In love with all that's ethnic

Sashikant Naidu at home in Hyderabad.  

His forte lies in turning a piece of fabric into stunning saris, flowy skirts and enviable dresses. Like most designers of his generation, Sashi too had a tough time convincing his family that he wanted to be a designer. Much like a scene out of 3 Idiots, Sashikant's father too wanted his son to be an engineer. “Those four years of my life were the most boring. Engineering did nothing for me. But the experience of living away from home taught me a lot,” Sashikant recalls laughing about the time spent becoming an electronics engineer. Once he finished his graduation, the rebel in him shunned placement routines and charted his own course. “I chanced upon fashion designing but didn't want to do a full-fledged graduation programme. Luckily, NIFT had a one-year comprehensive course,” he says.

Sashikant is still a rebel but things have changed. When he debuted at Lakme India Fashion Week early this month, his aging father was there too. “I wanted him to see a big show of mine. I wanted him to see how I'd turned my passion into a viable business and a good career,” says Sashi. Days later when friends and close family members got together, Sashi's father told them how his rebellious son has made him proud.

He has been in the fashion business for nearly a decade and has a loyal high-profile clientele, but Sashi never felt the need to market himself. “In the last two years, I felt the need to do something more. I needed to do it for those who were working closely with me, my friends and family than for myself,” he says. Reflecting, he says, “There was a time when I wondered where I was. You wouldn't find me on page 3 and I wasn't often written about on page 1. But I was slogging away trying to be a better designer who was not merely driven by market needs. I did what I believed in.”

Once he was short listed to take part in LIFW, the next two months were a blur. Sashi and his team worked long hours, on many days from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Luckily, Sashi had worked closely with weavers of Punduru, with the help of kalamkari expert Mamata Reddy, sourcing khadi with varied counts of 80, 100 and 120, which gave the fabric a lustrous, malleable texture. Sashi remembers the days in Punduru vividly. “It was amazing to think how we would sit in a place for long hours and get things done. For the weavers and kalamkari artists, it was tough to get the right finish given the searing heat. Mamata helped by getting air conditioners fixed to maintain the right temperature.”

Eco-friendly fabrics, natural colours, ethnic wear… the work was on. But he needed a muse for the LIFW collection. A fine morning, when he left for his morning walk at 5.30 a.m., he wondered why Indians yearned for lighter skin tones. One thought led to another and he was thinking of Goddess Parvati, in her many forms — sometimes dark and sometimes fair. He named his collection Parvati and designed wearable resort wear in khadis, muls and cottons. “LFW's theme was resort wear. For India, resorts are not just about beaches. So I stuck to ethnic wear,” he says. Accessories were minimum. The sacred turmeric thread, a metaphor for simplicity and natural dyes, was used instead of chunky accessories.

“Fifty to 60 people had flown to Mumbai from Hyderabad to cheer for me. The LIFW venue was like mini Hyderabad,” says Sashi. His friends and colleagues like hair stylist Sachin and fashion photographer Sharath Shetty were there too.

The talk about LIFW staying true to Indian seasons and focusing on summer/resort wear was divided but Sashi feels it's a good move to tap the burgeoning domestic market. “Not to say that there are not many international buyers. This time, there were at least double the international buyers as last time.” He mentions an Italian actress who liked his collection and is in touch with him for her future projects.

Even before the LIFW tag, Sashi's saris and artfully crafted blouses have been a hit with well-heeled women but Sashi prefers not to indulge in name-dropping. He says, “Quite often, my blouses are a hit and the saris sell on that merit. I feel it's unfair to sell six yards of sari and just a piece of cloth for a blouse and leave the women at the mercy of a tailor who can make or mar the blouse.” Among those who've loved this work is Pinky Reddy. “She's been quite a support,” says Sashi.

In the past, Sashi too has felt the compulsion of ‘why only khadi, mangalagiri and kalamkari?' and flirted with chiffons and georgettes only to revert to his mainstay. “If I can, I'll work all my life with eco-friendly fabrics. Foreigners and NRIs value our cottons and khadis better than Indian women. In our society, if people spend a certain amount on a sari, they want it to ‘show'. But I can't do bling. Sometimes I am asked why my hand-crafted saris are priced high. I tell them that they aren't paying for the fabric but my design and creativity.”

Sashi has dreams. Dreams of showing at Milan, Paris, New York… But for now, he's getting his hands dirty at work in his studio in Banjara Hills. There are orders to be met with post LIFW.

Inner space

Sashikant Naidu's living space is an extension of what he believes in. One look at the artefacts and paintings that adorn his abode and you know his love for all things eco-friendly and natural aren't just lip service. He hates having empty spaces, which explains the paintings and artefacts all over the household.

Pointing out to a kalamkari painting he picked up at an exhibition at People's Plaza, he narrates how he frequented a stall four days in a row, hoping to meet the artist behind the work. The artist, meanwhile, had left for his native village. The organisers helped Sashi talk to the artist on phone and the deal was made. “When the painter visited Hyderabad next time, I asked him to come home and showed him how I displayed his work. He was moved to tears,” says Sashi. Picking up paintings, small and large, has meant spending a fortune. “I am not a spendthrift but when poor artists show me their work and tell them I can even pay them on instalments, I cannot refuse.”

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 7:27:44 PM |

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