A dancer’s fluid moves and body language are reflected in the soft lines and hues of designer Joe Ikareth’s collection on view at Amethyst
Joe Ikareth loves dance. As a child, he worshipped Michael Jackson’s moves. As a designer, he launched his first collection with Parisian dancers and acrobats, swirling and swishing in his costumes. The decade since has seen him work with Kalaripayattu artistes, Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam dancers to interpret their traditional attire for contemporary couture. In his most recent collection, currently on display at Amethyst Room, Joe still translates the magnificence of movement into pieces that glory in that gentle fall over the body’s curves, in soft colours, clean lines and simple fluidity.
Joe’s artistic impression of a dancer’s body language is spoken through creative pattern-making. He hand-makes the patterns for every collection, introducing lines of movement and direction in basic templates, such as circles, squares and L-shapes, by using darts, pleats, pin-tucks and delicate detailing. The collection at Amethyst ranges from structured tunic tops and cowl pants, to skirt-trousers and double-layered pants, each with his trademark sense of flow and comfort. “Traditional pattern-makers are often unaware of the human body and the shapes it takes in movement. We get that knowledge from dance and, over the years, we’ve become so experienced with pattern-making that those ideas from the stage are not lost in translation in the clothes,” says Joe.
Joe came to this method of ‘design through pattern-making’ from his student days at NIFT Delhi. Slated to become an illustrator first, his professors in college guided his transition from “two-dimensional sketches into three-dimensional cloth”. Besides art, as a writer and musician himself, Joe believes his clothes are subconsciously moulded by these alternate creative pursuits too. “The clothes never come out of nowhere. The poetry, dance, music and design inspire each other within me,” he says. His inventive process is admittedly mood-inspired; the greys, whites, blues and other light pastel colours in this collection, Joe explains, are deliberately “soft on the eye” for they come from the “place of quiet” that he was in when he envisioned them.
There is also a larger philosophy that defines Joe’s work. After NIFT, Joe spent three years working with designer Suneet Varma in Delhi, whom he then left to relocate to Kottayam, Kerala. With a team of five at his home studio, and a Joe Ikareth store in Mattancherry, Kochi, Joe now retails to big metros across India, managing everything from the sketching to cuts, sewing and finishing from Kottayam. The move was a purposeful choice to get away from the “noise and pollution”, both literal and metaphorical, of big cities and “step out of the rat race” of fashion. Thus he no longer creates Spring/Summer season collections, only designs individual pieces that make it to designer boutiques. “I wanted to create a more efficient, more pure design that wasn’t dictated by the pressure of what was ‘in’ or ‘out’ in the dominant trends. Because we’re in a quieter place shouldn’t mean that we’re any less interesting or creative,” he says.
These personal choices reflect most in Joe’s preference for natural fabrics — cotton, linen and silk — that make this collection a return-to-roots statement of sorts. Over the years, Joe has become renowned for his designs that modernise Kerala’s traditional handlooms, from his most recent ‘Sing the Body Electric’ line that had Jaipuri block-prints on white handloom, to ‘Structured Poetry’ that used silver threads and mirrors over Kerala cotton. Although this collection at Amethyst doesn’t showcase these lines, the environment-conscious design aesthetic is still visible. “Even in a technology-dictated industry, it is important to keep the traditions of pattern-making, block-printing, and embroidery alive by bringing it into a new, contemporary space.” Joe also recently fronted ‘TransForm’, an initiative to upcycle his and other designers’ ‘dead stock’ into one-off couture pieces that are available at his Kochi store; his team also repurposes all excess fabric at this studio into carry bags. “The idea of repurposing cloth is something that can be taken forward into a whole art form of its own,” says Joe. While that is certainly one of his future projects, he continues to experiment and evolve his existing designs into new fabrics and new styles.