In the short span of this interview, Sonaakshi Raaj’s newly opened store at Mumbai’s Khar Danda Road has been teeming with customers. A young woman walks in asking for “the Malaika Arora Khan gown”, a design that the actor wore for the store launch late last month. Other shoppers mill around the small space, checking out dhoti saris and palazzo jumpsuits. “Commercial viability is of primary importance to me. Of course, creativity and invention are also significant and that’s the reason I came out with innovative silhouettes,” says Raaj.
The designer, who launched her eponymous label at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) two years ago, shot to fame after her sari gown became a hotseller with celebrities on red carpets and promotional tours. Today, a range of actors, from Sonam Kapoor to Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt to Bipasha Basu have been seen in her designs. “Strangely, I was never apprehensive when I introduced this style. Both, my graduating collection as well as my line-up for LFW, featured sari gowns,” says Raaj, an alumnus of SNDT College, Mumbai. Having retailed from multi-brand stores such as Aza and Studio 8 in Dubai and online on Pernia’s Pop-up Shop, Raaj says that a flagship store was always in the offing. “I have a lot of personal clientele and I was previously operating from my workshop in Juhu. Since I customise a lot, everyone would ask when I was going to open my own store.”
A white picket fence opens up to a small patio which leads to her store. The space is modestly done up in white, with a chandelier and slim tree barks adjacent to a shelf, lending the only visual elements. A mannequin, with a dry flower arrangement for a head, flanks the entrance. “I wanted my clothes to be the focus, infusing colour into the interiors,” says Raaj. Small shelves near the door house chunky jewellery and embellished velvet clutches, both of which have been outsourced.
Two racks display her designs — there are pastel-hued and jewel-toned sari gowns, dhoti gowns, lehenga saris, cowl pants with corsets and dhoti saris. The bodices are mostly sheer, “like work done on second skin”, and intricate, featuring heavy zardozi, pearl and beadwork.
“My design sensibilities have always leaned towards Indo-Western silhouettes. I love drapes and creating different styles with them,” she says.
Another aspect that sets her designs apart is their versatility, she asserts, pointing to the cutwork jackets, that can be teamed as effortlessly with jeans and T-shirts, as with saris. Newer designs include sheer capes with bustiers and a few pret pieces, like one-toned palazzo jumpsuits in raw silk and georgette, and tie-dye gowns. “Most of the pieces are heavily embellished and since people look for interesting mixes in their trousseau. I thought of adding lighter pieces that are ideal for pool parties and the like,” says Raaj. Having styled the lead pair of Heropanti in the past, Raaj says that Bollywood plans are on hold for now and her focus will be on her store and her next collection.