Anju Modi talks about what it takes to survive the quicksands of the design world without compromising on traditional crafts

“People ask me why I don’t holiday in London,” Anju Modi says with a genial smile. “My holidays are usually in the villages of India where I get to learn a dozen things. I also like to relax in my apartment in Goa after crazy show schedules to clean the slate and start afresh,” she adds, pointing to her forehead.

Coming from someone caught in the razzle-dazzle of the New Delhi style circuit, this isn’t surprising. For over two decades Modi has followed her heart and given a new spin to traditional textiles and crafts without compromising on the style quotient. Whether it is about tweaking the texture of Khadi or trying out new-age patterns on bandini, she likes to be where the action is — the villages. “It’s a win-win situation. Craftsmen are happy that their work is appreciated and I’m satisfied with the whole exercise of travelling extra miles and interacting with people engaged in keeping traditions alive.”

Despite frequent Wassup prompts on her Blackberry and label loyalists insisting on waving hello, Modi remains focussed during an interaction at Evoluzione where she unveiled her new collection. “Unlike in the past, today, designers learn a lot from the clients. Discerning clients are not swayed by fads. They know what’s trendy and what’s timeless. In fact, they help us evolve as creative people.”

Colours of summer

That Modi’s repertoire is connected to her roots shows in her use of cut, colour and craft. Floor-length anarkalis with gentle kadi prints on cotton fabrics that skim the body, elegant tunics that don’t scream colour or go overboard with prints and pattern, and bling-free saris that suit understated sensibilities are some of the highlights. “My cuts are usually clean. The palette ranges from happy Holi hues to classic ivory with a dash of maroon or black. Though there’s a sprinkling of resort wear, the collection is cohesive and works as one cheerful summer story.”

One of the founding members of the Fashion Design Council of India, Modi is clear about incorporating age-old traditions into her work. It’s not just a pastiche of the past. Hers is a serious involvement with the inner rhythms of tradition. From 1990 when she launched her eponymous label, she has experimented with a range of crafts and textiles (think neutral tones on bandini, reversible jackets with specially developed kota, newness to bagru prints, Lurex woven in silk chanderi and ‘boiled’ wool angarkhas).

“People think there are no takers for tradition. All it takes is time, imagination and the desire to push boundaries. When I developed a silky khadi and launched a whole collection at a fashion pageant, the humble fabric got all the attention it deserved. I teamed khadi with a modern fabric and created ensembles. The result was fabulous. It was a simple idea of blending two fabrics with contrasting characters — one sturdy and the other supple and flowing. Fashion folks loved it.”

No constellation of factory-sourced crystals for Modi. She’d rather let the lyricism of self-developed fabrics and rigorously crafted clothes do the talking. “To survive in these times, you have to be relentlessly creative. After every collection or show, I think of the farming metaphor. The way a farmer cleans his fields, ploughs and sows seeds after every harvest is a huge inspiration. It’s time to start afresh! Now, isn’t Fall/Winter round the corner?”

Keywords: fashionAnju Modi