COVER | 'It's my inspiration that finds me': Designer Anju Modi on her India Couture Week collection that sums up her years of travel
In her latest couture collection The Road Less Travelled, the ace designer presents her glorious 3 decade long journey where she has visited more than 24 states in India and places abroad
The recently concluded India Couture Week showcased the exquisite craftsmanship of the most notable couturiers from across the country. On day five, designer Anju Modi, known for reviving the indigenous crafts of India, presented her collection The Road Less Travelled which marked her three-decade journey in the fashion industry. The collection encapsulates the designer’s takeaways from her insightful expeditions, that have put Indian heritage crafts and traditional weaves on the global map. The spectacular show had the gorgeous Aditi Rao Hydari as the showstopper in an embroidered mustard and olive green lehenga. The other models wore elegant ivory saris, delicately embroidered off-white sherwanis, modish kaftan sets and fusion wear ensembles. Talking about her collection, the designer tells us, “The Road Less Travelled is very close to my heart. It is inspired by my journeys around the world and is a tangible representation of my learnings, adventures, and explorations. The idea is to set viewers on an experiential journey as if they are viewing and flipping the pages of my personal travel journal and thereby learning about the label through my eyes. We have used different fibres like twill and matka silk along with vibrant thread work and rich zardozi embroidery to accentuate the look of the ensembles.”
The veteran designer has travelled extensively to over 24 states of India and several places abroad in her years of practice, all of which have influenced this collection. At one time over her career, she was driving through the roads of Salem in Tamil Nadu to learn about Kanchi silks, another time, she was somewhere in the remote corners of Telangana to learn about Pochampally ikats and Narayanpet saris and then she travelled to Andhra Pradesh to familiarise herself with Venkatagiri weaves. Up in the North, she has visited the ethereal valleys of Kashmir, climbed the mightiest of mountains in Ladakh, and crossed glimmering rivers in North East India to learn about the crafts and weaves of such places. To make sure she’s up-to-date with international trends, she also travelled to Spain, Iceland and Scotland. “Today’s generation is worldly in thought and won’t outrightly wear traditional outfits but if we add newer elements, they will cherish them. This is why I have used refreshing colours like lavender, cream and mustard yellow and experimented with fusion wear too.” Anju, who has previously worked on myriad themes like cosmos, nature, spirituality, and philosophy, tells us that she never deliberately seeks inspiration. “Rather it is my inspiration that finds me (laughs)! Being an explorer throughout my life has taught me more about our culture, textiles and fashion than any book ever has! Even when I came up with this collection, I was simply flipping through the pages of my memory. The Road Less Travelled is a collection where I have translated all my learnings to a couture collection.”
The crafts revivalist
Anju’s design career has been shaped by her earnest endeavours to revive the unnoticed crafts of diverse sub-cultures. She started her design journey back in 1990 and took the cause to popularise the intricate zari work of Varanasi. Later in 1993, she moved towards the far West in Gujarat to improve the variation in bandhani tie and dye techniques by introducing creative modifications like the usage of geometrical patterns and neutral colour lines which gave the technique a facelift. In the late ’90s, she introduced modern interpretations of traditional Kota doria fabrics, Sanganeri block printing, and Bagru textile craft by collaborating with artisans and coaching them on how to use such age-old techniques with innovation. While Modi was giving a new lease of life to the heritage crafts, she also knew the ropes of designing for a modern-day consumer who was riding the wave of globalisation in the 2000s. Keeping up with the drastically evolving taste, she merged local with global by popularising India's ultimate indigenous fashion product — khadi. Modi brought it to the fore by using the slub-yard process that gave an aesthetically attractive appearance to the fabric and reminded us of our long-forgotten connection with it.
The designer has always revered the artisans as her gurus for her learnings. For the present collection too, she has teamed up with in-house artisans and craftsmen who have been closely working with her for years now. She shares how Indian designers can act as living archives of India’s heritage crafts, “The simplest way to go about it would be by incorporating our age-old artistry and handloom into our collections in a more meaningful manner. It is very crucial to understand and respect our traditional textiles and crafts because they have historical and cultural significance.”
Indian couture has come a long way since it has established its presence on the international stage. Now, courtiers are experimenting to match international trends, standards and people’s evolving taste. This is why today’s couture is not about just plain craftsmanship — it is also about the creation of alluring storytelling narratives with exotic locations, the inclusion of 3D design technologies, experimentation with fusion wear, aiming for sustainability and high-grade workmanship on newer design elements. Telling us about the changing language of Indian couture, Anju avers, “Indian couture has a very rich historical background and I truly feel, it’s a force to reckon with! Back in the ’90s, when I had established my label, woven handloom textiles, rich Indian embroideries and traditional silhouettes were much desired. Now, to meet the new age demands, we experiment with more youthful designs and contemporary silhouettes that are all incorporated in the collection, The Road Less Travelled.”
Evolve with time
While the word around sustainability was always buzzing in the fashion community, it gained momentum after the pandemic. People started to spend very mindfully which made designers re-think their label’s ethos. Modi shares how the pandemic gave her the time to introspect ahead of her couture show and create a low-waste collection, “Though the past two years have been extremely difficult for each one of us, I somewhere feel that it gave us the gift of time, and allowed us to introspect — something that we don’t find ourselves doing while living our busy lives. The phase has affected us in both positive and negative ways. I’ve come to understand myself better and be more aware of what I want to create and moreover how I want to pursue it.” However, achieving sustainability is not a tight-rope act for Modi who has, since the beginning of her career, strived to use eco-friendly fabrics for her collections. Now, she urges the fashion community to create more ethically. “Be more informed about your fabrics, and materials and have a conscious approach towards the design process," she suggests.
Since the times are constantly changing, posing unprecedented situations, Anju believes in evolving to sustain. She says, “For any designer or business professional to thrive, it is crucial to stay updated on the latest industrial developments. In better words, it is the fittest who survives! One needs to be adaptive and experimentative not just to stay relevant and on top of the game but rather to grow as a creative professional.”
The Road Less Travelled collection was showcased at India Couture Week.
Mail: priyamvada@newindian express.com