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Anita Dongre's Rewild’23 makes weekend in Jaipur more memorable and noteworthy

Dressed in layers of black and a pair of comfortable boots, a bespectacled Anita Dongre stood at the gates of the old-world City Palace in Jaipur, just when the evening had descended upon November 4

Saionee Chakraborty | Published 14.11.23, 10:04 AM
A gleaming Sarvato Bhadra

A gleaming Sarvato Bhadra

Pictures courtesy: Anita Dongre and the author

Dressed in layers of black and a pair of comfortable boots, a bespectacled Anita Dongre stood at the gates of the old-world City Palace in Jaipur, just when the evening had descended upon November 4. “Let me stand here,” we overheard her sharing with her team member as we walked in, a series of fuchsia pink frames welcoming the guests along with Anita, into City Palace’s gigantic yet with a feeling of the cosy, Mubarak Mahal, for cocktails before the regal gates of an expansive Sarvato Bhadra were thrown open a couple of hours later for the designer’s fundraiser, Rewild’23: Fashion for Good, the inaugural edition dedicated to nature and elephant conservation, that was co-hosted by Gauravi Kumari. Kartiki Gonsalves, film director, whose The Elephant Whisperers won her an Academy Award in the ‘Documentary Short Film’ category earlier this year, was the advisory partner.

Warmth was the keyword that summed up our 48-hour experience as Anita’s guest. At every step. With every smile. The setting at Mubarak Mahal was one of ease with the guests settling down with a drink on rani pink seats made even more pretty with green cushions that underlined the cause of the night in the prints, that of the elephant in the wild. There was live music and a Pichwai corner that gave an intimate glimpse of the art form that you’d soon see on the clothes.


When the gates of the Sarvato Bhadra were opened up with fanfare, there was a collective gasp. Majestic and befitting a tribute to the royal elephant. Tables laden with flowers and twinkling lights serenading the grounds was like a travel in time, set in a century whose knowledge is only limited to history books for most of us. Yet, the ambience was one of immense comfort and never for once alienating. A vibe that stayed with us through our short travel.

Gauravi Kumari (left) and Anita Dongre

Gauravi Kumari (left) and Anita Dongre

As Anita’s models walked to the mesmerising and power-packed music of Bhawari Devi, blending in beautifully with that of the new-age Komorebi, the palace grounds seemed to merge with the night sky in an unison that was nothing short of poetry, drawing you in, breathtakingly, in a warm hug. Percussionist Nathulalji and his group of nagada players added to the zing.

Anita sent out a line packed with pieces that looked comfortable and championed tradition, but always giving it a modern dialogue. Drawing from nature, some of them had a modern banjara vibe. From ivories to reds to pinks to a line of heavily embroidered blacks and greens, there were pieces for travel, party, and of course celebrations and weddings.

The lantana elephants made the dialogue stronger as they were quite a personality at the show. Neat hair and makeup reiterated the global woman for whom tradition worn as art was the main adornment.

As the enchanting beats of Padharo mhare desh brought the show to a close, a voice within us wanted to dance, like Nayanika Chatterjee and Carol Gracias. The other voice was a tad sad. Till next time.

Before we left for the airport the next day, we had a chance to chat with Anita over a Middle-Eastern brunch at the lovely Baradari, again a mix of the old and the new. Excerpts.

How long have you been planning this show?

Well, I dreamt of doing a show of this magnitude one day at City Palace, almost 10 years ago, when I shot at City Palace. We actually started working on the concept sometime around February-March this year and in April, I spoke to Diya Kumari and she graciously offered us her home and that’s it. We started work from then, figuring out the logistics.

How meticulous did the planning have to be?

Everything has passed my eye, right from designing the table covers to the cushions to the napkins to the printed menus and invitations, coasters, there is so much, besides doing the clothes. And then creating some customised clothes for some of the guests. It was a crazy hectic last month but it’s been so worth it, seeing it all unfold yesterday. The magic is the way the evening unfolded, it was exactly how I had imagined it and more. So, I am grateful that it went off so beautifully. I think the one word I received from everybody was ‘goosebumps’. It was really special.

When did the theme of elephant conservation come in?

That happened with a meeting with Kartiki Gonsalves, the director of The Elephant Whisperers. I bumped into her earlier this year at an event and I was telling her that I have always wanted to do something for elephants and she was like, why don’t you? I told her I didn’t know where to begin and she said she’d show me. She told me about the Nature Conservation Foundation. We spoke to them and were moved by their story. It’s a small NGO working at a grassroots level down south. That’s when I realised that I could do this show and I could do this as a fundraiser to raise funds for impact. For me to do a show with a purpose became more important than just doing a show. These funds will be used by them to pay salaries to the people who work in the NGO. We felt it would be a good, judicious use of the money. My brother who manages the foundation (Anita Dongre Foundation) will now closely work with NCF on making sure that whatever we have raised is judiciously used.

Tell us a bit about the lantana elephants...

I was introduced to the lantana elephants by Ruth Ganesh who runs the Animal Ball in London. I was there in July. I saw the lantana elephants there and absolutely fell in love with them. I met the creators of the lantana elephants... Tarsh (Thekaekara) and Ruth very graciously said they could lend us the lantana elephants. Part of the proceeds of the lantana elephants go into elephant conservation. It is so sustainable what they do with lantana.

They are using a weed to create a piece of beauty and each one has a name and is created from a real elephant (residing in the Nilgiri Hills). I just loved their story and wanted to be a part of it and create awareness. We had 30 of them.

The whole ambience at the show was so royal...

The presence of the royal family... Gauravi was keen that a show of this scale happens at City Palace and she said, ‘I really want to show the world what Indian fashion, architecture and heritage is all about’. She supported us with every request we had... she broke every rule that the palace had to make this happen for us, and we are very grateful. I also wanted the music to be Rajasthani with a little bit of the blend of English. We curated the music thoughtfully.

Let’s talk about the collection...

I just wanted to create a line of clothes rich in craft, but very contemporary, cool and young. I also created pieces for some of the older women, which were elegant, and for me, it was a mother-daughter shopping in my store. That was the vision I had. Some of the pieces are like luxury pret and some are couture. I wanted to mix it all up and create pieces that are global and that anyone, anywhere in the world could buy, but someone who loves Indian craft. We have stores today in Dubai and New York. There were a few Indian pieces.

We used gota patti, a lot of the pieces were by the Pichwai artist who was at the venue. The story with him is also amazing. I met him 10 years ago at City Palace. I also work with SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), an NGO from Gujarat. So, a lot of embroideries were by them too and those are pieces that take many months to embroider. A lot of the pieces are collector pieces and pieces that are classic and that will be in your wardrobe forever. They are wearable because I don’t want you to ever discard that piece because the craft is so valuable.

The beautiful tables that were laden with floral art that was brainstormed by Claire Deroo

The beautiful tables that were laden with floral art that was brainstormed by Claire Deroo

The brand is getting younger by the day...

Everyone should get younger by the day! (Laughs) The brand has to stay young and relevant, always. What I love is to put myself in the head of a 25-year-old. The compliment we received from the models is that this is the only show where they wanted to buy the whole collection. All of them came and hugged me.

The trip to The Princess Diya Kumari Foundation was a lesson in warmth and kindness...

The women are happy and smiling... I think all of us born in cities like Bombay, Delhi... we are always in such a rush and live our lives at such a fast pace that we forget to slow down. These women show you that life is more than running around and chasing some success or target or any material thing. They are happy with what they are doing. Our whole philosophy is to be kind.

Do you see a difference in yourself in the last six months?

I see a difference in myself every single day. All of us need to grow, change and hopefully, evolve. I think this year has been an important year for me to go more within myself and create a collection I believed in and wanted to do without getting affected by the noise and the clutter outside.

The pathway leading to Rewild’23, decorated with The Real Elephant Collective’s lantana sculptures

The pathway leading to Rewild’23, decorated with The Real Elephant Collective’s lantana sculptures

What have the women you dress taught you?

I learn a lot from all the women who wear my clothes. A lot of them subtly become my muses. I might see someone wearing something differently and that gets locked in my brain and probably in the next collection I am designing, that image will come to my mind. I absorb like a sponge. It is just interesting to watch. I am just a watcher actually.

Rajasthan has been your forever muse...

Absolutely. Yesterday too, when I drove in from the airport, there was so much traffic that I couldn’t stop and take a picture of this village woman... oh my god... I wrote down what she wore and captured that image in words. She was grace personified, elegant, walking down the road. The colours she wore and her carriage was so royal, it was jaw-dropping.

You belong from here. Do you see yourself retiring here someday?

It is a very good question. I almost did that a few years ago. My immediate family is in Bombay and they don’t want to move to Jaipur and I can’t do without them. I did ask my team, but everyone wants to be in Bombay, but we come here so often on work.... In Navi Mumbai also, it’s quiet and green. It’s a beautiful place that took us years to build and it’s utopian. So, I don’t have regrets of not moving to Jaipur....

We totally see you working from a hilltop house in Jaipur someday...

A live corner of Pichwai art was a highlight

A live corner of Pichwai art was a highlight

I am pretty much on a hilltop in Navi Mumbai. If you come to see my design headquarters, you’ll know. That vision you have of me is already there (laughs).

A peek into the guestlist at Anita Dongre’s Rewild’23...

Madhuri Dixit Nene

Bhumi Pednekar

Sara Tendulkar

Raja Kumari

A few more highlights:

Work of art by the women artisans of The Princess Diya Kumari Foundation that was founded in 2013 and works for women’s empowerment, among others.

A fleet of pink e-rickshaws, helmed by women drivers, took us to The Princess Diya Kumari Foundation.

We woke up to this view at The Leela Palace, Jaipur. They also plated an yummy vegetarian Rajasthani thali, post-show.

Last updated on 14.11.23, 10:10 AM

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