An interesting fashion story unfolds in the city today. New Delhi-based designer Ashish N Soni’s Retrospective at Evoluzione, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, is a visual narrative of the designer’s two-decade-old engagement with fashion. India’s first to show at the New York Fashion Week, the designer traces significant milestones in his trajectory and discusses the label’s future direction, in an ambience that reflects his out-of-the-box approach to design. In an interview to T. KRITHIKA REDDY, he speaks about the retrospective, his aesthetic and international foray.

EDITING MY WORK A retrospective is about documenting a personal journey. It resonates with ideas and inspirations, tangible and intangible things that prompted my work. While editing, my prime concerns were that whatever is chosen must be a signature piece that embodies my philosophy (minimalism) and that even if it’s a decade old, it should continue to inspire.

ARTISTIC COLLAGE The retrospective goes beyond clothes to capture memories. There are mixed media installations, audio/visual works, sculptures and couture. It showcases my version of ‘excessive minimalism’. It’s an artistic collage with mannequins dressed in prêt and couture. There’s a brand film too that looks at the major milestones in my career — from creating a show to mark 2,000 years of the magnificent Khajuraho temples to being the first Indian designer to officially show at New York Fashion Week. My days at NIFT, training with Rohit Bal, the challenges faced while creating my own label, early experiments, the transition phase, evolving a signature style and my vision for the next 20 years are captured in the film.

WHAT STANDS OUT The highlight is a collection of garments in black that reflects my signature vintage tailoring, classic menswear and an assortment of women’s wear handpicked from my repertoire. The lines that stand out are my All White Collection for women and All Black Collection for men. To me, they are iconic.

ETCHED ON MY MIND Is the LWD — the Little White Dress. I have an affinity for white, and that’s something I return to season after season. I wouldn’t call it a conscious effort but the LWD, along with well-tailored suits, and the LBD (little black dress), seem to have become my signature.

FASHION WEDS ART The installations have an artistic feel. They reflect my design process. Fashion is a mix of art and craft. Design transcends fields. Diverse influences emanate from unusual streams. This retrospective is a conscious marriage of fashion and art.

LOOKING BACK In retrospective, I could have refrained from giving Indian women’s wear a try. I knew my strengths were my Western inspirations. But no experience goes in vain. This initial experiment helped me develop my own embroidery sensibility.

WHAT DRIVES MY DESIGNS Love for minimalism. Less is more. But it is difficult to achieve that. To me, simplicity scores over sumptuousness.

DAD’S THE SPIRIT People are surprised when I tell them it was actually my father who suggested I become a designer. Within a few months of graduating from NIFT in 1991, I launched my label and my aspiration was to become the Indian Giorgio Armani!

THE EVOLVING SCENE The industry landscape has changed tremendously. For starters, today you have a million different platforms such as magazines, the Internet, fashion weeks, online stores, international critique, which not only showcase design talent, but also promote it, creating many new opportunities. What is truly needed for the future is corporate investment, scalability and quality at a good price with a strong signature design aesthetic. The luxury and fashion apparel market is now really big and in another five years should hit an all-time high.

TECH FRILLS Technology is an important means, but not an end. Nothing can replace a strong foundation — basics of understanding tailoring, principles of fashion and design and an aesthetic eye. Technology is a tool to enhance one’s vision. It’s important when we experiment with prints — to arrive at near 3D effect! But as far as tailoring skills are concerned, hand-done details give garments their unique character.

REFERENCE POINTS Initially, I was floored by the flamboyant Italians. But over the last decade, the Japanese school of design has greatly inspired me with the mod look of the 1960s and 70s. Their simple design aesthetic has penetrated my sensibility. I read a lot and I always have my mind open — it’s on semi-research mode. I guess that what keeps me going… This is backed by a more structured and clinical research on colours and trends.

BEST OF TWO WORLDS I am a proud Indian designer who speaks a global language. Renowned fashion journalists in New York said that it was extremely refreshing for them to see my designs which managed to interpret the flamboyance and excess of India in a minimal sort of way. Not an easy task.

BURN OUT? Definitely not! At present it seems like I’ve only come half way through my journey. The retrospective was one year’s work of introspection which I finally share with the world. I try to keep my mind healthy by travelling and exploring cultures.

RETAIL FACTS In addition to my domestic presence, I have also worked towards my presence internationally through numerous fashion shows and collaborations with international brands. By 2004, there were a dozen international stores selling my clothes. The label is currently stocked at prestigious stores in Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, Paris and New York.

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Krithika ReddyMay 11, 2012