From Rehane to Vivek Karunakaran, Chennai designers use the city’s architecture as inspiration for this photo series

We take a look inward, at Chennai’s iconic designers who have exclusively created 12 looks for Indulge, that resemble patterns, curves, and colours of our city’s most celebrated heritage structures
Chaitanya Rao & Rehane
Chaitanya Rao & Rehane

Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen are not names that one would typically associate with architectural design, but a deep dive into the archives of some of fashion’s greatest sartorialists will show that each of them has drawn inspiration from iconic structures world over in some form or the other.

Design houses have looked to arresting architectural landmarks like the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House and even the windows of the Guimard hotel, deftly weaving defining elements of these heritage structures into their choices of colour, embroidery, surface techniques and most importantly, their silhouettes. 

Closer home, the past week saw New Delhi-based designer Rimzim Dadu translate her love for structure, texture and everyday building material into her first-ever line of metallic menswear. As Coco Chanel famously said, “Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions”, and the interplay of design elements involved in both architecture and fashion has hardly ever been subtle.

This anniversary, we take a look inward, at Chennai’s iconic designers like Vivek Karunakaran, Chaitanya Rao, Sidney Sladen, Richa Goenka, Rehane and Heeba Sait, who have exclusively created 12 looks for Indulge, that resemble patterns, curves, angles and colours of our city’s most celebrated heritage structures.

Dramatic, yet chic, this Vivek Karunakaran statement, engineered sequinned embroidery dress is crafted from luxurious French tulle. Accentuated with a sculpted skirt in black, this ensemble is complete with a zipper-edged waistband. Price on request. 

Brave is beautiful

Chennai-based designer Vivek Karunakaran has been pushing the boundaries of design, looking for quirky and offbeat creative possibilities in fashion, ever since he launched his brand a decade ago. For his Festive ’19 collection, the designer tells us that he has been inspired by the idea that is Chennai. “Whenever people think of the city, they think of the word ‘safe’, which in a way is good. But it has also come to mean playing it safe in design and fashion. This is the impression I would like to change,” says Vivek. Set against the Karl Schmidt memorial, a landmark honouring a brave Dutch sailor, this designer also looks to break new ground with experimental and bold silhouettes. 

Vivek Karunakaran’s ensemble features a raw silk skirt in deep red with geometric applique and metallic embroidery scattered at the hem. Layered with an armour shrug, the designer further pushes the architectural construction of the silhouette by adding a contoured cage hand-cut to fit with a zipper at the front. Price on request.

Pics | Ganesh Toasty  
Model | Reshma Nambiar
Wardrobe | Vivek Karunakaran
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai, Page 3 Salon
Location | Karl Schmidt Memorial, Elliot’s Beach, Besant Nagar 

Fit for the gods

Following a similar strain of aesthetics as his previous collection that is all about lightweight fabrics that allow the wearer seamless movement, designer Chaitanya Rao transforms a lightweight Kanjeevaram drape into a gown. Inspired by the devotees in their silk saris decked with gold jewellery flocking the 7th century CE Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chaitanya transposes this image into a 
jewel-toned ensemble with a gold zari border. “The motifs used in a Kanjeevaram sari are heavily based on the temples, palaces and paintings. The sheer magnitude of textures, colours and designs of these silk saris are a demonstration of Indian skill, just like the giant gopuram,” he says, referring to the temple that is an emblem of the Dravidian architecture. 

This Kajeevaram silk dress wins points for its feminine and playful silhouette. Possessing a pronounced Indian leaning, this ensemble resembles the sari drape with its dramatic panelling around the waist. Price on request.

Pic | R Satish Babu 
Model | Preethy Karan
Wardrobe | Chaitanya Rao
Jewellery | Raji Anand
Make-up | PrakatWork
Hair | Anura Rai, Page 3 Salon
Location | Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore

Stairway to sunshine

Chaitanya Rao conceived a geometric set as a part of his latest Festive/Winter collection. His inspiration? The art deco and expressionist art and architecture, which is a lot like the 16th-century 
wooden carvings that were brought to the Taj Connemara from old temples of Mahabalipuram and now line the walls of the grand staircase at the 165-year-old colonial relic. “The inspiration is very literal — 
the colour palette and the dramatic cascading ruffles on the dress’ bodice,” says the designer.

Slip into this bright yellow gown by Chaitanya Rao for instant glamour. Crafted from silk, this stunning fitted one-shoulder evening gown has dramatic ruffles and is the ideal statement piece for a cocktail party. Price on request.

Pic | R Satish Babu 
Model |  Varshita Thatavarthi
Wardrobe | Chaitanya Rao
Jewellery | Kreshya
Make-up and hair | PrakatWork
Location | Taj Connemara

Open house

Sidney Sladen has found new ways to champion the flower trend well beyond summertime. The floral inspiration that dominates this Chennai-based designer’s ethnic wear collection resembles the floral window grill designs as seen on the historic Senate House, that was built in 1879. “I think flowers have a vintage charm, but are also trans-seasonal,” says the designer talking about his collection. Sidney’s latest line that comes just in time for the festive season pays homage to the period charm of the building, which is considered to be one of the best and oldest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in India.

Necklines go low in these hand-embroidered lehengas. Replacing heavy embellishments, the yellow 100-gram silk ensemble features sequin work and Swarovski crystals, in vertical panels, while the pink georgette lehenga has opaque sequins and cut glass beads. We absolutely love the ruffled layer organza sleeves which remind us of the waves crashing on to the beach right across the road. Price on request.

Reinventing the bandhani technique in contemporary ways, this ensemble combines the tie and dye technique with a kadi print. Worn with an asymmetrical bias cut kurta and silk chudi, this look is functional as well as stylish. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver:
Models | Mansa Sunil Kumar, Fuego Prince and Santana Maria Lambert:
Wardrobe | Sidney Sladen
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik 
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | Senate House, University of Madras

Beam me up!

The superstars of South Indian cinema — from Trisha to Ramya Krishnan and even Rajinikanth — are on all the best-dressed list on every red carpet, thanks to Sidney Sladen’s statement cocktail wear. Known for his use of glitter, shine and heavy work, Sidney’s signature silhouettes are fitted and dramatic with interesting necklines and pay great focus to the construction of the garment. Much like the iconic Chennai Lighthouse that was built 1977, this Chennai designer’s ensembles are all about standing tall amongst the madding crowd. “With the number of parties and events that people attend, people need a new look that really stands out,” says the designer. 

Hand-stitched ruffles and Ostrich feathers are the highlights of the gowns by Sidney Sladen. Created with over 30 meters of French net, the blue ensemble comes with complete with a curved silk attaché with horsehair braid and boning, embellished with Swarovski crystals. The black-tailed gown crafted from neoprene and highlighted with black sequins and crystals, use feathers placed around the shoulders to bring the drama. Price on request.

This silk white suit with a Duchess satin lapel is a classic timeless piece. Pair it up with a simple tuxedo shirt and pink silk tie complete the look. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver:
Models | Mansa Sunil Kumar, Kennith Gaeden, and Santana Maria Lambert:
Wardrobe | Sidney Sladen:
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik: 
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon: 
Location | Chennai Lighthouse, Marina Beach:

Regal regale

Designer Richa Goenka is known for blending experimental silhouettes and vivid hues into eclectic but 
elegant apparel. Showcasing her masterful use of colour, like the 251-year-old antique-stained glass found within the former official residence of the Nawab of Arcot, Richa tells us that an interesting palette is the best way to highlight detailing on an ensemble. “There’s usually always 
an element of black in my garments. Not only does it look good on any kind of silhouette, but it also can be combined with over-the-top embroidery as well. However, whenever I use colour, it is usually 
a bright or bold colour shade that is often used to enhance the design.”

Designer Richa understands the struggle of the six yards of drapes, pleats and tucks. This shortened, lighter version of the sari, that comes with readymade pleats can be styled over anything — from jeans to culottes and pants. Made from embossed velvet fabric, the constructed drape can be teamed up with a blazer. The designer chooses a mesh cape jacket with tassels and bead detailing. Price on request.

For the festive season, Richa Goenka decided to have fun with sleeves as a part of her collection Festive Edge. Fashioned from silk, this cape top in fuchsia pink and black comes heavily embroidered with golden zari yoke and feathers. Throw on a pair of fitted pants or style them with jeans as per the occasion. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Shweta Gai, Sindhoori C
Wardrobe | Richa Goenka
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | Kalas Mahal

Mall of fame

Richa Goenka makes a strong case for embroidery and detailing in her collections. This philosophy can be seen in her extensive use of meshwork, embellishments and tassels. Parallels of this fascination for interweaving infinite patterns into her garments can be found within the iconic arches and filigree work that was part of the original façade of Spencer Plaza that was constructed in 1864. “The brand focuses on designs that are simple and elegant with impeccable detailing and creating garments that are one of 
a kind,” shares the designer who has styled Nandita Das, Shriya Saran, Dipti Bhatnagar and Sameera Reddy, among others.

Taking inspiration from all things Bohemian, this three-panel cape dress is prominent in its use of tassels, feathers and bead and tube embroidery. This georgette cape with asymmetric sleeves makes for a perfect fusion party statement piece and is best worn with a little black dress. Price on request.

Replete with a metallic black and grey, this mesh cape jacket embellished with sequins, crystals and fringe detailing is versatile and chic. Complete with a high neck collar that features hand embroidery, bold shoulders and slim fit pants with sequin embellishment, this ensemble is the way to make a statement, if you are feeling bold. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Shweta Gai, Sindhoori C
Wardrobe | Richa Goenka
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | Spencer Plaza

Maximum impact

Designer Rehane Yavar Dhala has been unapologetic about her love for maximalism and 
drama — usually seen in the form of exaggerated silhouettes or vibrant hand embroidery. Using the second oldest museum in the country — the 198-year-old Egmore Museum Theatre — to spotlight her design vocabulary, the first lady of fashion in Chennai says, “It is a nod to my design sensibilities.” Rehane’s collection combines cinched waistlines, bold shoulders and flowy hemlines with extensive gold and silver zari needlework.

Slip into this raw silk blouse with dora work that features delicate floral motifs. Paired with a minimal gold Kota tissue sari, this ensemble promises to be a standout. Price on request.

With the hand-dyed cowl dhoti pants and obi belt, this silk jacket using dori work in gold and zari is a modern take on the traditional Indian sadri jacket. The solid coloured dhoti separate offers a contrast to the extensive embroidery, allowing you to get acquainted with the idea of trying the maximalist trend. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Pavithra Malaiappan, Vincu Rachel Sam
Wardrobe | Rehane 
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | Egmore Museum Theatre

Pattern party

Mughal-inspired art, architecture and patterns have long remained an intrinsic part of the Indian design vocabulary. The 133-year-old Victoria Memorial Hall, built as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in Indo-Saracenic style, is a testament to how traditional Islamic motifs have found acceptance beyond the confines of geographic boundaries. Following suit, designer Rehane tells us that she has made use of the traditional Kashmiri Jamawar needlework to highlight these influences in fabric design. 

These long-flowing Peshwas with peach undertones feature a mix of floral hand embroidery and zari work. Paired with the Chanderi dupatta replete with Jamawar work on pashmina, this ethnic ensemble ticks all the right boxes. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Pavithra Malaiappan, Vincu Rachel Sam
Wardrobe | Rehane 
Styling | Sunil Menon; assisted by Sunil Karthik  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | National Art Gallery, Victoria Memorial Hall

Line of thought

Incorporating not only textures, prints and colours but also geometric elements and soft tailoring techniques, Heeba Sait, Creative Director of Design, at the decade-old luxury brand Gatsby-Aliph, states that their bespoke suits have always demonstrated the label’s penchant for shapes and proportions. Set against the bowstring arches and columns of one of the city’s oldest landmark carriageways — the 150-year-old Napier Bridge —Gatsby precision in construction and their use of clean lines are hard to ignore.

Minimal and chic, this bespoke cream suit from Gatsby captures the essence of the label that holds the distinction of dressing up red carpet royalty at Cannes and even the Oscars. A two-button single-breasted jacket cut from Irish linen, the tailored slim fit with a broad peak lapel is the perfect play on proportions. Price on request.

This sage plaid jacket from Yugen’19 is tailor-made from a superfine wool blend. Inspired by Japonism — the study of Japanese art — this collection showcases geometric patterns, both in its construction and choice of motif. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Mohammed Khan, Mahesh T
Wardrobe | Gatsby-Aliph
Styling | Sunil Menon  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | Napier Bridge

The bright side

Exploring a different design demographic, Gatsby’s festive collection for women combines the highlighter hue trend with innovative cutting and draping techniques. “Most designers seem to be following the heavily embroidered bridal trend. We decided to approach the trend differently and created a line aimed specifically at the entourage of the bride,” explains Heeba. The Triumph of Labour statue, as seen in the background, is representative of the handcrafted embroidery and artisanal craftsmanship seen in their collection of lehengas, dresses and shararas.

There are many things that we love about this sharara, such as the minimal detailing that offsets the vivid neon hue and the relaxed fit. This chiffon co-ord with pleat detailing on the bodice is the perfect substitute for that LBD. Price on request.

Made from chiffon, Gatsby’s red lehenga and jacket come embellished with contrasting tesselation embroidery. Dress it up with some statement jewellery and it makes for the perfect sangeet ensemble. Price on request.

Pic | Mahesh Ratnam; The Lightweaver 
Models | Jane Thompson, Madhuri Jain
Wardrobe | Gatsby-Aliph
Styling | Sunil Menon  
Make-up and Hair | Anura Rai & Venkat, Page 3 Salon 
Location | The Triumph of Labour statue,
@rebecca_vargese, @nanditaravi

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