What fashions are you seeing on the streets at the moment?
At the moment there is a huge handloom revolution and street style is influenced by that in a large way: Loose boxy silhouettes, the use of handloom in garments in a stylized mix-and-match with sporty elements—that’s what’s currently big. I can almost say, anti-fashion is defining street style in a very stylized manner.
How does your style fit in here?
The backbone of my work is Indian street [culture] and its nuances. I am all about this anti-fashion in a very stylized manner. The base of my work is rebellious and has a spirit of nonconformity.
You’ve been described as the queen of Indian kitsch, a pop-culture icon and a leader in modern bohemian fashion. Which of these best describes you?
People have been immensely kind by acknowledging my work with such overwhelming compliments. I feel I’m just a creative soul trying to amass as much creative experience as possible in all kinds of design-related spaces.
My quest always has been to make as many creative choices as possible to justify each day that I spend learning and creating. Labels—as flattering as they are—don’t matter beyond giving one courage to do more, because they tell you that you have done a bunch of right things. I like keeping it just there and striving to raise the bar each time.
Can you explain the importance of handlooming?
Drawing from our culture has been the basis of my work. My inspiration certainly extends to the fabulous rich cultural heritage of our vast varieties of handlooms. A lot of handlooms appear in my collections. At the moment I’m busy working on developing fine-count handloom saris from Andhra Pradesh for my forthcoming collection, which will be embellished with quirky embroideries with interesting materials.
Each of your collections has a fascinating story behind it. Which is your favorite?
The adventures of ‘Capt. Must! Qalandar’ were very exciting. I dreamed up a fictitious character who was a motorized flying ant, a reincarnation of an old vintage bike that time-traveled on a gadget called Vdo Gaga. This was my quirky take on Steampunk.
It is such a high to be able to create things that don’t exist: they are fragments of your imagination taking real shape and form; they are things that the world will remember for a long time because you had a crazy idea and the passion to give shape to what moved the world in some good way.
What’s your muse—where do you find inspiration?
India is my muse: I’m inspired by the mundane, easy-to-miss, boring elements of everyday life. For example, my ‘High on Chai’ [collection] was inspired by a simple cup of chai (I don’t even drink tea, but I know what it is for people who love it). It was exciting to create a fun spin on a cup of chai—something that is mundane and so everyday that one doesn’t even give it a second thought. This very aspect of life excites me most.
Can you share with us somewhere in Delhi that inspires your creativity?
I’m excited by simple things. Once I was doing a shoot with a publication in Chandni Chowk at six in the morning. It was fascinating to see the number of colored vintage doors spotted all over the tiny lanes of the area—these shut doors are never possible to see during busy market hours.
The quaint lanes of the erstwhile Hauz Khas village (before the commercial bug bit it) were supremely inspiring. The graffiti dotted all over Delhi is thought-provoking. I love the walls of cinema halls in their back alleys—the juxtaposition of different film posters creates a very interesting mosaic. I can go on forever about what inspires me!
How has Goa inspired your designs?
Goa has versions of everything I love: graffiti, quaint alleyways, vintage mixed with modern in a cool way, its colorful people, its characters in its people, the fish, its fish markets (super exciting) and so much more.
Tell us about a cool place you’ve traveled to recently.
I went up into the hills [of the Western Himalayas] recently for a quick weekend getaway and trekked to this place called Triund from Dharamsala. I could not stop taking pictures. With just four very quaint shacks on the way to the top, the trek was six hours long through misty clouds and rain. All you could see were rich green mountains dotted with waterfalls and all kinds of beautiful wild flowers, and the occasional locals with their cattle collecting firewood. Finally, we camped in complete wilderness in a tiny tent with no electricity, which was quite an experience.
Do you feel that Indian fashion needs to feature more on the international stage?
We are in a wonderful space. The world is looking to India for inspiration. Time couldn’t be better to make a shift and create a congenial space for Indian design to be showcased more abundantly on international platforms.
Photos: Nida Mahmood