Since the low-profile launch of their eponymous label in 2006 and subsequently hitting their stride at fashion weeks in 2008/2009, Delhi-based designers Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja have established themselves as India’s leading design talents. The husband-wife duo has built an enviable celebrity clientele, won accolades and awards and arrived at a signature style that marries the imaginative with the empirical. Much like their creative partnership. While they derive inspiration from far-flung fancies, such as a Polish paper-cutting technique (“Wycinanki”, Autumn-Winter ’12) or Spanish matador costumes (“House of Cards”, Autumn-Winter ’14) and delve into the complexities of Sashiko stitch from Japan and intricate crewel embroidery, their collections are tempered with a sense of wearability. For their first high street collaboration with Indo-Brit e-retail portal Koovs, too, the creative partners have drawn inspiration from their love for ceramic, gems, glass and mirrors, developed original prints, added embroidery intelligently and, yet, managed to keep the pieces approachable and functional. Available in five prints stories, the 35-piece collection is priced between Rs 1,295 and Rs 2,995. We spoke to the duo about their love for workmanship and making fashion available for all:
After nearly 10 years in the business, what continues to inspire you?
Pankaj: We are both driven by craft inspirations — whether it’s cross-stitch from Poland or the Sashiko stitch from Japan. Each season, we literally look at the globe and think of new cultures to explore.
Nidhi: That discovery gives us a great kick. After all these years, we still try to find that one thing that is novel to us. Then we twist it in our own unique, mad sort of way. We attempt to modernise it and make it more international.
How do high-street collaborations such as your Koovs tie-up benefit designers like you?
Pankaj: It helps us get our brand out there. Access is made much larger and wider. Also, in the creative zone, any collaboration — whether in films or fashion — is exciting. The cross-pollination of ideas always yields something much greater than the parts.
Prints have become your forte over the last few years.
Pankaj: Initially, we used to do intricate embroideries but we realised that the pieces were turning out to be around $1,000 and something had to be done. A buyer gave us the idea of taking a picture of an embroidered dress, digitising it and converting it into a print. That gave us the idea of looking at prints as a visual medium, as a representation of our thoughts.
Nidhi: Many women, nowadays, prefer prints over embroidered garments as they tend not to feel too overdressed. Earlier, Pankaj used to draw designs by hand and I would work on them in Photoshop and CorelDraw. Now, we have a graphic design team, and prints have become our canvas. Prints and high-street is a match made in heaven. It’s a great way to add your statement touch, too.
You’ve said in the past that nothing about you is minimal. How have you maintained your signature style in a high-street collection?
Pankaj: Visually, we could do what we wanted with our prints. With the ‘House of Cards’ story, we wanted to maintain some sort of recall value. Other prints were concurrently developed as we were working on our Fall-Winter ’15 main line. We had lingering ideas about rubies, diamonds, mirrors and glass and even Portuguese tiles and plates. Everything has a faceted look, from precious stones and gems to shattered mirrors and dinner plates. And we’ve maintained the elements of the craftsmanship in small measures — like the geometric beads embroidered onto the Broken Glass outfits, red crystal-like elements on the Ruby Collection or the machine embroidery on the playing cards translation.
Do you have any long-term online retail plan?
Pankaj: We don’t want to keep selling Rs five lakh lehengas. We’d rather sell 500 pieces at Rs 1,000 each. That excites us. We may have the ideas but we don’t have the vehicle to propel them. We need the synergy with partners such as Koovs, who can wrap it up, produce it and give it that marketing push.
Nidhi: And help us get price points right. It would be a dream come true. Then more people can own our product. We are full of ideas, but have to contain them all the time.