Priyadarshini Rao’s works reflect a cocktail of cultures. The designer famous for treading the road less travelled romances Turkey this time in a line inspired by caravanserai. As with ‘Wanderlust’, her previous line based on couture traditions of Afghanistan and Mongolia, this one too displays her natural skill with textiles, feel for colour and textures and ability to tweak silhouettes.
In an interview to T. Krithika Reddy, the designer, who is set to unveil ‘Caravanserai’ at Collage, Greams Road, today, talks about a range of topics — from the challenges of creating two diametrically different lines every season to her cheery daughter Maya who never misses walking the ramp for the designer. Excerpts:
Is Caravanserai a metaphor for your journey through the world of fashion?
In a way, yes. It has been 17 years since I launched my label and I’ve been a traveller, meeting different people and trying to understand varied tastes and ethos. This line reflects the diversity of cultures from Asia and Europe that’s thrown at a traveller in Turkey. The rich colours and textiles, typical weaves and the mélange of silhouettes are the key elements of this collection. Wide-legged dervish pants, voluminous sleeves, some trapeze artists’ silhouettes and ideas inspired by the Turkish/Arab tunics are highlights of this line in which golden yellow and indigo play stellar roles.
Given your textile background, what kind of freshness do you bring to this collection?
For the first time, we embroidered Chanderi and mul silk fabrics and then dyed them to create a texture. The indigos have a strong presence in the somewhat contemporary silhouettes that include blousons, generous pants and dresses. Saris too come with unusual blouson-style cholis.
It’s not easy fusing a traditional aesthetic with an appeal that crosses geographical borders…
My label is for women who appreciate textiles and traditions, but at the same time understand that conventional silhouettes will not always work for their lifestyle. Not all women are confined to traditional roles. I’ve always believed that there are women who think differently. My clothes are an expression of their beliefs and bohemian lifestyle. They are not fashion followers who worry about trends. It’s about making individualistic statements that can appeal across geographical borders.
Your education and training background is rich and varied. How have they helped you in design and retail — particularly when you are talking about 15 stores and big numbers in terms of production?
My studies revolved around designing textiles and garments. Whatever I learnt about retailing was on the job. Designing is the part of my job I enjoy most and I find that bringing freshness to a collection is always a creative challenge. As for retail, I’ve always believed that when you have a good product, priced correctly, with a finger on the pulse of your target audience, you can’t go too wrong. Production planning and handling the retail end brings with it new challenges that I do not always have the patience for. I leave that to my husband Jaydeep Shetty, who has studied Management and a team of professionals.
Your works span two ends of the retail spectrum — affordable pret and luxury pret. It must be creatively taxing to come up with two drastically different lines every season…
Currently my Pret or High Street label is Mineral. Yes, it is tough to come up with ideas for both lines simultaneously. But working within a given parameter of cost has always been something I enjoy. It is like playing Sudoku. You curse the game most of the time, but once your answers are in place, the satisfaction is immense.
You’ve designed uniforms for many corporates. What’s your latest work? How do you think corporate dressing has evolved over the years? Is there a blatant nod to the West now?
Recently, we created the look for the ICICI retail branches. Now, we are giving finishing touches to the uniforms for Vodafone staff.
Earlier the brief for corporate uniforms has always been to design something that looked crisp and formal. Now the move is towards relaxed silhouettes with an understanding of what the brand really stands for. I wouldn’t say the designing is veering towards the West. In fact the nicest one we designed for ICICI bank was their sari!
What is the update on Mineral? What is your level of involvement with the brand?
Mineral is a High Street brand owned by my husband and myself. We also have an investor in the form of Future Venture. Mineral is a chain comprising exclusive brand outlets and shop in shops. Currently we have a strong presence in Mumbai. We have also entered the Bangalore and Hyderabad markets. I am the product head at Mineral.
So many Western middle-level brands are making inroads into the Indian market. Do you think they will make a significant impact on desi brands that focus on competitively-priced Western garments?
Most certainly. The tough part of being in the women’s Western wear market today is the massive competition we face from established western labels like Zara, Vero Moda etc. However, it’s a great time for consumers. They are the biggest benefactors of the price war going on. It has also been a lesson in understanding the product, finishing and sizing for the otherwise complacent desi brands.
Do you think standalone stores are commercially viable in the context of big fashion boutiques and retail houses offering plenty of choices under one roof?
Depending on real estate prices, standalone designer stores may or may not break even. The secret of running a good designer store (multi-brand) lies in the service offered to the customer. A great experience will always make a client want to return. Also, such stores in my opinion take longer to sink roots, but can become quite profitable if merchandised and serviced prudently.
At last, many senior designers are looking at strengthening their domestic market. The craze for fashion shows abroad seems to have faded and looks like there is a resurgence in the bridal/couture segment...
Thankfully yes. It would have been hilarious if we were still trying to fit into saturated European markets, while their labels are making inroads into the biggest markets of the future — India and China.
You launched in 1996 and barring a couple of years break in between when you went to study in London, you have pretty much been a part of the rough-and-tumble of the Indian fashion industry for the past 15 years. Where do you think we stand now? And what about the road ahead?
The Indian Fashion Industry is sadly ridden with the cancer of politics, chasing celebrities and mutual back stabbing. I have always been at the fringe of the industry, minding my own business!
I never really felt a camaraderie with the senior designers and my few friends who belong to the world of design are great people first, and great designers later. We certainly need to understand trade better. The older generation believes they’ve arrived, but it is the young blood, who are PR and business savvy and that will make us a more serious industry.
It’s impossible to think of Priyadarshini Rao without images of a cheery Maya on the ramp with you. How old is she now and how is she shaping up creatively? And what about your ‘me’ time?
My daughter Maya is nine now. She loves to draw and perform on stage. Though she enjoys her appearances on the ramp, she says the world of fashion is not for her.
As for my ‘me’ time, I am pretty organised. I almost always finish work by 4.30 p.m., so I get enough time with Maya and her studies. Besides, my husband is very supportive. I have begun my training for my first Half Marathon. Running is a beautiful release! I also enjoy my yoga sessions. I don’t socialise that much. I am an avid reader. I like fiction and am constantly researching contemporary writers.