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‘We’re a country with large variations in skin tones, body sizes but most brands still aren’t inclusive’: Anju Modi

"Inclusivity is a sensitive topic that still needs more awareness and education amongst individuals who create fashion, especially those catering to the Indian women," the fashion designer said

In the last three decades, Anju Modi has achieved unparalleled success. Not only has she worked with master craftsmen from across the country to bring out the best of Indian textiles and techniques, but has also worked on a few blockbuster Bollywood movies by one of the most well-known filmmakers. Ask her what has been her biggest source of inspiration in all these years, and the fashion designer answers that she doesn’t “actively seek inspiration”; it is her curiosity that “drives [her] the most”.

Talking more about her journey, the ace designer, however, tells indianexpress.com that she has had to “adapt and experiment” to stay relevant with the changing times and demands, and also talks about the evolution of fashion, the need for sustainability, and inclusivity, or the lack thereof, in Indian fashion, and more. Edited excerpts below:

My design odyssey has provided me with both professional joy and personal fulfilment. It has succeeded in bringing me to a healthy mental, emotional, and spiritual state. I’m grateful for the leap of faith I took three decades back and for everything that I have accomplished. My firsthand encounters with craftsmen across India, I feel, have been a significant impetus behind my success, in addition to my inborn love for textiles. Working with locals who have been weaving and practising various native crafts for decades has further deepened my appreciation for our Indian fabrics, cultural history, and ethos.

It is critical for any designer or business expert to stay current on industry advances. To put it more simply, it is the fittest who survive. To be relevant and on par with global standards, as well as to grow as a creative professional, one must be adaptable and experimental.

What has kept you going all these years — what has been your biggest inspiration?

Most of the time, I don’t actively seek inspiration; rather, it finds me. I’ve always been an adventurer, and it’s taught me more about our culture, fabrics, and textiles than any book ever has. I would say my curiosity is what drives me the most. The search for the hidden in nature, architecture from throughout the world, philosophy, poetry, a specific philosophy, and other things inspire me.

Not only the fashion industry, but you have also had a close association with the film industry and designed costumes for many films. How has the experience been?

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I’ve truly enjoyed the process of developing the costumes for two blockbuster films — Bajirao Mastani and Ram-Leela. Costumes, being a language on their own are crucial to the success of a film. You can have the finest story in the world, but if the clothing doesn’t match the environment of the time period being shown, I believe it detracts the audience from the overall picture. The right costume has the ability to transport both the spectator and the wearer to the historical period depicted in the film.

Creating a costume takes extensive research. It is essential to remain faithful to the screenplay, characters, and time period. Fabrics, colours, themes, needlework techniques, and so on are selected based on the needs of the plot and the director. It is critical to comprehend the plot in order to respect the culture, history, values, and so on. Working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a filmmaker who’s an absolute perfectionist, made the entire experience even more fascinating and exploratory. Despite the process being time consuming, it was still a very rewarding experience

Indian fashion, especially couture, has undergone a massive transformation over the years. What has it taken you to keep up with the changes?

Over the years, we’ve come to value the luxury of comfortable clothing but also something that would look fun and playful. So, with the customer needs in mind, we try to experiment with silhouettes that are remarkably light weight, making them easy to carry while ensuring the user feels their best and looks attractive. one will witness delicately hand embroidered overcoats, blouses with different sleeve designs, a varied colour palette, and much more. Our colour palette will be having more of soft ivories and earthy tones with a pop of colours.

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In a similar vein, sustainability has also become a huge trend. What is your take on the same?

Sustainability has been picking up steam for quite some time now, and I’m delighted to see how open people are to discussing responsible fashion. The consumers have become aware of the need of the hour and are asking pertinent questions. I believe that we have begun to see how critical it is to become conscious consumers and develop empathy for how we treat nature. Also the notion of sustainability extends well beyond nature as it also has a lot to do with how we approach the process, the craftsmen we work with etc.

Many celebrities are seen sporting your creations, but if you had to pick one who you think carries your design best — who would that be?

I doubt I’ll ever be able to pick just one of our industry’s leading actors. They’ve all been an absolute delight to work with and have done an excellent job of carrying our clothes.

Inclusivity in fashion, especially in the West, has become a huge movement. Where do you think India lies on that graph, and why?

Inclusivity is a sensitive topic that still needs more awareness and education amongst individuals who create fashion, especially those catering to the Indian women. We’re a country with large variations in skin tones and body sizes but most brands still aren’t as inclusive as we should’ve been by now. In terms of inclusivity in fashion, I believe, we still have a long way to go.

What are you currently working on?

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We’re currently working on a collection called ‘Damayanti’. It is inspired by the creations of one of the most celebrated Indian artists, Raja Ravi Varma.

You have been closely associated with Lakshyam NGO, that recently hosted a ‘Fashion for a Cause’ event. Tell us about it. 

My affiliation with Lakshyam has been incredibly valuable to me, and it is a pleasure that I cherish. Throughout my creative career, I’ve been tremendously honoured to have received so much love and praise. Associating with Lakshyam allows me to express my appreciation to the community for the kindness and constant encouragement I’ve earned over the years. The event is an opportunity for me and other creative individuals to come together and support those who need it the most. It is a wonderful way for us to serve the society through a fun process and by doing what we do best i.e. create! I believe feelings of love and kindness are universal and the only possessions that only double as you give.

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