Dream decade


Dream decade

Label Ritu Kumar celebrates 10 years in Indian fashion, the Kumars tell us how it all began

By Meher Varma  January 27th, 2015

You can’t look back on 10 years of history for Label  Ritu Kumar — a brand that has become synonymous with traditional design tailored for the global Indian woman — without getting a crash course on the history of prêt in India. In fact, CEO Amrish Kumar (the ambitious, eyes-on-the-skies son of veteran designer Ritu Kumar) says that “things really ramped up for [Indian] prêt” in 2004 — that is, around the time he decided to come up with the idea to create a brand with great design at a competitive price point. But never has the Indian woman embraced western-inspired, casual, affordable ready-to-wear as wholeheartedly as she has in the last two to three years. “It’s a combination of time and demographics. There was a whole generation of daughters out there whose mothers we had been catering to [all this time],” he says.

SLOW START

Label started out in a challenging environment, when “the market wasn’t telling us anything,” says Amrish. “To call prêt western wear ‘niche’ was maybe too kind. It was just not very serious.” Still, the Kumars daringly started putting out well-fitted dresses, trousers and shirts, applying international brand templates to the Indian market, which Amrish describes as “a start-up, a process of self-discovery”. Plus, Ritu Kumar adds, “Most people thought [it wasn’t] high-end clothing, or that it [used] cheap fabrics.” To reverse this, and have consumers understand that making good prêt was actually more difficult, took  time and effort. “Also, we wanted the garments to have a touch of elegance and our signature craftsmanship,” she adds, explaining how they successfully used Jat embroidery from Kutch in western-inspired silhouettes.  

CHANGE IN FORTUNES

The Kumars soon realised two things were key: perseverance and an uninterrupted commitment to the loyal Ritu Kumar consumer base, built over decades. After experiencing some unexpected disappointments trying to sell clothes that were perceived as “purely western”, Label’s tunics and shirts — which still had the brand’s Indian, textile-inspired sensibility — met with some success. By the turn of the millennium, the Kumars identified a growing comfort with this blend as women began to create space “in their increasingly diverse wardrobes” for Indian-inspired ready-to-wear like Bandhani tunics and Isfahan printed shirts. “It was about bringing the indigenous element to contemporary designs, whether it was in couture or casual wear,” explains Ritu. With this balance of Indian techniques and western structures, Label began to take off; the success of its vintage-inspired Art Deco Collection in 2013, for example, which featured brocade tops, kaftans and jumpsuits, was born of this union. 

 

 

GROWTH CURVE

There was also the question of scaling up. Earlier this year, the company acquired a ` 100 crore investment, which Amrish says gave the brand both “some breathing room as well as the ability to expand”. It was a boost that allowed Label to grow, both in terms of the range of designs, as well as physical locations. In 2014, their count reached 35 standalones, with one in Dubai, and they added a line of hand- and machine-embroidered handbags to their collections. 

This momentum also produced what Ritu describes as Label’s most successful collection yet: the “not in-your-face androgynous” but cool gender play in the Fall/Winter 2014-15 ‘Tuxedo’ line. The range was made in collaboration with French designer Samy Chalon, who specialises in drape and wrap-inspired garments, and came from the brand’s desire to move into structure, while retaining an Eastern spirit and borrowing from menswear. Today, the blazers with satin lapels and pin-tucked women’s shirts are particularly popular, for that unbeatable combination of style, coolth and ease that all women crave. 

FUTURE THREAD

While protecting the duality of Indian and global, which is the heart of the brand, the next two years will see Label embark on an intensive project of “innovation” involving serious textile scholars like Rahul Jain. It’s a carefully chosen word, distinct from “revival”, which Ritu suggests prevents an older tradition from adapting to a modern market. Instead, her goal is to “translate the aesthetic and expertise the weaver has, and bring it to prêt.” She adds, “I want to use something that already exists, like handloom, and make it relevant to today’s market.” 

Central to this plan is the development of the brand’s corporate social responsibility. This is a project that Ritu describes as lifelong and massive. “It will begin with the weavers in Varanasi, and then take us to ikat communities in Pune, and eventually, we will also create a white-on-white line inspired by Bengal,” she says.

Amrish adds that the next few years will also be filled with collaborations. Without giving away too much, he hints at developing exclusive shoe lines and partnerships in Paris. “It’s all about expanding,” he says. “But while we’re definitely growing, at 10 years now, we’re probably just about halfway there.”  

Photograph: Tarun Vishwa

You can’t look back on 10 years of history for Label  Ritu Kumar — a brand that has become synonymous with traditional design tailored for the global Indian woman — without getting a crash course on the history of prêt in India. In fact, CEO Amrish Kumar (the ambitious, eyes-on-the-skies son of veteran designer Ritu Kumar) says that “things really ramped up for [Indian] prêt” in 2004 — that is, around the time he decided to come up with the idea to create a brand with great design at a competitive price point. But never has the Indian woman embraced western-inspired, casual, affordable ready-to-wear as wholeheartedly as she has in the last two to three years. “It’s a combination of time and demographics. There was a whole generation of daughters out there whose mothers we had been catering to [all this time],” he says.

SLOW START

Label started out in a challenging environment, when “the market wasn’t telling us anything,” says Amrish. “To call prêt western wear ‘niche’ was maybe too kind. It was just not very serious.” Still, the Kumars daringly started putting out well-fitted dresses, trousers and shirts, applying international brand templates to the Indian market, which Amrish describes as “a start-up, a process of self-discovery”. Plus, Ritu Kumar adds, “Most people thought [it wasn’t] high-end clothing, or that it [used] cheap fabrics.” To reverse this, and have consumers understand that making good prêt was actually more difficult, took  time and effort. “Also, we wanted the garments to have a touch of elegance and our signature craftsmanship,” she adds, explaining how they successfully used Jat embroidery from Kutch in western-inspired silhouettes.  

CHANGE IN FORTUNES

The Kumars soon realised two things were key: perseverance and an uninterrupted commitment to the loyal Ritu Kumar consumer base, built over decades. After experiencing some unexpected disappointments trying to sell clothes that were perceived as “purely western”, Label’s tunics and shirts — which still had the brand’s Indian, textile-inspired sensibility — met with some success. By the turn of the millennium, the Kumars identified a growing comfort with this blend as women began to create space “in their increasingly diverse wardrobes” for Indian-inspired ready-to-wear like Bandhani tunics and Isfahan printed shirts. “It was about bringing the indigenous element to contemporary designs, whether it was in couture or casual wear,” explains Ritu. With this balance of Indian techniques and western structures, Label began to take off; the success of its vintage-inspired Art Deco Collection in 2013, for example, which featured brocade tops, kaftans and jumpsuits, was born of this union. 

 

 

GROWTH CURVE

There was also the question of scaling up. Earlier this year, the company acquired a ` 100 crore investment, which Amrish says gave the brand both “some breathing room as well as the ability to expand”. It was a boost that allowed Label to grow, both in terms of the range of designs, as well as physical locations. In 2014, their count reached 35 standalones, with one in Dubai, and they added a line of hand- and machine-embroidered handbags to their collections. 

This momentum also produced what Ritu describes as Label’s most successful collection yet: the “not in-your-face androgynous” but cool gender play in the Fall/Winter 2014-15 ‘Tuxedo’ line. The range was made in collaboration with French designer Samy Chalon, who specialises in drape and wrap-inspired garments, and came from the brand’s desire to move into structure, while retaining an Eastern spirit and borrowing from menswear. Today, the blazers with satin lapels and pin-tucked women’s shirts are particularly popular, for that unbeatable combination of style, coolth and ease that all women crave. 

FUTURE THREAD

While protecting the duality of Indian and global, which is the heart of the brand, the next two years will see Label embark on an intensive project of “innovation” involving serious textile scholars like Rahul Jain. It’s a carefully chosen word, distinct from “revival”, which Ritu suggests prevents an older tradition from adapting to a modern market. Instead, her goal is to “translate the aesthetic and expertise the weaver has, and bring it to prêt.” She adds, “I want to use something that already exists, like handloom, and make it relevant to today’s market.” 

Central to this plan is the development of the brand’s corporate social responsibility. This is a project that Ritu describes as lifelong and massive. “It will begin with the weavers in Varanasi, and then take us to ikat communities in Pune, and eventually, we will also create a white-on-white line inspired by Bengal,” she says.

Amrish adds that the next few years will also be filled with collaborations. Without giving away too much, he hints at developing exclusive shoe lines and partnerships in Paris. “It’s all about expanding,” he says. “But while we’re definitely growing, at 10 years now, we’re probably just about halfway there.”  

Photograph: Tarun Vishwa