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Art couture

Homespun, yet haute. That's Anuradha Vakil. An interview with the "modern classicist"

where past meets present... an Anuradha Vakil creation

Her kohl-lined eyes are as distinct as her intricately crafted couture. And her persona as understated as her colour palette. In a world of designers whose works reveal more flesh than flashes of talent, Anuradha Vakil stands out. Her's is culture-inspired couture. Right from weft and warp to motifs and blocks, she is a "modern classicist."

"Truly traditional, with modern sensibilities," that's how she describes herself. At Amethyst, Gopalapuram, to showcase her latest line of handcrafted salwars, kurtis and saris, Anuradha explains how homespun can be haute too. "Mine is deeply rooted in Indian ethos. The speciality about the crafts of the past is their timelessness. All it takes is a modern design sensibility to make it appealing to urban women with fine-tuned aesthetics."

Passionate about crafts

While youngsters who just dabble in design call themselves designers, Anuradha sees herself more as a "revivalist of textile crafts than a fashion designer. I am a mainstream designer, no doubt. But the fact remains that crafts are a passion. I see myself in a unique place, anchoring the present to the past. There's so much to draw from our tradition, it can't be ignored."

Anuradha Vakil... revisiting tradition

Crafts, crafts and more crafts... is there a risk of appearing repetitive? "True... it is a creative challenge. It's nice to be identified by a certain look. But it's important not to get trapped. That's why though my cuts are simple, I always experiment with textures, weaves, prints and handwork. I also marry diverse influences in my lines. When it comes to crafts, I am not a purist — I mix and match them in the same outfit! Going down the crafts heritage isn't easy. It takes about 18 months for a particular line to evolve. It involves plenty of travel, research, museum visits and interaction with weavers and craftsmen. My next collection is based on "Suf," a hand-crafted technique from Sindh."

Mallika Sarabhai, Shabana Azmi and a host of top-notch personalities swear by Anuradha's clothes. And now, the ace designer is likely to do costumes for Nandita Das in a film inspired by Gujarati literature. So what is it that makes her clothes tick in the world of arts? "I guess it's the sensibility we share. From a tender age, I was exposed to classical music, Kathak and art. And that taught me the difference between tacky and refined. Art enriches you and you value that all your life."

Ethnic chic... Shabana Azmi

An MBA from the U.S., Anuradha dabbled in the corporate world before following her passion seriously. "I knew my heart lay in the crafts. But I did not want to be another daughter-in-law doing clothes in the garage. This is where my corporate background came in handy. I decided to take the plunge striking a balance between art and commerce. Yes, my couture is expensive. But those who appreciate handcrafts know the price tag is fair. It might sound snooty, but my creations are not mass-market driven. And that's why I stick to diffusion and haute collections. Hand-woven and handcrafted clothes don't make feasible prêt lines, because there you need huge volumes. It's not in me to dilute creativity."

Fashion with function

About today's youngsters being swayed by Western influences, she says, "It's the responsibility of designers to make them appreciate ethnicity. For instance, short kurtas with traditional workmanship are a hit with the young. The whole Indo-Western concept came about because of this need to fuse tradition with modernity."

Though she is based in Ahmedabad, Anuradha has staked her claim on the national runway. That's because her's is not fashion for fashion's sake, instead it is fashion with a specific function - that of promoting the arts and crafts of the past. Now, should we call that art couture?


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