ACE designer Anita Dongre has risen up from humble beginnings to become a formidable force in the fashion industry and one of India’s leading luminaries. A trail-blazer at the forefront of Indian fashion for over 20 years, she has a number of impressive achievements ranging from setting trends to designing for high-profile personalities such as Kate Middleton, Hillary Clinton, Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Alia Bhatt and many more.
Anita will be among the top tier South Asian designers presenting their latest bridal collections at the Aashni + Co Wedding Show, which takes place at The Dorchester hotel in London on January 13. She will present her latest bridal collection Odyssey and interact with prospective brides looking for inspiration.
Eastern Eye caught up with Anita to talk about her amazing journey, latest bridal collection, top style tips, ethical fashion and more.
How do you look back on your colourful journey in fashion?
My journey has been extremely fulfilling. From starting out with two sewing machines in my balcony, to 30 years later in the fashion business, it is the little things that stand out to me; things that have marked me both as an individual and entrepreneur. I remember my initial struggles with mall owners regarding giving me store space to now having close to 300 stand-alone stores and over 2700 employees. It took determination, hard work and absolute faith in my vision to keep moving ahead, amid the challenges; but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What keeps you motivated to create such amazing designs?
I live for the joy of going into work every morning and being able to create interesting designs.
How does designing bridal wear compare to pret and other collections?
While I enjoy designing our pret and ready to wear labels, designing couture is such a luxury for me. In India, we are privileged to have such a rich legacy of so many different crafts and artisans. It’s an absolute joy to work with them to add different dimensions to my designs. The undeniable skill of these artisans gives me the freedom to transform my vision into beautiful and unique creations.
Tell us about your latest bridal collection?
Our latest bridal collection Odyssey draws inspiration from within the forests of Ranthambore, which are rooted in eras of heritage. These majestic woods have witnessed the harmony and balance of life at its purest.
The textiles have been adorned with intricately embroidered motifs (inspired by the wildlife of Ranthambore), in our signature craft of gota patti along with handcrafted dori, sequin, pearl, zari, zardozi and cut dana work.
The colour palette speaks of a variety of jewel tones like deep reds, emeralds, sapphire blues and also softer shades like pearl, aqua and rose quartz, enthused by the colours of the vibrant birds and lakes of Ranthambore. The lehengas are classics with varied styles of cholis and contrasting dupattas. The menswear line sees some traditional safaas and further experimentation with fabric texturing and silhouettes.
What inspired the name of the collection?
The name Odyssey emulates the journey of togetherness. During this odyssey, the bride shares her intimate thoughts of love entwined with the sacred vows of marriage with her groom. This season, we celebrate the beautiful concept of ‘forever’, enveloped in the warmth of fine silks and Benarasi weaves.
What according to you makes for the perfect bridal outfit?
Over time, the typical bridal outfit has evolved from traditional silhouettes to each bride choosing something that best represents her. While the traditional lehengas and saris still hold place, brides today seek versatility, functionality, comfort and contemporary glamour in their wedding ensembles. According to me, the perfect bridal outfit is a timeless piece that unfolds a bridge between the traditional and modern design; think embroidery paired with easy lightweight silhouettes and fabrics, an addition of pockets, fun accents, obi belts and so on.
What advice would you give women looking for the perfect bridal outfit?
I personally believe that more than following trends, brides must follow their hearts and wear what makes them feel special on their big day. Rather than picking ensembles that are too heavy, choose lighter outfits that you can move around and dance in.
How much are you looking forward to being a part of Aashni + Co Wedding Show?
We’ve always received tremendous love and appreciation from the UK and we’re excited to bring our designs to the Aashni + Co Wedding Show.
Why is showcasing at a platform such as Aashni + Co Wedding Show important to the brand?
Since its launch, the Aashni + Co Wedding Show has always endeavoured to provide a one-of-a kind trousseau shopping experience to the Neo South-Asian Brides. In doing so, it has created a platform for both brands and overseas consumers to interact with each other, thereby bringing the world much closer together. We as a brand want the global consumer to experience our beautiful crafts blended with new-age silhouettes and I can think of no better way than the Aashni + Co Wedding Show to do so.
What can visitors to the Aashni + Co Wedding Show expect from the brand?
At the wedding show, we’re going to bring our signature gota patti lehengas and saris, a lot of jackets and fun fusion silhouettes. We will also bring key designs from our velvet as well as the Benarasi collection.
How does London compare to other cities in terms of fashion?
Brimming with creativity, opportunities and fashion-forward inspirations, London has been the fashion capital of the world. From Stella McCartney to Vivienne Westwood, the city has long been home to some of the world’s most iconic fashion stars. I personally love the electric energy, beautiful amalgamation of diverse cultures and the city’s sense of timeless fashion.
What will be the hot bridal trends for next year?
I don’t believe a bride follows trends while choosing an outfit. Most brides who come to us pick an outfit that is the best expression of themselves. Among colours, shades of red such as pantone, coral and vermillion will have strong presence and the silhouettes will continue to get experimental.
How would you describe the woman who wears an Anita Dongre outfit?
The contemporary global woman of today has always been my muse, ever since I started designing two decades ago. She is grounded to her roots and has a modern take on tradition.
How much does the fact you are a vegan inform your choices as a fashion designer?
As a nature and animal lover, and vegan, I feel very strongly about our impact on the environment. The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world and therefore sustainability is the need of the hour. At the House of Anita Dongre, we strive to be sustainable and are making firm efforts to reduce our environmental footprint in every way possible. We use sustainable fabrics, work with artisans in the comfort of their homes hence preventing migration and our headquarters are ergonomically designed. I have never used leather or fur in any of my collections, it is cruel and unsustainable.
How do you see Indian fashion evolving in the coming years?
The Indian fashion industry has evolved in a large way. I’m happy to see emerging designers embrace our heritage crafts and celebrate our handlooms, instead of just following seasonal trends. Sustainability as a practice is at the forefront for us and we can see a movement in our industry towards it.
Do you see ethical fashion growing?
There has been a remarkable increase in the demand for organic or sustainable clothing today. Eco-apparel and organic textiles are a rapidly growing market, which is creating opportunities for companies, employees and the environment. As opposed to fast fashion that offers customers more and more clothes, sustainability encourages people to buy less, so they discard less. This has led to consumers re-examining their tendency to over-buy and under wear apparel, which has led to a higher demand for sustainable apparel.
Sustainable clothing feels great, whether these are easy breathing hand-woven fabrics or the exclusivity of a carefully hand-embroidered dress. What is encouraging is that more people are choosing these benefits in addition to demanding change in how the fashion industry approaches production and its effect on the environment. While the progress has been slow, more people are making these conscious choices and I have no doubt that this ‘movement’ will be the new normal in the times to come.
What fashion advice would you give women?
Being comfortable and feeling good in one’s own skin is a powerful component that speaks volumes about an individual’s personal sense of style. Hence, it’s important to choose something that works best for you and matches your personal style. Invest in wardrobe basics such as well-tailored shirts, beautiful hand-embroidered dresses, handcrafted tunics, breezy pants and gorgeous kurtas that have a timeless appeal. Adding a timeless piece of jewellery can also transform a look. However, all fashion tips aside, I urge women to wear what they feel most confident in.
And finally, what inspires you most?
Rajasthan. She evokes memories of dancing peacocks, majestic elephants, sleeping on the terrace while monkeys pranced around and the beautiful songs of birds in summer. She has been the core of my inspiration for years and it’s amazing how that state can continue to inspire me with each visit. Every time I am there, I see something and feel something new that rejuvenates my creativity. And the artisans I work with. The beauty of their craft and the dire need to help sustain them constantly inspires me to find design innovations which will enable me to engage more and more with them