Joe Ikareth’s designs trap the fluidity of dance, finds PRIYADERSHINI S

It was for his first collection, Thoombi, an acro-dance production in Paris, 2001 that Joe Ikareth used dancers, acrobats and jugglers to showcase his clothes designed with the Kerala handloom fabric. So stunning was the effect that his collection in this fabric, ‘Love in Structured Poetry,’ remains a sought after line.

“The Kerala fabric is a classic and I can keep turning it round and round and come up with something fresh. It still sells,” says the 34-year-old designer who operates from Kottayam and retails from his eponymous store at Bazaar Road, Mattancherry.

It was during his final year at NIFT that his illustrations caught the eye of couturier Suneet Varma with whom Ikareth designed collections for three years. That was in 1991. Five years later and a much experienced Ikareth won the Best Design collection at NIFT with ‘Hot Jazz Biscuits’, a menswear line based on the theme of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In Delhi while creating the costumes for a contemporary Indo-French dance production, ‘Passages’ he met Murielle, a French dancer, who was later to become his wife.

Along with couture dance and theatre have always fascinated Ikareth, something he feels that Dr. Mary Roy, his school principal encouraged. “She was open to ideas, unconventional ones too; I learnt dance and drama in school.” And so he combines patterning clothes with dance movements to design something almost theatrical. His collection, Cold Play, Untitled 1 and 2 series, Vithe, Phoo are all experiments of this blend that catches the fluidity of movement on cloth and traps it in the pin tucks, in reverse smocking and in the honeycomb effect.

Dance productions and designing costumes make Ikareth different from mainstream designers. He revels in his world of ideas ands concepts. “I am sort of in my own world,” he says and has consciously chosen to keep away from the glitz of the fashion world and work from the quiet calm of his home town.

Ask Ikareth on why chose to scale down from the runways of Paris to a small work unit, a smaller production line, a smaller work arena in Kerala.

“The present day designer is not just an individual. It is a whole entity of a financial partner, a bigger production house, marketing everything on a big scale. I don’t think I can become a mainstream designer being in Kerala.” But his ideas, concepts and designs remain international as seen in his morphing of the Kerala fabric. He has deliberately kept his work unit small to maintain control of all the stages of the process of making the clothes. And so he is the pattern maker, the flat pattern maker and the tailor all rolled into one.

International markets

“I am inspired by Japanese designer Kawakubo Rei and British designer Hussein Chalayan. I am interested in conceptual fashion where the initial designs may or may not be wearable but then I have to take the idea forward with the clothes.”

And that’s why he says it was important to do the Paris Fashion Week in October 2006 where he showcased the Spring/Summer collection for 2007. “What is good about international market is nobody really looks at labels. If the work is liked it is selected. It was an experience for me to do that to find my standing.”

And that led Ikareth make a small foray into Japanese markets. Being small has given Ikareth automatic exclusivity for the few crafted pieces that he makes. “It has also been a conscious decision not to live in a polluted city because of my children. They have changed my perspective and priority. It means scaling down but having a better quality of life.”

At present he is redesigning uniforms for a hotel group in the Maldives and working on his new collection in linen. Design for him is not limited to just appearance, he’s looking beyond form.

The pattern maker has ideas of recycling old stock lying with designers into new designs giving them a ‘second life’. “The current situation in the world demands that we be more conscious of our environment,” says the earthy designer. Well, should we say this is better by design.