am:pm by Ankur and Priyanka Modi has become a go-to label for smart prêt. Designer Priyanka Modi speaks to Shalini Shah about the complicated behind the simple

Around four seasons ago at the fashion week at Pragati Maidan in the Capital, outside the show area a little after the am:pm show was is over and a little before the next show began, is about to begin, Priyanka Modi was is fretting. “Oh no, oh no, oh no!” Perplexed, the unwilling witness merged s into the background, concentrating hard on one’s shoes, as if they’d reveal how a clean getaway could can be managed. “Calm down… the show went fine,” husband Ankur and brother Anirudh tried try to explain. “Oh no, oh no...” One had has seen the show only minutes ago; a re-run in the head didn’t doesn’t shed any light on the terrible cause of this effect. Now, at am:pm’s busy Noida factory, when you bring it up (obviously hoping she’ll tell you what happened), Priyanka laughs. “That’s me. Crazy.” She can’t be. A little more than a decade after of being set up, am:pm, the contemporary prêt label by Ankur and Priyanka Modi, is walking on steady feet. Concentrating on simple, practical, fabric-centred separates, and low-key surface detailing, the label sits well will with the day-to-evening aesthetic that now makes so much sense. The monochrome maths checks palazzos from ‘The Mayan Maze’, the label’s Spring/ Summer 2013 collection, have become a bit of a hit in editorial spreads, as have their silk shirt dresses in the past. Simple’s tough; one knows there are not many things to hide behind.

Priyanka recalls, “It started as a practical, wearable clothing line, and at the time prêt wasn’t very readily available. It was either cottons in Anokhi or Rohit Bal; nobody really in between to supply aesthetically subtle, practical, wearable, fashionable clothing. That’s the niche we wanted to fit into. So that’s what we did, and that’s what we still do. We don’t show avant-garde because we don’t make that for our stores. Whatever’s on the ramp is what we give to the stores. It’s not something else that is portrayed on the ramp…”

While Priyanka takes care of the creative side of the label, Ankur does production and accounts. Anirudh Birla, Priyanka’s brother who joined the label five years ago, handles marketing and stores.

With one standalone store in Mumbai and two in Delhi (at Emporio and The Crescent at Qutub), besides space in several leading multi-label stores across the country, retail is strong.

From one tailor when the label was set up, the workforce at the company has gone up to close to 150. “We kept increasing our people because the popularity of the brand kept increasing. When we kept increasing the people, we kept bettering our infrastructure. This is probably our third factory, and we’ve only grown ever since. Then we started building our own stores because we thought am:pm needs to be in a separate place where its presence can be felt, and not always in the midst of a multi-designer store. am:pm is a very subtle line, so sometimes it gets very hidden between the couturiers or things that are more avant-garde. We’ve evolved in our aesthetics, we’ve matured; we’ve evolved in our cuts, in our patterns, in the sourcing of fabrics… We’ve heard what our customers had to say about the product, and we’ve incorporated some of their suggestions, so that their basic practical needs are met,” says Priyanka.

Pricing is a crucial, make-or-break aspect when it comes to a prêt label. The designer explains how, surprisingly, there was no hitch in the beginning. (That came later.)

“The first few years were absolutely fantastic because I think people were just waiting for a product like that. We grew really fast — up to a certain level. am:pm, apart from being practical and wearable, was at a certain price point that people could very easily afford. Affordability was a huge USP for the label at that time. Now we’re, of course, struggling,” she ponders. “The prices have gone high, right from hiring a karigar to your basic necessities like petrol, to fabric prices — silk yarn has gone absolutely crazy… You don’t know how to justify the prices anymore to the customer… We used to sell our kurtas between Rs.4,000 and 6,000; 6,000 was probably our maximum range. And now the same products are selling between Rs.10,000 and 17,000. So there’s been a big shift over the past few years. Initially am:pm used to see customers picking four or five outfits in one go and not feel a pinch. Now they’ll have to think twice before they do that. Not that people have not adjusted to higher price points, but they didn’t expect that from am:pm. There’s been a small struggle there…”

With the likes of Amit Agarwal, Masaba Gupta and Atsu Sekhose making saris, the sari wearer is changing. Last season am:pm, too, launched its sari line. “When they come to am:pm they get a much more subtle sari aesthetic than what they would probably wear otherwise… Like the impact is more on the blouse than the sari, or the sari is trimmed with crochet lace or more beautiful fabric so the play is on the fabric, the colour, the type of embroidery that is used.”

Also, menswear, for which there’s been a long-standing demand, might soon turn to reality, while Kolkata and Hyderabad figure in retail plans.

Theirs is a creative family. Priyanka’s mother-in-law happens to be industry veteran Anju Modi. Both labels draw from different aesthetics; one isn’t the contemporised/Indianised version of the other.

“In the beginning there was a lot of guidance from ma. She helped me start off something independently. I worked in her unit for a couple of months and she told me to start something on my own because she probably knew that I had a different ideology about fashion and that hers was absolutely different. She guided us in the initial years — maybe not so much on the design, but a lot of viewpoints on what really the customer and market was all about. As a fresher you never know that… You can see that our aesthetics are different, but we feel that since we like each other’s work so much there has to be something that we have in common. Even though she does a heavier line, her aesthetics are very subdued in a certain way, like her passion for textiles, for colour.”