Ritu Kumar’s winter line is inspired by the Himalayan region

A swathe of soft silks, the flutter of prayer flags and a rich reproduction of Buddhist thangka paintings come to the fore in Ritu Kumar’s Himalayan collection that is finding a place in the hearts of many culture lovers in the city. When a winter collection of a fashion designer is inspired by the rugged landscapes of sweeping mountains and the deep forest glades of one of Indian’s most beautiful regions, it is bound to become a collector’s edition, and for those who dropped by for the experience, it was awe inspiring too.

And so, whether it was the rich textures of the aari and moga silks, that she says, can be traced back to the silk moths which feed on the Sal trees in the Himalayan valleys, or the intricate motifs that can be found on the fabrics, Ritu’s new collection was her tribute to the artistic prowess of skilled craftsmen and the iconic art of the region.

As she spoke of her new collection, it was evident that the designer had poured in hours of research and effort into making a clothing line as detailed and vibrant as this one. Ritu explains, “I used embroidery and patchwork to recreate Buddhist thangka paintings onto garments. On others, I used prints to mimic some of the wall hangings seen in Bhutan’s palaces and monasteries. The collection also includes jackets where we have worked with patchwork and highlighted with zardozi embroidery. The choice of fabrics is a mix of silk velvet with Bhutanese weaves, Benaras brocades, and pure wool to add to the richness of the ensemble.” From classic Bhutanese patterns for the skirts, to silk velvets blends to Benaras brocades and hints of zardozi embroidery, the Himalayan line has been described as by those who loved the collection as “a blend of old and new where most of the modernity comes through the use of traditional aesthetics, in international and contemporary silhouettes.”

Ritu has always been interested in the artisans and craftsmanship of this country and her work has never been an amalgamation of international trends used at random. “I started out as an art historian and later I progressed to crafts. This is how I got interested in textiles,” she remembers and goes on to explain how she fell in love with the craftsmanship of Indian fabrics. “It all started when I returned to India from America with a desire to learn more about our country and its heritage. I took a course dealing with histology which provided me exposure to museology and this became the genesis of my interest in various craft forms. As I progressed I got introduced to hand block printing and eventually started interacting with a cross section of artisans across Kolkata. There was an undocumented repertoire of knowledge and skills and this was the foundation of my continued association with Indian designs and hand woven textiles.”

When it came to this collection, inspired by the Himalayas and as to what attracted her most to the region, she says, “Its long and authentic culture which has survived the pressures of modern day influences and that was most appealing aspect of the project for me.” The fabrics, weaves, motifs and colours used by Ritu Kumar encompassed the essence of the region. The collection included an array of trousers, leggings, coats, dresses, wrap jackets, kaftans and capes.

According to Ritu, it is very important to promote and appreciate the work of local artisans, no matter which state you live in. “The work of artisans is a rare commodity in today’s world of industrial production and needs cherishing and nurturing. The best part of home grown fabrics is its rarity and interest which touches a chord with us, culturally and climatically. The colours are not of those of any other culture. Most people wear what suits them best and home grown fabrics can qualify on that score.”

In Karnataka for instance, she has been fascinated by the mulberry silks and these have been a constant in her collection. What’s more, this love for handmade textiles is growing across the world as more and more people are conscious about the fabrics they wear and the thought that has gone into making them. “There is a move towards classicism and the trend will continue through next year as well,” she explains, adding, “This will involve reworking older equations and making dressing both elegant and minimalistic in shape, while retaining the intensity of the weaving techniques.”