Anju Modi

“Western designers are taking inspiration from our culture” – Anju Modi

There are designers and then there is Anju Modi. The veteran fashion designer has designed for some the most beautiful women in India but recognizes the need to help the textile industry while furthering her label. Her designs are a frequent at the fashion extravaganzas around the country that boast of clean, elegant and graceful cuts. Deemed as India’s first Couture fashionista, she has also set up Research and Development Centers in rural areas where Anju’s garments are stitched to facilitate the education and progression of otherwise illiterate tailors. However, the best aspect of her clothes is the feminine wearability factor which has gained her an admired clientele. The designer-environmentalist speaks to Roshni Magazine about her Holistic Village and dressing some of the greats in India.

What is fashion to you and how do you define it?
'Fashion' means fashioning garments according to the time and need of the hour. It’s a service industry.

Why and how have you combined fashion with humanitarianism to create a niche market for yourself?
The 'designer' is designing the fabric keeping geographical, psychological and aesthetical aspect in mind. When some of these designs and ideas get accepted by the masses it becomes fashionable to wear them. Trends and fashion keep changing for various reasons.

How has fashion changed over the last 20 years you have been designing? How has it remained the same?
Fashion is a social need with a positive attitude. As I said it’s a service industry the designer has a responsibly towards the society. They should fulfill the demand by providing right designed garments at the right prices. A lot of low income group people are dependent on the garment industry for their livelihood like tailors, weavers, printers, and embroiderers. They put in their hard work for twelve to eighteen hours a day. So I feel the money generated by this huge industry should percolate down to these karigars (tailors) whose nimble fingers and hard work make these beautifully crafted garments a luxury product. So this 'social consciousness' should be there in us and we should strengthen our backward linkages. While working with them I lived in the villages and absorbed the real culture of our country. I experience the real love and warmth from them. Their huge heritage of designs inspired my collections and I felt the need to give back to them whatever is in my capacity.

What is your opinion on previous styles that eventually come back into fashion again?
Change is the permanent feature in the fashion world! Isn't it ironical? Fashion changes as the world changes. If we study the history of fashion, one can see the influences of political, geographical economical conditions on people's lifestyle and so their dressing of voluminous ball gowns reduces to riding trousers in the west and in our country it becomes khadi and Nehru topi (cap) during independence struggle and later gradually finds its own heritage salwar kameez and lenghas. Now it’s a total cultural pot pourri so dressing is fusion styling— like kurti’s with trousers or long Nehru jackets with skirts. Western designers such as Armani, DKNY, and Macqueen are taking inspiration from our culture. Their churi trousers, Cowl trousers are a takeoff from our churidars and salwars and Indian designers are influenced by the western lifestyle. Still there are those classic Mughal butas, vegetable dyed colors; Paisleys, which are a thousand years old designs; Angrakha, anarkalis are still there and masses still want them. It’s a paradoxical situation; old styles are there but still not there…in a new look!

Tell us about your “Holistic Craft Village.
Well, this is my ultimate aim in life to set up 'Holistic Craft village'. It’s a design research and development project, where the old meets new meet and a beautiful synergy is created.

How do you incorporate the environment and its conservation into your designs? More importantly, what made you develop into an environment activist?
As I had mentioned earlier that every business should be done with a social and environmental consciousness, so this village is going to have nature all around and using our handicraft and our ancient techniques of tie dye chikankari, weaving, vegetable dye printing organic cottons, it will support these dyeing crafts as well as the environment and the villages will get a new lease of life. My vision is to use the modern tools like computers, televisions and telesystems to support these valuable aesthetic art and craft to give self employment to a lot of families. It is a Gandhian theory which will enable a huge population to earn their living in simple cottages but yet help modernize their lifestyle by giving them the comforts of air-conditioning and computers. The cottages will be made by the green architecture as we in India used to build in 500 years ago, with trees and streams and cleanliness all around. I as a Designer and a lot many more designers will be working with these craftsmen innovating new designs and ideas which is going to be so much in demand that India will become a fashion destination. How am I saying this so confidently? Well today the world is realizing the damages done by the industrialization. We are facing the calamities of climate change and so we are turning back to old values, the old way of life so why not take the best of the old and new to lead a holistic life! In my endeavor to work with our villages and create something simple, clean and elegant, I became passionate about the subject and it has influenced my design philosophy. The idea just flows and I visualize the motif colors and silhouettes. It just comes to me and I sketch, execute and the garments are there. I have developed fabrics in Kota, Chanderi and Varanasi and have developed bagru prints with silver foil.

In your opinion, who are some well-known personalities who wear traditional wear the best?
I have dressed Shabana Azmi, Nita Ambani, Katrina Kaif, Sharmila Tagore and lot of elegant personalities. In my opinion Shabana Azmi and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan wear traditional outfits most gracefully.

What are some aspects that are seen in all your designs?
My color combination is a strong point in all my collections. I don't overdo any element— it always maintains balance. The focal point of my design does not lose its place.

Some words associated with your designs are “elegant” “poised” “wearable” and “clean.” How do you view your designs?
Fashion is an expression of one’s personality. A confident woman will wear elegant clean designs. She does not need to shout through her dressing that “Look at me!”

What message do you hope to send out to people through your designs?
My message is be confident and positive and loving person; you will automatically choose the right clothes and you will look great always

What is coming out of the Modi camp in the next season and what aspects of the environment are you most concerned about at this time?
Well the Modi camp provides whole wardrobe solutions for Evening Party Wear for the ages of 25 to 50, for daywear, for working women, bridal wear, bridemaids and so on. Name it and we have it!

~ Anju Modi
(August 2009)

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