a timeless fashion realm, yet obscure enough to not call attention to herself as a fashion figure”), Arundhati Roy, Mira Nair and Madhu Trehan confirm Ekà’s status as a thinking woman’s label. 

Part of the reason for the label’s popularity, too, is its reliably consistent aesthetic: similar silhouettes and similar families of colour characterise each season. Singh avoids excessive embroidery and bright dyes. “I might pick up a brightly coloured sari to wear myself. But if I have to create one, I have to look at it in the context of two seasons before and two seasons after. For that one bold, bright piece, I can love it, I can wear it with brocade, but then I have to shelve it. I don’t look at it every day. That’s definitely not my sensibility.”

As for the rise of handloom fashion in India in the last few years, Singh says that it is sometimes thought of as self-consciously serious and meaningful. “And it is sustainable and ethical — you’re supporting livelihoods and sustaining crafts, taking tradition forward. It is all of this. But you want to make it modern. I want it to be ageless. I want it to be a mindset, an idea of living.” 

Photograph: Taras Taraporvala; Styling: Nidhi Jacob; Art Director: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Make-up and hair: Mitesh Rajani

On Kiran: Khadi-cotton dress, linen jacket; both Ekà. Leather sandals, her own. On Rina: Linen dress, braided leather sandals; both Ekà 

You may also want to read: Small world: Rashmi Varma

There’s a painting by Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt called 'Summertime', in which two young women sit languidly in a rowboat, looking at the ducks that float on the lake with them. They wear soft, loose pastels, which are reflected in the mauve and rose shades with which Cassatt painted the water. Rina Singh’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection for her label Ekà, called ‘Love is All You Need’, brings this painting to mind — not just because it shares these pale shades, but also because the women in the painting look so utterly at ease, both in their clothing and their surroundings. Singh’s pieces, as with all her lines, are fluid and unrestrictive; they have volume but feel weightless. The colours range from mints to dusty pinks; some dresses feature mellow stripes that fade into one another, others are dotted with a faint rose print. They are clothes one can ease into, thanks to the handloomed cottons, linens and khadi, which Ekà has now come to be known for.

Singh says that this aesthetic, and her desire to use homegrown fabrics, comes from her childhood experiences. Both her parents are from agricultural families — her father’s, in Kurukshetra, grew wheat and rice; her mother’s, from Uttar Pradesh, grew mangoes in one season and sugar in another. Singh spent a lot of her time outdoors, in the fields and orchards.

For her nani, who lived through the freedom struggle, “The charkha was a staple in the afternoons. My maternal aunt had these big looms and would make large durries at home.” The women of the home would weave not for money, but “for themselves, for their daughters, for their daughters’ dowries, for making things to pass on to a grandchild.” Singh studied design as a scholarship student at Wigan & Leigh College in Manchester, and there, she says, “there was a period of going mad about Armani, of course — but in the end, you come back to where you started from.”

Singh met her husband, Sandeep Dua, in college. He now runs Eon Clothing Company, an export outfit that also supplies Ekà with its materials. While in England, they both initially tried Western designs, but realised, when travelling back to India to buy fabrics for their final collections, that their aesthetic was something that related much more closely to their own roots. Sadly, their first attempts weren’t successful in India. “No one was ready to buy handloom kurtas at five times the price of what Fabindia would sell them at. We thought we were the new wave of designers who’d been taught abroad and brought a new ideology and all of that, but it was still intellectual, as a concept.” 

As Dua moved towards the export business, building up contacts and bases for different materials, Singh was able to develop resources for textiles and handiwork. She decided to launch her label and try her hand outside the country. She went to London in 2011, hoping to meet Maureen Doherty, who owns a fabled shop called Egg — a scouting ground for fresh new designers. Singh says, “For me, Egg was the Mecca. It’s the kind of store you read about, hear about, you want to go and see. Like 10 Corso Como, or that sort of thing.” She got to the store, and found Doherty sitting outside, smoking and drinking tea (seriously). Doherty asked Singh if she was wearing her own design, which she was; it impressed her, and Singh showed her a suitcase full of clothes the next day. “They’re the first store I started working with, and I continue to work with them.” Ekà is now also available at boutiques in New York, Rome and many other global cities.

Multi-designer stores like Ogaan in Delhi and Bombay Electric in Mumbai soon began to stock Singh’s clothes as well, and the brand quickly developed a reputation for meticulously made handloom clothes that were timeless, modern and intelligent. “Ekà has always delighted me with pieces that are one of a kind, peppered with subtle detail, and that are both easy to wear and stylish,” says Kiran Rao, who effortlessly glides about in swathes of linen at the shoot. Loyalists like Rao (who Singh describes as being “in a timeless fashion realm, yet obscure enough to not call attention to herself as a fashion figure”), Arundhati Roy, Mira Nair and Madhu Trehan confirm Ekà’s status as a thinking woman’s label. 

Part of the reason for the label’s popularity, too, is its reliably consistent aesthetic: similar silhouettes and similar families of colour characterise each season. Singh avoids excessive embroidery and bright dyes. “I might pick up a brightly coloured sari to wear myself. But if I have to create one, I have to look at it in the context of two seasons before and two seasons after. For that one bold, bright piece, I can love it, I can wear it with brocade, but then I have to shelve it. I don’t look at it every day. That’s definitely not my sensibility.”

As for the rise of handloom fashion in India in the last few years, Singh says that it is sometimes thought of as self-consciously serious and meaningful. “And it is sustainable and ethical — you’re supporting livelihoods and sustaining crafts, taking tradition forward. It is all of this. But you want to make it modern. I want it to be ageless. I want it to be a mindset, an idea of living.” 

Photograph: Taras Taraporvala; Styling: Nidhi Jacob; Art Director: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Make-up and hair: Mitesh Rajani

On Kiran: Khadi-cotton dress, linen jacket; both Ekà. Leather sandals, her own. On Rina: Linen dress, braided leather sandals; both Ekà 

You may also want to read: Small world: Rashmi Varma