Grace & detail

Just three years into the business and their clients include Sonia Gandhi, Kiran Rao and Nandita Das. The writer talks to Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, the designer duo behind Amrich.

July 12, 2014 06:18 pm | Updated 06:18 pm IST

Amrich's work

Amrich's work

A white kurta in gossamer-like hand-woven cotton is structured till the waist and then bursts into a cloud of fabric. The asymmetrical cut gives the simple garment a sinuous flourish. It’s poetic, yet playful. Retro, yet contemporary.

To Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, fashion is about dichotomy, and nothing helps accomplish the beauty of contrasts better than homespun textiles. If you are looking for the visceral appeal of shimmering crystals or sugary chiffons, then Amrich is not for you. “When it comes to hand-woven textiles, a woman is gently coaxed to appreciate the delicate balance between fragility and strength, subtlety and colour. It’s intrinsically charming; nevertheless a quirk quotient can be added. Handloom is versatile,” says the New Delhi-based design duo.

Amrich (a combination of Amit and Richard) is a creative partnership that was forged at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Amit, a science graduate, turned to textile design inspired by the feel of fabrics during an informal stint as graphic designer. Richard, who had graduated in Information Technology and Computer Application, joined NID for a post-graduate course in Apparel Design and Merchandising. “Both of us had no formal education in art or design. Being a multi-disciplinary design school, NID opened our eyes to a whole new world. Though we came from different backgrounds and were individualistic in our thinking, our value system was similar. At NID, we constantly shared and critiqued our work. Respect for each other’s aesthetics resulted in a strong friendship. As we began collaborating on projects, we realised that despite squabbles, the journey of creating garments together was exciting. Even today, our work probably stands out because it’s a blend of two contrasting viewpoints,” says Amit.

It was this dichotomy in design that got them a slot in Lakme Fashion Week’s GenNext category during their NID days in 2007. “It was an opportunity to showcase our work as professionals, on a national platform. It was also a trial period for our partnership.”

Their collection Itajime Blue — that turned the spotlight on the ancient art of clamp resist dyeing, a process that involves dexterous hand skills — wowed critics and visitors at the pageant. To Richard, the 12-garment line encapsulated their aesthetic and philosophy — “elegance in simplicity, beauty of handmade and the indulgence of comfort.”

The experience of working together and the positive vibes that radiated at LFW motivated the two to take their partnership forward. They collaborated on several projects on and outside the campus, keeping in mind their future label’s portfolio. The Clothes Manufacturing Association of India Award they won, while still studying at NID, was a clear indication of a partnership working at optimum level.

The entrepreneurial hustle in them finally made Amit and Richard formally launch Amrich in 2011. But the two were not in a hurry to hit a lucrative path with chic evening wear that comes with a sensory overload in machine-made fabrics. Instead, they stuck to their understated homespun values. What cemented their rising-star status was their fastidiousness in researching traditional weaves and textile techniques and updating them to create contemporary silhouettes.

The intricate folds of Shibori and the vibrant strokes of ikat , the richness of jamdani and the subtlety of hand embroidery, Amrich is all about grace and detail. “We make the sample pieces ourselves, trying to understand the possibilities and limitations, from fabric development and surface treatments to finishing the actual garment. It’s the thrill of reinventing something or adding value to something already existing that keeps us going. Looking at India’s vast textile, craft and clothing heritage inspires us. It’s the basis of all our work.”

In just three years, Amrich’s reputation rests on the shoulders of celebrities on the red carpet and important personalities on the corridors of power. Director Kiran Rao, actor Nandita Das, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and top honchos from the corporate world have been spotted in an Amrich sari, ensemble or stole.

It’s not just the quilt of retro references and ethos of handmade luxury that attract women of substance to the label. In a frivolity-filled fashion world, outré styling has become the norm. “A quirky touch adds a surprise element to a non-fussy garment. But the trick lies in knowing where to apply restraint,” they say.

When it comes to handmade textiles, it’s not an easy task to pull off big numbers. “We have a network of craft clusters working for us in villages in Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. A strong retail presence is important for the growth of a brand. However, we believe in quality over quantity. Even before we knew it, 25 stores were retailing Amrich, thanks to word-of-mouth publicity. Growth should be organic, particularly when it involves weaving communities. We should be in a position to steadily sustain them. It’s a two-way street.” Despite the fashion blitz online, Amit and Richard are not keen on online retail. “Hand-woven textiles are meant to be touched and experienced before buying. It’s not about shooting pretty pictures and putting them up on retail sites,” say the two, whose creations occupy a prime place in fashion houses such as Collage, Cinnamon, Ogaan, Ensemble and Amethyst. “Today, considering the burgeoning number of labels, it’s important to interpret fashion in an individualistic manner. Having a voice of your own helps. If you create a fine quality product, you can create a market for it.” That’s even if it is Wabi Sabi , a collection that looks for beauty in imperfections! We see the dichotomy working.

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