Minimalist” is her style statement. Be it her exclusive “Arati” saris, her clothing line or the accessories, the style is subtle and understated. And, they come in natural colours. “I hold my breath till the clothes come out of the bhatti,” says Arati Monappa.
“Natural dyeing is always a case of ‘hit and miss’ unlike chemical dyeing where you are 100 per cent sure of the result. It is like ‘andaz’ in cooking, there is no definite proportion but the results are good,” she says smiling.
The concept of being in tune with nature runs through at her quaint store, Serenity, located at Jayamahal extension. “Be it summer or not, the interiors are always cool. We use bags made from recycled paper, and ensure that we conserve water and electricity,” the soft spoken designer tells me.
Call it her philosophy or an ethical calling, she believes in going the eco-friendly way. “It is the way to go to leave something behind for the future.”
Sitting comfy on the stone benches outside her aesthetically done-up store, enjoying the cool breeze and the beautiful blooms of her garden, I listen to Arati. “These are Athangudi tiles (handmade terracotta tiles), used in traditional Chettinad homes,” she tells me pointing to the flooring. And, the sturdy carved main door and the brass grills are from Sunday Bazaar (where you get antique brass items) in Gujarat, the place from where she made an entry into the world of fashion.
“Every kind of craft is fascinating. In Ahmedabad, I was drawn to the artistic block prints. But, we see them only on cottons. I used them on a silk sari and it worked,” Arati Monappa reminisces about her first design innovation.
After a rousing reception to her saris retailed through Melange in Mumbai, her label “Arati” came into being. When a Verve magazine model wore one of the saris for a photo shoot, over 100 requests poured in for the same sari. “We said ‘no’. We stick to a limited production and no repetitions,” says Arati. And that is her USP.
“We print saris out of the order book. Why should you hang it in the store?” asks the designer.
Arati says natural dyes are the call of the future. She shows me an Egyptian cotton sari in beige with a zari border — a free hand drawing of a lotus motif fills the canvas. It is breathtaking. Every single colour, the greens and yellows, are painstakingly dyed individually in the bhatti.
Though she has to stick to a limited colour palette of reds, greens, indigos, blues, browns and yellows, the designs are extraordinary. Cotton saris in beige with black chevron stripes, khadi silk in green with pink stripes are appealing.
“Blacks come from a combination of iron filings and jaggery, pinks from root extracts. The families in Gujarat, who have been into natural dyeing for generations hold the secret of why black is darker or rust is brighter,” she reveals.
The classic Kalamkari gets a modern twist in Arati’s hands. For instance, she dyes the back side of a Kalamkari sari in black to lend it a natural elegance.
Timeless, simple and straight forward styles is how she describes her creations. And, calls her clothes ‘wearable art’. “I use the sari as a canvas and paint motifs inspired by contemporary geometric designs and floral patterns. We use a brush, coconut fibre or even a comb to get the desired designs,” she explains.
Comfortable clothing at an affordable price is the keyword. “A fluid style, which looks good on my customer today and even after 10 years is what I believe in — something like a beautiful piece of jewellery, which is always in vogue. I strive to achieve this in my garments,” she says. Arati uses embellishments sparingly.
The designer experiments with organic silk, a combination of aloe vera fibre and cotton and the result is a super soft fabric.
“It takes my natural dyes very well. In Morocco, it is called cacti silk and is woven as carpets in a big way,” she explains.
Her stoles in a combination of khadi (her favourite fabric) and silk is a big hit. Arati has also diversified into home furnishings and clothing. A few years ago, she did an entire collection in natural dyes for Lakme India Fashion Week to prove a point that “we can make outfits for the ramp in natural dyes.”
Now, she wants to make decorative art pieces in natural dyes and also collect 50 saris from her own collection and organise a limited-edition exhibition.
“I don’t call myself a designer, maybe someone who likes to create beautiful things. I am untrained. I pick up motifs from everywhere and just go by my natural instincts,” she sums up.