For over two decades, New Delhi-based design duo David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore of the famous A & T label have been rearticulating traditional textiles in a way that appeals to women with a taste for intricate weaves, fuss-free silhouettes and a sensibility as classic as it is contemporary. In the run-up to a fashion show to mark the launch of Amethyst’s second store (on Chamiers Road) in the city, David talks to T. Krithika Reddy about evolving a distinct vocabulary for the label, designing in the era of smartphones, the new Shaadi Redux collection and creating a loungewear line exclusively for Harrods, London.
You have worked with Benares weaves before. What’s new about Shaadi Redux?
Shaadi Redux is an exploration of new designs in Benares brocade. The designs were inspired by the very structure of the cloth — the interweaving of two threads, the warp and weft and the geometry. It led us to create patterns that are variations of basket weaves and allowed us to play on the complexity that is possible within the structure of handloom. The colour story revolves around gold with red, chocolate, black and yellow.
Experimental silhouettes are not something we see at tradition-centric Indian weddings. Isn’t Shaadi Redux a creative gamble?
We were keen on opening up the debate. There can be a modern and non-fussy approach to dressing for an Indian wedding. Shaadi Redux was our response to the trend of increasingly ornate trousseaus. The questions we posed were, “Why not trousers?” and “Why not Nehru jackets?” We believe that a fashion show can be more than just a parade of pretty clothes. It can raise questions about our expectations of the clothing we choose to wear and their role in our lives.
Indian textiles have been at the core of your collections. What are your recent updates on traditional weaves?
When we work with traditional textiles, we avoid clichés. So no paisleys and peacocks for us; the typical Benarasi motifs tend to be slightly overwrought. Hence we work with geometrics to bring in a spare and more modern visual language. When the patterns are simple, the complexity and beauty of the weaves stand out. It’s a tightrope walk to work with Indian textiles without getting branded “ethnic”. Tradition can survive meaningfully if it keeps pace with our lives.
Does every line have a definitive philosophy behind it? Or is it put together instinctively?
To some extent, we do have a specific concept behind every catwalk collection. But that’s not necessarily the case with every commercial line sold off the rack. But overall, the label’s concern of trying to find a contemporary voice while acknowledging traditional Indian textile and craft traditions informs much of what we do.
What are the pressures of designing in the age of smartphones when information and images are uploaded in a jiffy?
It’s exciting to work in this time of instant information when ideas zip across the world in seconds. There’s immediacy and as a designer, this constant input is stimulating. Interestingly, as the world grows smaller and smaller because of connectivity, I believe the desire for localised and unique experiences in design continues to grow stronger.
Who is the quintessential A & T woman?
Someone who is intelligent and independent. A global local!
What’s the update on your international retail presence?
We still work a lot with the overseas markets. It has always been encouraging. We sell in several countries, mostly in small upmarket speciality stores. However, the domestic market has become more important now.
For a change, an Indian label was co-branded with Harrods, London. What are the finer points of this line?
We have a special homewear and home textile collection under the brand “Abraham & Thakore exclusively for Harrods”. It is a small exclusive collection developed only for Harrods and is not offered elsewhere. The successful collection is now going into its fourth season.
What are the challenges of working with woven textiles in the context of the dwindling number of weavers? Are the designers doing enough to save traditional hand skills?
Some textile craft traditions, especially in embroidery and printing, have seen a resurgence at the upper end of the market because of designers. Embroidery skills, especially those used in trousseau clothing, are of better quality than what existed in the past. Woven textiles are now being used by a group of young designers with greater inventiveness and one hopes this will create increased awareness and consumption of handloom textiles. However, growth needs to be sustained at the upper end of the consumer market as these skills need to be economically rewarding for the maker to cope with the ever increasing competition from powerlooms and inexpensive imports.
A & T has designed robes and bed linen for some big names in the hotel business (such as Taj Falaknuma). What’s your latest work?
We work with several large hotel groups. In some cases, we develop exclusive designs to reflect the hotel’s identity. We are now developing an exclusive collection for Vana, a luxurious wellness resort that is opening in Dehradun early next year.
Despite so much emphasis on couture and bridal in recent years, you have stuck to your core belief in pret....
We like the idea of ready-to-wear. We want to be able to dress our customers for different occasions in their lives, for those normal everyday moments. There’s a lot to life beyond parties!
How easy or difficult is it for you to create something new season after season, particularly when you have established a signature look over the years...
We see it as a natural progression of a design dialogue. It is a conversation that has continued over the years and I think we still have a lot to say. So we don’t find it difficult at all. Design, particularly fashion, is so rooted in the here and now, and the constant change and evolution of society is a non-stop source of inspiration.
How does the work of three people (including Kevin Nigli) synchronise in the A & T label? Do you have a clear demarcation of roles?
We are all creative individuals and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. I tend to assume the role of creative director, but we sit next to one another in a studio and discuss everything. In administrative duties, we handle different functions.
You had consciously kept yourself out of the fashion show circuit till 2011. Do you like it now that you are in the whirligig?
We are able to put together a show collection once a year, usually for Autumn-Winter. It’s a lot of work for us, but it’s an exciting forum to communicate ideas as the fashion conversation in India is now so informed and lively. In fact, it’s an exciting phase to be in the fashion business, especially with a new generation of designers actively engaged in ready-to-wear which will help create a new and relevant voice for Indian fashion.
(After the inaugural today, the A&T label will be on display at Amethyst, Chamiers Road, till December 12.)