A supreme sensibility: Celebrity couturiere Anamika Khanna opens up about her journey in design so far
From making the first six garments for Damania Fashion in 1995 to being the prima donna of Indian fashion industry, the journey has been a long one for India’s First Lady of fashion, Anamika Khanna. “When I started out, it was only by chance, the Damania awards had come up and I had sent in my sketches and won the awards. Little did I know that this would be one of the defining moments in my career,” says the couturier. The journey has been tough and arduous since she had no formal training and hailed from Kolkata, which at that time didn’t much exist on the fashion map. “I made mistakes aplenty, learned from them and moved forward. The only thing I knew was that if I do this, I wouldn’t buy fabrics and cut them up to make garments, I would innovate. I kept experimenting with things.
The journey is not just fulfilling, it has given me my purpose and identity,” recounts the petite designer, who wakes up every morning looking forward to create something new. A favourite with Bollywood stars, Khanna has dressed many well-known power women, from Oprah Winfrey to Sonam K Ahuja. Recently, she came up with her ready-to-wear Spring/Summer collection and what a difference an ‘A’ makes! There’s a crisp and clear message that ‘Everything is AK-OK’ in her powerful Spring 2019/RTW collection. “Free from norms, free from expectations, free from rules, free from limitations and free to fly — that’s the message I want to convey,” she tells us. She derived inspiration for AK-OK when her twin sons Vishesh and Viraj went to the US to study, and they had to communicate across vast distances, often about heavy topics such as Anamika’s health. NASA invented the term ‘A-OK’ apparently because the sharp sound of an ‘A’ could cut through static and space easier than the sound of an ‘O’. Harnessing the transmission power of the term ‘A-OK’ and adding a personal twist of Anamika’s initials — A-OK became AK-OK — a secret code that would travel back and forth between them for four years.
We sit with the pretty woman for a quick chat on her latest designs and future plans. Excerpts from the interview:
What is your Spring/Summer collection 2019 all about?
We have just launched the RTW S/S 2019 collection. Feeling AK-OK can have many looks associated with it, and this collection reflects the diversity of what being AK-OK might look like from the gym to a sangeet session. I am inspired by underground warriors, women like me, who battle immense challenges, but are able to pull through and make the world a more caring, interesting, and beautiful place. It’s all about living Goddesses who are anything but just domesticated, and refuse to stand still on a pedestal.
Having never been to any design school, what has been the mantra for your success?
I think what I learnt by making mistakes, and constantly studying and researching, made up for not having a formal training. My other big learning came when I launched Ana-Mika internationally. It changed my thought process, and I realised what I needed to do to come out of a cocoon and experiment with Indian wear. Not going to design school helped me to not stay constricted in a certain thought process. But things are different now, as it’s tougher to find your own space, and design education almost seems necessary.
Has it been a difficult journey as an entrepreneur, more so, because you are a woman?
Not really. In a fashion designer’s case, besides needing great business acumen, one needs marketing and design skills, and needs to be constantly moving, as fashion changes every season. One is judged for everything they do, competition is fierce, social media is demanding... so, yes, it’s tough. I don’t think being a woman has made a difference, as a matter of fact, I feel I can be more sensitive.
Your designs have always been feted for their breezy, effortless styles. How do you make them so simple yet so striking?
That is my ethos. One needs to feel that sense of freedom and feel effortless. I think a lot about how I would feel while wearing something, what it would demand. As we grow up, and there is an increase in lifestyle pressure, I make an effort to ensure that our clothes do not add to that pressure.
You are known for drapes and signature drawstring capes. How did you first get an idea of making such stylish capes?
My experimentation started long ago. I did not want Indian fashion to be bound, but I also felt the need to give it a global essence, which seemed to be missing. I started melding Western designs with Indian shapes, keeping in mind Indian bodies, the culture and ethos. The capes are a part of one such experiment. Women love to feel ethereal and the cape hides as well shows off what it needs to.
Your mother has been extremely fashion conscious. How big was her influence on you as a designer?
My mother has played a significant role in shaping me, my aesthetic, inculcating discipline and value systems in me. I have photographs of her in the 1960s and ’70s, where she looks like a diva. My late maternal grandmother and mother were able to embroider beautifully and were perfectionists — and learning from them is paying off now.
How different is global fashion from Indian fashion?
Our fashion industry is still not as old, and we are constantly evolving. But globally, we still have a long way to go.
Which Indian designers’ work do you admire most?
Rohit Bal, Rajesh Pratap Singh would be on the top of my list.
Do you wear Indian designers?
I mostly wear myself! Yes I do sometimes wear other designers as well.
What do you think of Sabyasachi as a designer?
Sabyasachi is a master businessman, an acute visionary, and he has managed to change the scene of Indian fashion. I respect him for that.
Your global prêt label, Ana-Mika, was available across 100 stores including Harrods. What are the future plans?
My global label was available in those stores until I terminated the partnership some time ago, but
I have plans to restart it again.
Ivory and pastel shades are your favourite colours, why?
Like I mentioned before, my designs reflect who I am, while I accept most colours, ivory/white and black are my favourite — no confusion there.
What are your fashion tips for our readers this year?
I believe in one thing constantly — following blind fashion is worthless if it doesn’t work for you. Find your own style and adapt. There is no harm in being yourself and being comfortable.
You have been able to keep away from being stereotyped either as an anti-fit or a wedding wear designer. How did you do that?
I am hard on myself, and I am constantly experimenting, struggling and never happy. I think constant involvement has helped me find my own style, as I have been in this industry for so many years. I’m also more confident to take more risks.
Sonam K Ahuja is an ardent fan of your work. How is she as a person?
Sonam is special and I’m her fan! She is intelligent, stunning and has a sense of style that no one else does. I think she is responsible for bringing serious fashion to Bollywood, she is kind, well-spoken, and gentle and at the same time so strong! She is spectacular!
Your twin boys are grown men now. What has the journey of motherhood been like?
My boys are 23 now and totally involved with me at work. It’s a learning process for them. I think they are my closest friends. I’m able to hang out with them, accept their thoughts and still be a mom, it’s fantastic!
How do you balance job and home?
It’s tough, but when you love both, it’s fine. One has to constantly multitask and there isn’t much time for other things. Now that the boys are older it’s much easier, though there is still work 24/7.
You have achieved so much as a designer, are you content?
Honestly, I don’t believe in being successful or not. I know I’m on a journey and constantly evolving and no, I will never be content. I have to constantly keep evolving.
Any other future plans?
I have plans to start a menswear collection, and a new store in Mumbai.
Best-dressed female: Sonam Kapoor Ahuja
Best-dressed male: Amitabh Bachchan
Favourite dress: Basic white cotton kurtas
Wardrobe must have: Attitude
Favourite cut: Our own versions of the dhoti pants
Fashion for you is: Change
Favourite author: Haruki Murakami
Global fashion icons: Madonna, Rei Kawakubo, John Galliano & Vivienne Westwood
Bollywood star you’d like to dress: Rekha
Favourite pastime: Watching crime on Netflix