Three Bengaluru labels who have a minimal and fuss-free aesthetic
We talk to the designers behind Varana, Vanaras and River
Varana’s Sujata Keshavan clarifies that her clothes are not ‘minimal’, rather a ‘refinement of excess.’ “Minimalism to me implies a certain coldness which is antithetical to Varana,” explains the former graphic designer who began her journey in the fashion industry back in 2016. When it was launched and in the following months, the label caught the attention of fashion insiders across the globe. What could a graphic designer, credited with giving a contemporary facelift to heritage brands like Himalaya and MTR, offer in terms of fashion, they wondered. A look at the trajectory of the label and you’ll know that Varana more than made an impression with its focus on artisanal Indian craft and weaves, but with a distinct contemporary and global approach. A year after the launch, it found a new address on Dover Street, London, in a store formerly occupied by Alexander McQueen and on a street that is home to names like Victoria Beckham, Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo.
Talking about the refreshing and unique aesthetic of the label, the Bangalorean says, “We have a pared down approach both to the shapes and to surface decoration. Decoration has to be necessary and play an integral role, and not exist for its own sake. The shapes are characterised by clean lines and beautiful cuts. It is more difficult to create a garment stripped to its essence than one whose flaws are covered with the use of extra decorative elements. Our approach allows our designs to be timeless and last for several seasons without appearing dated.”
The last two years, Sujata believes, have seen a growing affinity for comfortable and easy clothing and this has also been reflected in her store. “With people spending much more time at home, the pandemic certainly suggested a shift towards comfort and ease, towards trainers rather than stilettos, for example. Varana’s cashmere joggers and hoodies have been selling steadily since the pandemic started,” she shares.
Expected to be unveiled in spring 2022, her next collection titled Kabini takes inspiration from the Kabini biosphere. Crafted at her studio in Bengaluru, which boasts a team of international fashion designers, pattern makers and talented textile designers, the new collection will feature relaxed day wear in forest hues with hand-stitched detailing. “We’ve also just launched a brand new collection of handbags and other smaller leather goods called The Tokri Collection with very fine woven leather derived from basket weaving techniques. It is now available online and ships all over the world,” says Sujata, signing off.
Launched just after the lockdown in 2020, Vanaras by Vandana Bhandare is known for its nostalgic aesthetic, one with a focus on clean lines, solid hues and minimal surface ornamentation. “At Vanaras, we always wanted to make sure anything that comes out of the brand, be it imagery, language, styles etc would all be minimal. I have observed that designing anything minimal is a difficult task because one needs to know when to stop,” explains Vandana. The label makes an array of shirt dresses, gathered maxis, shifts, crops tops, wrap tops, shirts and more. “Every Vanaras creation passes through a thoughtfully curated prism of simplicity, elegance, comfort and style. We believe good design is evocative without being complex. Even the most minimalist of designs, meticulously crafted, can make an attire spell grace, modernity and sophistication. We keep our silhouettes airy, effortless, cosy, chic and endowed with subtle little details. Most people can relate to minimalism and that is how I want them to relate with the brand as well,” the Bengaluru-based designer, who was initiated into the world of craft and design by her father who ran a silk manufacturing unit, tells us.
Her latest collection Endless Weekends is crafted from Certified Organic cotton that is hand-woven by artisans in Maheshwar. The textiles, in hues such as forest green, cornflower blue and cream, are detailed with embroidered floral motifs. “The fabric truly feels like second skin and the silhouettes are flowy and comfortable allowing you to watch the sunset, paint by the valley, ride a bicycle amidst lush green fields, journal by the lakeside, dine with yourself, sit at a cafe and a lot more,” she concludes.
Radhika Patel’s label River is barely a month old, but what it lacks in age and history, it makes up for in design. “River is minimalist – not for the rage of it, but for the fact that it honours our vision. Our design aesthetic epitomises simple, every day, relaxed clothing that is intended to make you feel your comfortable best no matter the occasion. All the garments are made-to-order in small batches and can be customised as per your preference. Our mission is to make you wear the garments and not the other way round,” says Radhika, a former media professional, adding, “The brand name draws inspiration from the wholeness of the river and the spiritual power of natural things. There’s much that one can learn from the river itself. It is silent yet powerful, it is soft yet full of passion, it is still yet full of movement. All this and more are embodied in our clothing.”
The debut collection, Finding, for instance, is an ode to linen. “Linen is perfect for more reasons than one. It breathes and moves with you throughout the day,” she explains, and informs us that the collection is made from 100 per cent pure linen. Boasting a palette of earthy colours, the silhouettes are classic and simple and range from simple work shirts and tunics with scalloped edges and ruffles to raw hem dresses and relaxed trousers. Next season, Radhika also hopes to add some genderless garments to the collection.