“ The clothes I designed were what women had been searching for, it’s about what they wanted. It is the wearability of our designs that has made each brand successful. ”
From Bollywood royalty like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Malaika Arora and Aditi Rao Hydari to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, this amazing designer is everybody’s favourite. With a 30-year-old legacy behind her, Anita Dongre’s humble beginnings in fashion have been the reason behind the five popular, successful brands: Dongre owns two high street labels—AND and Global Desi—prêt label Grassroot, couture label Anita Dongre and fine jewellery label Pinkcity crafted by Jet Gems. In a conversation with Utsavi Jha, the ace designer enlightens us with her sophisticated charm.
Exhibit: To begin with, you have received many awards for the same. What do you think about your brand popularity and acceptance?
Anita Dongre: In the 90s, when I started this business, there was a change simmering in the typical Indian household – women wanted something more out of life, they wanted careers. This modern woman has been my inspiration ever since I started. The clothes I designed were what women had been searching for, it’s about what they wanted. It is the wearability of our designs that has made each brand successful. And as this modern woman continues to evolve with the times, to rise her voice and express herself, so will my designs to reflect this phenomenal woman.
Exhibit: Tell us about what inspires your craft and creative process.
The core of my inspiration comes from Rajasthan. It is amazing how that state can continue inspiring me with each visit. Every time I am there, I see something and feel something new that rejuvenates my creativity. The crafts here are thousands of years old like Gota Patti, which we revisit every collection to bring life to our different ensembles including tunics, kaftans, lehengas, bandis and jackets. Gota Patti as a design creates a luxe look fit for royal occasions, and yet is surprisingly light and easy to wear— this is what makes us unique.
Exhibit: Do you remember your first garment? Who was it for?
Of course I do! The first garment I ever created was a one-shouldered jumpsuit. I had designed, cut, stitched and even modelled it for my annual show in design college.
Exhibit: Then and now: How has the fashion scene in India changed and where do you see it heading in the next 5 years?
Since I started the business, almost 30 years ago, Indian fashion has transformed significantly. Today, fashion has evolved into an expression of yourself; it’s about individuality. I believe that fashion should be about being comfortable and feeling good in one’s own skin. While fashion choices are more or less influenced by society, culture or celebrities, the modern woman is more likely to be influenced by her own inclinations and preferences. I believe sustainability is the future of fashion, and as more people make a conscious effort at mindful buying, the more heirloom crafts will be revived, livelihoods empowered and environment sustained.
Exhibit: What do you think about the new generation fashion designers and also about the commercialisation of fashion?
The business of fashion is dynamic with new trends and styles being introduced every few weeks. And every year, we see a new generation of designers, each talented in their own right. To stand out in this industry, you need to constantly invent and reinvent your design. It’s all about innovation and staying true to your design aesthetics.
Exhibit: What do you think about the blend between fashion and technology? How do you see your brand using it in the future?
Technology has made the world a smaller place. It has significantly changed the business of fashion by bringing customers closer to the people who make their clothes through e-commerce. Retailing internationally isn’t as challenging as it used to be, e-commerce has been helping us designers reach out to a global audience. We work closely with rural artisans in Anita Dongre Grassroot, and something as simple as a smartphone has helped us so much. For instance, weavers from Benares can show me samples at a click over WhatsApp, while I am working in New York.
Exhibit: What do you think about the growing influence of social media especially when it comes to fashion?
Social media is a powerful tool, mainly because it just brings the world so much closer together. I like the fact that it has helped me connect with my customers across the world within one click and build a relationship with them. When I started designing, fashion was something you saw only in magazines or films. But today, thanks to social media, it’s accessible to everyone, which helps us designers speak to a wider, global audience.
Exhibit: With so much experience and a great repertoire of work, what is the priceless piece of learning that you have learnt?
I have learned that whether you are managing one brand or five, there is no substitute for hard work. I work six days a week from 8am to 6pm but on my time off, I completely switch off from work. I also try to maintain a healthy work-life balance to avoid burning out. I do yoga, eat healthy and keep my mind alert.
Exhibit: Any advice for budding fashion designers?
Success doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a journey that could take months, years or even decades. Do what you love with passion and everything else will follow.
Exhibit: Anita Dongre and Tech – what is this relationship on a personal level?
You will always find me on my iPhone, mostly on WhatsApp, coordinating with my teams in the office and across our stores in India. More importantly, the app has really helped us stay connected to the village artisan communities we work with. They can keep in touch with the team to discuss embroidery patterns, share photos of their work and voice their opinions. You will often also catch me with my trusty iPad; I’m always sketching new designs or planning my next collection.
- Your go-to fashion trend: Shift dresses in light-weight, handwoven fabrics that let you breathe.
- One piece of tech that you use for designing: my iPad.
- Your Muse: The woman of today.
- Best piece of advice given to you: To have faith in yourself and work hard towards achieving your dream every day.
- Favourite app: WhatsApp
- Most overused fashion trend/trick: Photoshop!
- Must have tech gadget that’s not your phone or laptop: My iPad.
- Phone you use: iPhone
- Car you drive: Innova Crysta
- Most exotic location: I love Austria but Rajasthan will always be the most exotic
- Tech bucket list: A transportation device to take me from work to home to stores to craft clusters all in a jiffy.