Change and continuity are two sides of a coin to Vivek Karunakaran, who launches his flagship store in the city

“It’s now or never. It’s a huge leap of faith,” says designer Vivek Karunakaran, before the launch of his flagship store in upmarket Rutland Gate.

The place is new, but the designer doesn’t waver from his aesthetic. You can’t ignore the nonchalant ease of dresses in chocolate-wrapper hues. Or the deep-toned fitted jackets with fierce, youthful tailoring in buttery Italian fabric. As you let your eyes linger on clever colour blocks on versatile shifts, another creation with trompe l’oeil bird print catches your attention. Vivek’s signature accent on form, fabric and subtle flourishes shines through in the new collection as well.

The designer who was operating out of his home studio in Kottivakkam decided to move to central Chennai to give clients “a complete retail experience.” Besides off-the-rack options, he will also offer bespoke. “I’ve stuck to my gorgeous-edgy sensibility for six years. But I’ll be thrilled to design something over-the-top or even incorporate monograms on clients’ requests. A flagship store is a big step forward for me. But I wanted to make the VK label more available and give Chennai-ites something that’s on a par with what’s shown at fashion weeks. I have to do more numbers, increase production and put out something new on the racks every fortnight. It’s a huge creative challenge and it’s time to keep a watchful eye on the commercial pay-offs as well,” he says, looking serious.

The designer who began his journey with the Victorian-inspired “Dark Romance” (debut line at Lakme Fashion Week, 2007), beckoned the style set with his subsequent lines “Urban Vagabond” (Lakme Fashion Week, Winter/Festive, 2010) and “Wanderlust” (that opened this year’s Chennai International Fashion Week). Creative detours came in the form of shows for the Handloom Export Promotion Council and Cotton Council of India.

The latest collection is an extension of the “Wanderlust” theme. It reflects change and continuity. “As far as the aesthetic goes, I’ve only made some subtle tweaks. The only big difference is I’ve moved away from my predictable palette. There are cobalt and vermillion, teal and aubergine, and the fabrics are chiffon, georgette and silk. Known for walking the tightrope between structure and drape, Vivek says, “Garments must be well cut. Silhouettes play a stellar role in my designs.” The importance he gives to form shows in his restrained use of embellishment — delicate stitched-down pin-tucks, barely-there piping, discreet use of embroidery and buttons. It’s a simple straight-forward look with some surprise elements thrown in. “Clothes must enhance the personality, not override it.”

The new line has a range of menswear as well — shirts and jackets with interesting details on luxurious fabrics (think Egyptian cotton and Italian velvet).

“Wanderlust” as a line has both emotional and intellectual resonance to Vivek’s journey as a designer. While it’s the maiden line at his newly-opened flagship store, it also marks the evolution of the “Urban Vagabond” into an urban outfitter. “Our journey has seen many ups and downs. I’m glad we stuck through it all…” he says, smiling at his wife and designer Shreya Kamalia (both are ex-NIFT-ians). “She’s the backbone, not the face of the label. She likes it that way. I owe much of my success to her.”