Designer Rachel Roy speaks about the wardrobe needs of a modern working woman, and how fashion can be a means to an end

Rachel Roy’s one of those fashion designers who’s scrutinised as much for her personal wardrobe choices as the ones she helps others make are. Member of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), Rachel quickly became a name for her modern, functional design aesthetic — patronised by the likes of Michelle Obama, Eva Mendes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson and Halle Berry. A well-turned-out red carpet regular, she, quite famously, set off a style bloggers’ debate when she donned a pyjama top to the premiere of Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess starrer One Way (with Manolo Blahniks for company.) But that’s one aspect. There are a few causes she holds dear, and she’s trying to do more than pay lip service.

In New Delhi to unveil the design she’s created for the Forevermark Promise Exhibition — a diamond body chain, a simpler version of which she herself wears every day — there are a few other things on her India agenda.

“I feel that it is my duty — not even a choice — to provide jobs. And I prefer to provide those jobs to women. Particularly for women that might be at a disadvantage, not being able to work. Once you work you have freedom, you can pay your own bills, get out of the situation you are in, protect yourself,” she ponders, trying to flick away some invisible folds on the table cloth at Daniell’s Tavern at The Imperial, where the interview is arranged.

Towards that end, there are a few charities Rachel is associated with. She’s creating the India-inspired FEED bags for Lauren Bush’s FEED Projects, a global charity whose sales proceeds go towards taking care of the nutritional needs of children. She’s also working with Children’s Hope and intends to visit the school run by the organisation in India. Rachel has earlier worked with Orphan Aid Africa.

(There’s a personal agenda too — her 12-year-old daughter is accompanying her on her India trip, “so that she can see part of what makes her beautiful… the country she’s from,” says Rachel, whose dad hails from India.)

“These are the things that excite me and these are the things I look forward to between collections,” she smiles.

Speaking of collections, Rachel Roy Spring/ Summer 2013, with an emphasis on easy separates, was unveiled recently at the fashion week in New York. While the label was launched in 2005, three years ago Rachel launched her secondary line, RACHEL Rachel Roy, which retails from stores like Macy’s. (RACHEL Rachel Roy won an ACE Award from the Accessories Council in 2009 for ‘best brand launch’.)

“I’ve been working in design since I was 14! Till I launched my own line, I was working with companies and retail stores that were not my personal aesthetic. So what I really wanted to do was start a line that was my voice, that would be for the working woman who needs to look polished, put-together, chic and modern but still feminine. That’s how Rachel Roy started… Then three years ago I started the secondary line — during the recession in the United States. And it worked out very well because during the recession women did not want to spend money on themselves; they would purchase for their children. They wouldn’t purchase something for themselves unless it was an extremely well-priced item. So that company became successful because the intent was of a mother designing for mothers,” Rachel explains.

Next month, the result of Rachel Roy’s collaboration with spiritual guru Deepak Chopra will be unveiled — a line of vintage T-shirts featuring slogans from the latter, which will be part of both the Rachel Roy main line and the more affordable secondary line. The proceeds from the sales, Rachel adds, go to Chopra’s charity.

As a designer, how’s the learning curve been tilting? “I think that with every collection I’ve learned more about fit. With personal appearances I do in every store I’m able to hear directly what’s working on them and what excites them. At the end of the day it’s usually the same thing; women just want to look beautiful, smart, chic and modern, and you want outfits that can get you there quickly without too much thinking. The more I feel what’s right as opposed to thinking what’s right, the more I get it right. The older you get the more you trust what you feel,” she says. In that respect, Donna Karan is an inspiration. “I think she’s an excellent spokesperson for what she feels to be right — not only what she designs but also the charity work that she does.”