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In fine print

SHALINI SHAH
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TABLE FOR TWO For designer Anupama Dayal, home is where the hearth is, and prints and colour where the obsession lies

LIVING LIFE BURGER SIZE Anupama Dayal at Smoke House Deli, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi
LIVING LIFE BURGER SIZE Anupama Dayal at Smoke House Deli, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi

I t's a day after the showing of her Spring/ Summer 2011 collection that we meet designer Anupama Dayal for lunch at Smoke House Deli in Pragati Maidan. The line, testimony to Anupama's oft-confessed “disease with colour”, was called ‘Shalimar', amalgamating Moghul and pop elements. Prints, being the highlight, ranged from floral motifs drawn from Moghul gardens to the more fun mojiris and cockerels in a signature Anupamaa colour palette of lime, turquoise, fuchsia and the likes.

Lunch is a hearty burger with, yes, French fries, washed down with a smoothie — no frilly salads for her. Despite what Amy, Rachel's super-rude sister in Friends, likes to believe, it's not a case of ‘a moment on your lips, forever on your hips' for Anupama.

“I don't gain weight. I've had two children. People ask me how I can tuck in so much and not gain weight. I think it's because — though it may sound like a cliché — I eat healthy,” Anupama says. So it's a blanket ban on processed food of any kind — chips, cola, anything of the sort. “I like it as close to home as possible. But I love food.” She also confesses to being a good cook and a big eater. Favourites, therefore, could be coastal fare (“mountains of white rice with hot, fiery fish curry”) or Punjabi staples like rajma-chawal. She's not much into dessert, however, though she does admit to being a bit of a chocoholic.

Osmosis from childhood

It's been 10 years since Anupama moved to Delhi (from Bangalore), and six since she set up her label Anupamaa. An interest in textiles, she says, was a result of osmosis from childhood. Originally from Kolkata, her dad being in the Infantry meant 10 different schools. However, her mom, a textile designer, opened Anupama's eyes to a world she now inhabits. “Eventually, it was only natural that I would design because it's like a buzz in my head that doesn't stop,” she ponders.

It was after the second child was born that Anupama set up her label. “I was fairly fulfilled with motherhood. But there was a designer in me that was seeking expression. I didn't know anyone in Delhi — or I didn't know the right people or didn't care. But people would always ask me where I got what I was wearing. When I got my printing together and had five kurtis in my studio, people would come and the five would be gone and the need would be for 10 and 50. The journey was very fast. In less than a year, the label was a sell-out from Melange, Ensemble… But they were all irritated with me because I just can't cope with sending enough. The problem has always been of supply, never demand.”

Anupamaa now retails from 30 countries in Asia, Europe, West Asia and South America. While this season is her third at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi, she's had 12 at Mumbai's Lakme Fashion Week. She's abashedly sportive while recalling her debut show in Mumbai.

“I won't say I got trashed. But when I did my second show, they went, ‘Oh, my god! This girl has really improved!' And suddenly I was in magazines after my second show. They said, ‘The girl to watch out for.' What does that mean? That the first show was a disaster!”

Obviously, she adds, she learnt fast.

She acknowledges that colour and printing techniques have emerged as her label's forte, elements she says she's almost “obsessive” about.

The colours, she says, come as a shocker at trade shows abroad, like the Tranoi in Paris. “The first day I go it's always a sea of black and white. And I go with my hundred colours and feel, ‘Oh! God, they'll think here's this country bumpkin.' And within half an hour it all settles. I think the emotional resonance that comes from our handmade clothes is not something that is so easy to put down, and it does attract a whole lot of people.” She adds, “There's a huge world out there. My problems have always been about capacity, organising myself, about having the correct business model, backward integration… because it's essentially cottage. How do you do the numbers? How do you make quality-control requirements keeping the essence of the product alive? Those have really been my struggles, more than the demand. Everybody loves India.”

SHALINI SHAH

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