As a fashion designer Ritu Kumar needs no introduction. She has dressed the biggest Bollywood stars, the most famous celebrities and the most stylish royals including the late Princess Diana.
Ritu Kumar is one of India’s foremost designers, who has developed a unique style of her own. With a background in an art history and museology, which has enriched her horizons, Ritu’s understanding of ancient designs and the innovative use of traditional crafts has created a new classicism.
Ritu Kumar holds the status of a revivalist in the Indian fashion industry, who has successfully bridged the gap between traditionalism and modernity. However, her work today has gone much beyond revival – It is constantly evolving within an aesthetic which is sophisticated both in the eastern and western sense, with each of her collections making a contemporary statement in a fast changing modern India.
Ritu, who began her work with four hand-block printers and two tables, in a small village near Calcutta was the first woman to introduce the ‘boutique’ culture in India under the brand name ‘Ritu’. Today she has outlets in all major cities in India as well as gone global. Ritu’s boutiques feature a multifaceted showcase encompassing the very best of Indian design, with specially produced range of high fashion garments and accessories using silk, leather and cotton. Ritu’s range of western and Indian apparel is all about traditions and individual talent, and women across the continents can easily identify with her vision of design.
Here’s a Q & A with Ritu Kumar
You’re credited with being the first fashion designer to bring the ’boutique’ concept to India? How did it come about?
By accident, but it is true there were no boutiques or any retail premises before I started the trend at the time in India.
It all started when I returned to India from America, with a desire to learn more about our country and its heritage. I took up a course dealing with histology which provided me exposure to museology and this became the genesis of my interest in the various craft forms. As I progressed, I got introduced to hand block printing and eventually started interacting with a cross-section of artisans across Kolkata. There was undocumented repertoire of knowledge and skills and this was the foundation of my continued association with Indian designs and hand-woven textiles. A commitment to the ethos of work and also a commitment to the crafts of the country. It was difficult but if there is focus and confidence in the heritage we possess it becomes simpler to achieve.
Your designs span different generations – how have you made traditional Indian textiles, designs and silhouettes appeal to buyers in a global market?
I think it has to do with understanding the classical nature of Indian textiles which have had their initial base in this country and making them suitable to the ever changing needs of modern women, in their usage. I try to ensure that the aesthetics are retained in the modernising of the garment for the international and Indian context.
The Indian fashion industry has undergone a sea of change since I started out. The weddings have become much more flamboyant giving the room to designers to make one-of-a-kind bridal outfits as well as also to have a ready to wear bridal line, which is the need of the hour. That are royal and regal in every way possible. Simultaneously, with several international brands entering the market and younger India becoming more fashion conscious, there is a demand for contemporary stylized Western wear from Indian designers too.
How is the Label brand pushing boundaries internationally?
Yes I would hope that it is breaking fresh ground and forging an identity which is both Indian and Cosmopolitan in the high street space. We observed that the Indian consumer was changing and there was a need to add on a contemporary collection to take the legacy of the brand forward. There was a growing segment of young, independent woman who were looking for designer wear with a Western touch. My son Amrish actually came up with the concept of Label so it was a natural decision for him to head it. He has a firm understanding of the styles and color tones the younger generation wants and expressed a keen interest in leading the design efforts.
He’s been heading Label since its inception and he is completely involved in the design process right from fabric selection to color palettes to the prints and embroidery to the style of the garment and so forth. We are still growing as a brand, so there are no landmarks to pinpoint as such. There are high points every day, and many milestones to come ahead which we are focusing on.
How does allying with designers work practically?
The Indian fashion industry has undergone a sea of change since I started out 45 years ago. Weddings these days are much more flamboyant than those of yesteryear which gives room to designers today to make one-of-a-kind bridal outfits. At the same time, there is a need for ready-to-wear bridal lines that are royal and regal in every way possible as every modern bride wants to wear the very best on her special day.
In today’s day and age, a new India is dictating its fashion preferences and celebrating a freedom of choice and budget. The modern bride’s wardrobe has expanded to encompass traditional saris, cocktail saris, a bridal lehenga, suits ranging from traditional salwar-kameez to fancy anarkalis and finally a number of contemporary Western outfits for day-to-day wear.
The trend of wearing contemporary and more stylized bridal outfits has caught on in a fairly big manner. While it is great to follow the new fashion trends cropping up, there are many things to be kept in mind when choosing a more fashionable style over the traditional products as so much can go wrong if attention to the finer details is missing.
International and national talent brings a freshness of perspective and makes the collection more multi-dimensional.
Tell us about your new summer collection at Burjuman Centre in Dubai.
Catering to the contemporary women of today, the collection comprises of varied styles for day wear and evening, ranging from kurtis, skirts and suits. The fabrics used are jersey, crepe, cotton georgette, cotton voils, etc.The unique blend of signature Ritu Kumar prints with subtle detailing and sinewy silhouettes result in an array of beautiful creations. The collection brings impeccably designed traditional wear that ensues the style of the young contemporary women looking for comfortable yet chic designs. With a variety of dresses, tops, tunics in summery hues such as turquoise, navy blue, off white, yellow, rust and the intricate use of lace, nets and embellishments, the collection has drawn inspiration from Indian prints and techniques. The range includes well-tailored designs with smart accents and print combinations. From embellished evening dresses, day dresses, jumpsuits, tailored jackets, tunics and shirts in a lively palette of blue, teal, red, beige and off-white, the range highlights Label’s love for prints translated onto contemporary silhouettes.
What do you like in your wardrobe?
Kurtas, jeans , chooridaars , palazzo pants and tunics, also the sari always.
You’ve received countless industry accolades over the years, which of them meant the most to you and why?
The Padma Shri of course. It came in as pleasant surprise. It wasn’t something that I was expecting, I am deeply appreciative by the fact that the government has recognized my efforts in the field of fashion, textile and craftsmanship. It is Indian fashions USP and one which is not alive in any other part of the globe particularly practised by the number of people and craftsmen who are involved in the textile traditions of this country. We need to keep it going with as much Indian talent as we can get. This is going to be the critical part of keeping an Indian fashion element alive.
Who would you like to dress that you haven’t yet?
The modern Indian corporate forward looking woman of today. No one in particular as they are all stars in their own rights. Yes, Kangana once again would be fun to dress.
Did you personally meet with the late Princess Diana to design the pieces of yours that she wore?
No unfortunately she cycled to the store in London at South Audley Street, and ordered the outfit she wore on her visit to Pakistan. I did speak to her on the phone but did not meet her. She was going to a temple and I was designing a sari for the event but she had an accident before that – a real pity.