Homes and gardens

Why décor becomes Ritu Kumar

Fifty years, 90 stores, four designer labels. In a career that has seen more highs than lows, and in which she has reinvented herself and our textiles more times than we can count, seguing into home décor is just another milestone. The only surprise is that Ritu Kumar didn’t do it earlier! Featuring 10 collections — from tableware and bed linen to soft furnishings and décor pieces — Ritu Kumar Home is an homage to her exploration of Indian textiles, traditions and crafts.

“I don’t want to use [the word] ‘shift’,” says Kumar, 74, over a quick phone call, discussing her expansion from fashion to décor. In fact, the designer — who unveiled a pastoral collection with an equestrian vibe at Lakmé Fashion Week soon after she launched her home line — insists the two “aren’t different spaces”. “My work and research on old Indian textiles started close to 45 years ago. And textiles, whether printed, woven or embroidered, lend themselves naturally to home furnishing.” She points to the many embroidery styles from Kutch that have found their way on to cushions and bed covers, and how, earlier, emperors used to have elaborately printed tents as “travelling palaces”. Tented interiors may not be in these days, but “the prints are being used for wall hangings and wallpapers”, she says.

Why décor becomes Ritu Kumar

Guided by heritage

The 10 collections epitomise “the best there is in a particular region, on textile”. The black and white pieces of ‘Awadh’ are inspired by the intricate jaali patterns found in Lucknow; the ‘Kalamkari’ pieces borrow the rich hues of the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana hand-painting and block-printing technique. “And ‘Banki’ is a cute word for Bagru and Sanganer prints,” adds the grande dame of Indian fashion, about the Rajasthani-inspiration behind her earthen-toned dishware and table linen. The line also has a collection of kansa (a form of bronze) cutlery, the simple metal offsetting the deep, striking colours of the table linen.

Her favourite, however, is ‘Jaamevar’, inspired by the regal shawls from Kashmir (she recently recreated older, forgotten designs for the 2019 film, No Fathers in Kashmir). “The world has not seen a better design. [Jamavar] has a perennial glamour; that’s why [globally] they keep repeating the so-called paisley,” she says, explaining that the exquisite fabric was mainly worn by men, and was never used as an ornamental feature in homes.

Why décor becomes Ritu Kumar

Tapping into the archives

In a recent interview with Vogue, the designer shared that her new sub-brand carries the weight of nostalgia. When I ask her about it, she says, “I think it started in the ’70s. I was always looking for 17th and 18th century Indian fabrics, and I [mostly] found them in museums abroad. I discovered that the older it was, the more pure it was in its essence. Hence, the word ‘nostalgia’.” Her search for India’s textiles took her around the world, from the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Textiles) in France, to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “Now Google puts you in touch with any museum,” she laughs.

How it all began
  • The idea has been simmering for a while. “Almost 35 years back, when we were doing hand-block printing of clothes in Calcutta, during the monsoons the fabrics would not dry. I would print on leftover pieces. We even started doing smaller blocks to fit on to handkerchiefs and cushion [covers], with kantha work,” she says, adding how these sold out at the store. “So, it has always been at the back of my mind to do quilts, runners and tableware.”

This research, and endeavour to rediscover Indian craftsmanship, which fuels her brand — she even authored the book, Costumes and Textiles of Royal India, in 1999 — culminated in her foray into homeware. “We have a huge directory of textiles in our archive, and the kind of right to be able to extend it [into] a proper home furnishing line.” Kumar believes the styles and motifs of our traditional arts are extremely malleable, allowing themselves to be re-invented. But the process of re-imagining textile arts for the home proved to be tough, she admits. “The challenge was like what you’d face if you were taking something out of its original context and putting it into a modern one,” she says. “For instance, if you have a beautiful border and you want to put it on a plate, you have to draw it again. But it was fun, too, because you realise the genius of the original, the [difficulty of the] design.”

What can we expect next? For now, she is focussing on offering Ritu Kumar Home across the country. “I have more lovely stories on textiles that I would like to bring out (but I can’t reveal more now). After all, 10 hardly takes care of all our impetus in textile,” she concludes.

Starting from ₹900 (cocktail napkins) upwards, on ritukumar.com.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 4:35:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/why-dcor-becomes-ritu-kumar/article29299007.ece

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