Aneeth Arora is a traditionalist whose designs are a global success because they challenge modern notions of sexiness and body type.
Is it necessary to mention my age? asks 29-year-old designer Aneeth Arora,because a lot of people stop taking me seriously once they figure out my age. It is a misplaced worry. She looks her age to begin with. For a photo shoot in Grazia magazine on Young Fashion Awards winners earlier this year,Arora wore a shirt,a waistcoat,a jacket,layered over each other with funky brooches,one of them a dolls head sticking out like a handkerchief from her jacket pocket. Her hair was pulled back in a schoolgirl pigtail,complete with a red ribbon. She is a serious sort of person anyway. Seriously committed to her brand ideology,seriously talented and seriously reluctant about playing word games. She isnt your easily accessible young designer who spews cool-hot vocabulary; nor is she obsessed with changing her status message on the phone or Facebook every few hours. At fashion events,even where she has picked up awards,she smiles for an obligatory photo-op like attending a class on a subject she doesnt fancy,then slips away without saying bye lest she be noticed.
But she has been noticed alright. Filmmaker Mira Nair is among those who didnt pause to ask Aroras age before signing her up to design scarves for Kate Hudson in her The Reluctant Fundamentalist,which opened the Venice International Film Festival in August. Not only did Nair track down Arora in Delhi during the films shooting schedules (after she found her clothes in Brazil),but asked her to play herself in a scene in the film. So you see Arora in a fleeting cameo and her label Pero (which means wear in Marwari) on Nair and Hudson for some of their outings. Age has,in fact,been on Aroras side. Last month,she won the first Vogue Fashion Fund Award meant for young designers. Arora is one of Indias most successful designers but then,thats not news.
What is,is the way she is developing her label globally by keeping a safe distance from crystal and cling that could trap her into the synthetic idea of now bubbly-now wobbly India. My clothes are conceptualised from the fabric stage; sometimes at the yarn stage, she says. I make my own fabric,so I can imagine my clothes in totality. It is like an artist weaving his own canvas before painting on it. I do not create a garment,I create a piece of clothing,keeping the Indian tradition of the handmade in mind where each piece passes from one craftsperson to the other,resulting in something unique and difficult to replicate, she says.
Arora is a traditionalist,much like veterans David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore of Abraham and Thakore and Neeru Kumar of Tulsi. Rooted in the process of creating clothes that are made in India,of India and by India. They may not exactly be for India because it is,in fact,her global clientele which appreciates garments made out of non-embellished,fine,handwoven textiles that translate into stunning looks but only if layered imaginatively. You can hardly pick up a Pero separate and make a statement out of it. Her styling,often sized up as boho is about facing body image challenges. Ask her bluntly who wears three or four layers in this age of slim and she retorts,Everyone. Smart layering can take away inches. Perhaps she has a point as she sells from 60 retail outlets in 25 countries.
Arora is utilising her training at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in fashion and her study at National Institute of Design (NID) in textiles as a strong combination art. She is the only student of NIFT,Delhi who won five graduation awards (best collection,best womenswear,Persis Khambatta award for outstanding performance,best all-rounder and best contemporisation of traditional skills) in 2004 and she is as used to trophy-picking as she is to picking local silhouettes. So in her collections,you see a goncha from Ladakh,an indigo robe worn by a gyaniji in a gurdwara,a puthia from Rajasthan or a kediya from Gujarat. I see the possibility of making global garments with these traditional clothes she says.
Arora matters because she is among those sturdy young traditionalists from Indias fashion industry who offer modernity through a value of process instead of jazzing up the form with embellishment. Being global in her case also means dressing up a journalist in a Pero shirt in Woody Allens To Rome With Love,Mira Nair for film premieres,designing costumes for animation films like Arjun (which was released recently) or taking her bow next week at the ongoing Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. All she asks is that you wear her clothes right.