‘Are you Pero speaking?’ It’s a question designer Aneeth Arora is often asked when she gets the phone. Mostly she responds with a yes, and the conversation continues. Pero is the name of the clothing brand that Arora started 10 years ago. Then she worked from a small flat in Siddharth Extension, Delhi, with one tailor and one runner. Today, two multi-storied buildings serve as the workshop and store in Patparganj, which is where we meet Arora on a rainy morning in Delhi. Prior to the meeting we had been instructed about the strict ‘no photography’ diktat followed by the alumni of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and the National Institute of Design (NID) — quite a refreshing change in an industry which is all about grabbing attention. “I just don’t think that I deserve the limelight or the tag of ‘being the face behind Pero’. It has taken us 10 years to bring our foot forward. Pero is the bigger entity and many people are a part of it,” says Arora, 36. She obliges with a shoot of her workshop, store and karigars who were hard at work on an ensemble, sowing one tiny petal at a time.
“Pero — which comes from the Marwari phrase ‘to wear’ — is all about simple clothes that make you look beautiful. You can wear them every day and feel special way more than wearing a known high-street brand. Pero doesn’t make you stand out, but you will feel fulfilled without grabbing attention or eye balls. I know we are not everyone’s brand, we started out being niche and we still are,” says Arora, who hails from Udaipur.
Pero, which is now retailed at about 350 stores in India and abroad has made a name for itself with creations that are breathable, of woven fabric with intricate but muted handiwork and embellishments, with silhouettes and cuts that are breezy and super comfortable to wear. It was among the first to make clothes in muted shades in a time when bling and ostentation was the norm. Pero pioneered ‘layers’, with the use of capes, and flowy shrugs and this was way before the ‘anti-fit movement’. Today, however there are many players in the industry. But Arora is not worried. “I don’t think aesthetically we are competing with anybody. Perhaps some might do better in terms of consumer resonance and there might be more acceptability and brand recognition, but that’s where you stop being scared and do what you believe in,” she says.
Today Pero’s shows are standing room only, with the who’s who of the art, fashion and textile world marking their attendance. There has been an underwater, sea world theme with a labyrinthine ramp where everyone had a front row seat; a pink candy floss one with a live band, there was takeaway candy for all; a bohemian one, replete with djembes and lot of dancing.
“My first show was in 2007, at Mumbai, where I had seven hand-sown ensembles. I was chosen as an ‘gen nex’ designer and I was still at NID. I had made clothes that were 100 per cent naturally dyed, with mother-of-pearl buttons as embellishments. The only other detailing was the hand stitch. At the time, everything was about gowns and lehengas; my designs were ordinary. The feedback that I got was that who would buy this, handloom hi toh hai. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who was one of the mentors, was the only one who said that I should keep at it, but I should be careful about the pricing,” says Arora, who then subsequently moved to Delhi and started work with a paper company. “ I never thought that I would make a career in fashion. Aza, who was one of the sponsors of the Mumbai show, sent me a cheque of Rs 50,000 to stock my designs. I saw this as a sign and created 12 designs. And they sold.”
As for the industry, she says, “The senior and established people really need to push themselves and step outside the comfort that they are enjoying. But the younger lot need to think beyond just that one collection for a fashion week,” she says.