Inspired by 1940s India, Shalini James’ latest collection, ‘Indian by Choice’ presents women’s wear that is androgynous and redefines ‘comfort fit’

Designer Shalini James recently launched her latest collection of garments, ‘Indian by Choice’ under her label Mantra. The collection, she says, is a tribute to the spirit of being an Indian and choosing to be an Indian in every sense of the term.

Excerpts from an interview.

The Mantra: ‘Indian By Choice’ is a 1940s inspired look. It was a time when much was happening politically, a time of assertion. A line I read, that patriotism can be expressed in one’s vernacular, inspired me. It set me thinking me about how I could express it in my vernacular, through fashion design my vocation. It is not about setting or starting a trend as much as it is about expressing what I feel.

The inspiration: I did a lot of research for the ‘Indian by Choice’ collection. I looked at men’s clothing because nothing much was happening as far as women were concerned. And it was quite an interesting period! For men there were jackets; the kurta sleeves were long; there were pockets and the centre placket, for instance. The ‘jubbas’ of yore used to have fine, quarter inch edges. The kurtas in my collection have this. I have incorporated other elements in this collection as well. The tiniest detail, such as the finishing, has been kept ‘dated’.

The look: There are jackets, kurtis, shirt kurtis, dhothi and patialas. The look is androgynous. For example, I have put together a look which pairs a dhothi salwar with a shirt and a jacket – but that is just a suggestion. The look is open to interpretation. Individual pieces can be worn together to create a look that any woman wants. There are no prescriptions. The challenge was creating smart work wear within the confines of Indian garments. But see, for instance, the jacket can replace the dupatta, which can be unwieldy, and that one piece can change the entire look, even bring in a sense of power dressing.

The kurta: What the shirt is to Western wear, the kurta is to Indian garments, a wardrobe staple. One cannot do away with it, but I have tried to interpret it differently in each collection. This time, the boxy fit, with straight sleeves and pockets, conveys a serious, woman-of-substance look to the whole collection.

The palette: I have moved away from the usual brighter tones that mark my garments. The theme is the 40s so I have gone in for earthy tones such as dusty brown, olive green, rust, indigo…which convey that dated, sepia look.

The fit: With this collection I have gone against the conventional notion of fit as being fitted, as the garment being close to the body. That is not the only way to complement shape, if there is room or space within a garment it can create the illusion of shape. However the aesthetics of the comfort fit is a cultivated one and it may take a while for people to accept that a good fit does not necessarily mean a body-hugging one.

Tagged and bagged: I like text on tags and/or bags. It adds an extra something to a garment when the thought behind the garment is explained. I have done that with this collection. The message on the bags and tags impress on the wearer that by choosing from this collection, you would be wearing far more than a new kurta, you’d be wearing a whole new attitude, a new philosophy.