Aneeth Arora of Péro has a busy year ahead, what with the sustainable fashion brand’s usual round of Milan, Paris and New York showcases coming up. But the media-shy designer also has a passion project in the heart of Fort Kochi, one that has recently seen her collect both plants and bobbleheads with quiet excitement. At the Njaliparambu Junction in the port city, just a three-minute walk from the Santa Cruz Basilica, is a two-storied Portuguese building where Aneeth spent several weeks last December and hopes to return soon. It houses One Zero Eight, a conceptual space by Ramesh Menon and Alpi Boylla of Save the Loom project, where Aneeth is both retailing a capsule collection and pitching in as “part-time problem solver”.
One Zero Eight was introduced during Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2018 as a pop-up by Save the Loom, a non-profit that rallied to help weavers in the small town of Chendamangalam whose looms and livelihoods were destroyed in Kerala’s floods that year. Ramesh a former consultant with the Fashion Design Council of India, roped in some of the country’s leading designers to create contemporary garments from handspun handwoven khadi from Gandhi Smarak Grama Seva Kendram in North Paravur, to help these weavers. Each designer created three-four garments to form part of the exhibit called Colours of Resilience. As for the store itself, designed by Italy-trained Himanshu Shani of 11.11/eleven eleven, it featured suspended hanger racks and repurposed parts of partly destroyed looms rescued from the deluge.
For the fifth edition of KMB, currently underway, Ramesh and Alpi have turned the pop-up into a permanent address. “We set up One Zero Eight to bring in the larger story of handmade in India, placing it in a luxury space with ideas that encourage conversations and put the spotlight on artisans as much as the design community,” says Ramesh. “Its success compelled us to think long term and how we could encourage and build the fashion design community in Kerala.” The Portuguese villa, reportedly 450 years old (known locally as ‘Billy and Binny’s house’), was restored in seven weeks to coincide with the launch of the Biennale. Ramesh credits Himanshu, Péro’s Aneeth, and experiential designer Wasim Khan for playing “a pivotal role” in the creation of this new space.
Continuing with the Colours of Resilience concept, they returned to the original team of celebrated designers with the handspun handwoven mundu and thorthu fabric “more like a college assignment, to see where it can be taken four years later after the first experiment,” Ramesh says. Péro’s staple jacket — reversible “and therefore two for the price of one” according to Aneeth — stands out for its construction and as a tribute to Kochi’s spirit.
Perfect for the hot days ahead, with the cream Save the Looms fabric on the outside, a mushru green and white striped lining woven in South India, and buttons from Rajasthan. “The Kochi fabric was starched and very stiff. But what it became, with a lot of handling, was very different and beautiful,” says Aneeth.
At ₹25,000, it is already popular with European visitors to the Biennale. In addition to the curios and artifacts from Mattancherry that she has tucked away in little corners of this store, Aneeth has also contributed to the garden here, choosing a cluster of trees, tall palms and flowering creepers “for character”.
There is a water apple or chambakka tree, in the backyard, planted for its glossy leaves and the showy, cream-white blooms promised by the gardener. And at the entrance is the Port St. John’s creeper that has not begun rambling yet, purple sage, the usual suspects of hibiscus and frangipani. “Our biggest worry now? Goats!” laughs Aneeth.
The store features 35 designer clothing and accessory brands and five weaving cooperatives and includes names like Rajesh Pratap Singh, Gaurav Jai Gupta (Akaaro), Ujjwal Dubey (Antar Agni), Padmaja Krishnan, Naushad Ali and Uma Prajapati (Upasana). Priced from ₹500 - ₹78,000.