Fashion Fashion

Design cues from the hills

Archana Rao

Archana Rao   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

A moodboard in Archana Rao’s studio is filled with photographs, sketches and 3D fabric flowers that hark back to her 15-day trip to the Nilgiri hills in December 2018. Another moodboard has line drawings of bugs and beetles by graphic artist Vydika Rao.

Archana and Vydika were part of the Dabaki Rising team from Hyderabad that travelled to Nilgiris, observing its flora, tea estates on the rolling hills, and its pathways scattered with Eucalyptus leaves.

  • Pastel pink or ‘dirty pink’ as it’s called, is Archana’s favourite colour. She remembers designing a pink jacket with white polka dots when she first applied to the Lakme Fashion Week. She also encourages men to incorporate a garment or two in pastel pink in their wardrobes.
  • These flowers grow wild in the Nilgiris and have raised ecological concerns since they hinder the growth of native plant species. However, taking a design cue from these flowers, Archana made a pink-blue beaded detachable collar that can be used on garments.

Archana treasures poring over hand-bound books with hand-painted artworks at the heritage Nilgiri Library. “The colour story for this collection began there,” she says. She read up about the flowers of the region, walked through the parks taking photographs and wanted to transfer the floral patterns as 3D fabric blooms on garments. In her trademark style, she uses sheer silk organzas, satin, soft cottons and twills for a range of wearable separates — skirts, overlays, jackets, dresses, lightweight trenchcoats and saris in a palette of pinks, powder blues, lavender inspired by the Kurinji blooms, mustard yellows, ivory whites and neutral beige.

A few garments have distinct floral motifs while others, bereft of any embroidery, have ruffles to resemble the flowers. If you’ve followed Archana’s journey in fashion since her debut at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2012, you would have noticed her fondness for sheer and the ‘dirty pink’ hue. She likes her clothes to be “season-less”. She explains, “I use sheer, lightweight fabrics even for the winter collections. I don’t offer winter solutions; I encourage my buyers to layer up.”

She’s happy to inhabit an “alternative space” in the fashion world. She doesn’t design the usual heavy lehengas and cholis targeting the wedding market. She offers a contemporary take on saris and Indian ethnics with her easy-to-wear garments. “I’ve had people buying these saris for pre-wedding cocktail evenings,” she says. The contemporary spin comes naturally to her. She admits that in the beginning “it was a task to design Indian wear”. The change happened when label Ekaya, known for its Banaras saris, asked her to make Banaras saris cool for younger wearers.

Today, as much as she likes designing a pink bow top with a pink slip dress, ruffle crop top and ruffle trousers, she also enjoys designing a sari.

A few ensembles from the collection

A few ensembles from the collection   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

The Nilgiris-inspired collection is a work in progress, as the possibilities are limitless. This ethos extends to her first home linen and décor collection, for which she collaborated with Vydika Rao, who did the artwork.

Bags and decor with Toda embroidery

Bags and decor with Toda embroidery   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

In the hills, the designers interacted with women from the Toda tribes, getting to know more about their indigenous embroidery in deep red and black. The Toda women aren’t new to fashion collaborations. But they adhere to their signature patterns and colours.

Cushion covers with motifs from the Nilgiris

Cushion covers with motifs from the Nilgiris   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Archana liaises with the Toda women through Shalom Welfare Society. The women designed swatches with embroidery, which Archana’s team used along with a few pearls and pine wood to create bags. The wooden bags may use cloth straps with Toda embroidery or the Toda-embroidered cotton cloth accentuates the flap. “The women use their craft to make generic wallets and purses, but we wanted to do something modern and unique,” she sums up.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 3:55:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/fashion-the-nilgiris-by-archana-rao-is-characterised-by-vintage-3d-flowers-and-a-modern-take-on-toda-embroidery/article26455499.ece

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