Designer Anaka Narayanan about the city’s discerning women and her sense of style
I spent most of my life trying to get out of Madras, so in a way it’s ironic that I moved back here to start my business. I first left the city when I was 16, to study at a boarding school in Pune. Then I left again at 19, to study abroad, and after college I worked in New York.
The idea behind my clothing label, Brass Tacks, started when I was in New York. I saw women dressed to the nines at 8 a.m. on their way to work, and I thought how stylish some of those well-tailored silhouettes would look in high-quality handwoven textiles. I imagined that several designers must have done that already, but when I came home to Chennai and went shopping I was disappointed. The lack of choice was unbelievable, and worse: hand-crafted textiles were dismissed as frumpy by most young women because they were used to seeing mass-manufactured, mainstream brands use these fabrics in the least creative way. There’s a really amazing opportunity here, I thought. There must be several other young women who, like me, are looking for simple, well-tailored clothes in textiles that tell a story.
Now, after five years of running my clothing company, I think moving here has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Curiously, the disadvantages of starting a fashion label in Chennai have worked to my advantage. Chennai has given me that space to find my own voice.
Chennai also has the culture of a small town, despite its growing population. It’s much easier to build a brand in a society where connections are easily made. The city is nurturing too. Unsolicited advice, in the spirit of wanting to help, has forced me to learn from my customers quickly. People here want to see other people succeed, and that can be a real source of energy and inspiration.
The best aspect of all — the one that makes me most proud — is the kind of relationship women have with fashion. Sure, there is a resistance towards doing anything different , but there is also a sense of confidence and self-awareness and that make women choose clothes that do not take attention away from them. I’d like to challenge the notion that Chennai isn’t fashion-forward; wearing the latest trends is not what makes someone fashionable or stylish. It’s choosing pieces that compliment your personality and work for your body type.
(Madras 373 is a series that celebrates the city coinciding with the Madras Week celebrations)
This article has been corrected for a spelling error.