Text by NAMITA GUPTA
They know their warp and weft and are creating drama with their simple yet stunning silhouettes. Chic, contemporary and creative, these fashion designers from Bengaluru are creating waves across the globe for their new-age concept-based couture clothing and innovative prêt wear. Aesthetic and awe-inspiring are some of the words that best describe their creations that can bring life to any wardrobe. Bridging gap between Indian and modern contemporary cuts and styles, these fashion designers are ahead of their game in designing timeless classics.
ANU & SUSAN, ANU NAGAPPA AND SUSAN FERNANDES
1. Where did you study design? How did you realise your affinity towards fashion design and take it up as a profession?
Anu and I have been close friends since Std 5 in Sophia High School, Bengaluru. After college, she went to London to study fashion design, and I remember her asking me to come with her, but I have just met my husband Ashok and wasn’t in no mood to leave and go. After she returned and worked for a few years on her own, and after I had had two of my three kids, we got together to design a party collection in December 1996. Anu studied design in London. I never formally studied design, but my grandmother taught me to sew when I was 9. She would cut and teach me the finer aspects of hems and finish. I also had my mum’s sewing machine when, one of those beautiful Singer Machines, operated with a large foot pedal. I made a lot of clothes for my dolls, but never tried to make my formal then. Just stitched cool funky pyjamas.
2. What were the challenges that came initially?
When I was about 12 or 13, I started making bright bags for me and my friends, complete with zips. My favourite pastime today is turning all manner of scraps into bags – old jeans, old upholstery into market bags, tshirts and sweatshirts into tote bags. I amuse all my nieces by giving them bags made with their old sweatshirts. I also turn every bit of scrap at our store into bags that we give away. Anu started designing in the early 90’s, and was one of the first designers in Bengaluru. She sold under her name Anu Nagappa, and her strength was in making wonderfully tailored jackets and trousers. Her clients then were a lot of expats, and Mrs. Anne Warrior – who started Aditi Mallya International School. We were always known for our quality, and our clients treasured the jackets we made for years. Mrs Warrior once told us that she was still wearing the clothes we made for her 19 years ago. I joined Anu in 1996, and we would design one big collection for December – of long formal dresses, tops, and jackets. We would invite all our clients personally and have a champagne brunch that was an event people really waited for. Ladies would pick up enough outfits for the party season, and even in those days, we would not make more than a couple in each style. The challenges we faced in the early years were a lot less than today. We were among the first, so anyone who wanted well tailored clothes of superior fabrics came to us. We never went out of our way to market them and till 2004, had an annual collection that sold out completely. Now with the advent of foreign stores and cheap high street fashion, we do find the market has changed, but our clients – who still want something exclusive and exquisite and handmade don’t mind paying a little more, knowing they would not bump into someone with the same. Our prices are also very real, and affordable for the quality we provide.
3. How did you overcome them and how has the journey been since then?
We were a small outfit even then, and have readied small. And though we had chances to grow and branch out, we never wanted to. Our USP was and always has been to remain small and special, where our clients would spend hours with us while we designed their clothes, over great coffee that we still make today, and would become good friends. We were more than just designers to them, we became confidants, counselled them on how to show off the best part of their bodies, and camouflage the worst… we have also know to be agony aunts to clients who just wanted to unburden themselves and let off steam. Our Master and Tailors has been with us for 22 years, we love them and treat them like family. The atmosphere of our store and work place which is above the store, is warm and cosy. We have a tiny little store, but whoever comes in is struck but the warm happy positive vibes.
4. What have been some of the highpoints in your design journey?
The research and travel have been the highpoints of our journey. Every year we would travel to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, and bring back fabric from little villages, which we would then design – so pure handloom ethnic textiles and weaves and our sexy impeccable cut and detailing – was a great combination. We have always stuck to our first love – Handloom Pure Fabric, Cotton, Silk, Linen, and never compromised on a cheaper mass produced alternative.
5. Who are some of your biggest clients?
Some of our biggest clients have been heads of Multinational companies, who would want us to design 10-15 very different work and party dresses and western work suits. They could all afford to shop in the biggest stores abroad, but never could get the delightful details of Indian handwoven fabrics, that would set them apart. Some of them are the head of ANZ, the wife of the head of Bosch and many heads of huge IT companies.
6. What are some of the striking features in your outfits that set them apart from the other designers in this space?
The striking feature of our clothes, is the fabric – pure handloom in cotton or silk, great cuts, great finish, and above all made with love.