Return of the Native

Return of the Native

Ashish N Soni talks about Audrey Hepburn hemlines,his WIFW Spring-Summer 2014 finale,and how recession changed his life

A dimly lit staircase with framed photographs of yesteryear models on the walls leads to his room. Dressed in a white collared shirt and blue pants,his red socks adding a dash of colour,designer Ashish N Soni sits in a corner,sipping green tea. A sense of calm pervades the room. And this comes as a surprise. After all,one does not expect the finale designer of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week’s (WIFW) Spring-Summer 2014 edition to be so composed. There is no madness in the workshop,no soaring tempers,no frantic phone calls and no sound of hurried footsteps. “I function best in calm. Practice has taught me that some people work in madness. Young designers feed off that energy and so did I at one point of time,” says Soni.

In fact,such is his level of meticulousness that Soni’s collection titled “La Dolce Vita”,to be presented on October 13 at Pragati Maidan,is ready,and tomorrow onwards,he will only be “clinically” looking at each piece — every buttonhole,stitch and sleeve. Inspired by the glamour of Hollywood in the ’50s,Soni,who is best-known for his sharp tailoring,brings to the ramp both menswear and womenswear.

From style statements made by Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn,to fashionably forward classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s,the 40-something designer aims to recreate that era. “I feel that after the ’50s,across the world,we forgot about shringar. There is no time to look glamorous and that’s why we look for occasions — black ties,red carpets and even weddings. I refer to this block of clothing as ‘ceremonia’,” says Soni.

Even as he discusses a skirt pattern with his masterji, a few members of his team work on the guest list,while others cut fabric for another ensemble. Soni is patient,taking one step at a time,just the way he has done in his 20-year-long career. He personifies simplicity and his shows ride high on his creations only. But this range,it seems,is a bit different. The fabrics are opulent — French Chantilly lace,astrakhan (fake Russian fur),taffeta,satin and pure silk — and the embroideries are intricate. Soni will present dinner jackets,tuxedos and smoking jackets,apart from cocktail gowns and dresses with Hepburn hemlines in colours such as black,ivory and white. “I am an Indian designer but I speak a global language. The prints that I have developed for this collection are traditional Indian mosaic motifs but I have contemporised them,borrowing just the ’50s silhouettes,” says Soni,who has created four prints and their reverses in three sizes. In total,there will be 24 prints.


When the Fashion Design Council of India announced Soni as the finale designer this season,it came as a surprise. In an industry that thrives on constant chatter,this old-timer had kept his conversations to minimum. He was rarely spotted at parties,almost never at the fashion weeks and the few times he did show his collection,he kept it a low-key affair with all attention on the clothes. Soni had begun to slip from public consciousness. “Life changed in 2005 when I was asked to show at New York Fashion Week. Till 2009,I concentrated on the American market,had tie-ups with 71 outlets across the world and ignored the Indian market. Then recession hit and everything that I had created in four years,vanished in four months,” says Soni. Ignoring India,he admits,was a mistake. Then began his journey of re-establishing his brand here and he started selling from Mumbai and Kolkata again. Soni’s plans changed again when he was made the Creative Director of a London-based brand in 2010. “I finished my contract last year,and I am now a consultant with them. I haven’t really been here and that’s why haven’t done much,” says Soni.

As he discusses a design to be created from his satin prints with the masterji,he avers,“Twenty years ago,we developed prints manually. Now it’s all computerised.” He recalls his days at National Institute of Fashion Technology,Delhi,and the first 10 years that he calls a “long internship”.

“When I started off,there was only one fashion store in Delhi,called Mutiny. It was a difficult time and we were doing everything to stay afloat. I even dabbled in salwar-kameez and lehengas,” he says. Today,Soni stands at a different crossroad. His sense of style has evolved and his business has changed direction. The only things intact are his smile and the palpable excitement in his voice.