Ritu Kumar’s creations have an easy glamour, steeped in Indian heritage and contemporaneity. It has been so for over 50 years, a staggering milestone. At the recently concluded Hyundai India Couture Week in association with Reliance Brands, an FDCI initiative, the iconic designer sent out a collection that “celebrated the return of chintz and paid homage to India’s vast repository of design and craft”. We chatted with Kumar to learn more about the collection and her evergreen mind.
It was so nostalgic to see you walk with Aditi Rao Hydari, your showstopper. Filled up our hearts...
Well, I was also feeling pretty nostalgic. I was not going to walk, but Aditi got hold of me and it just happened.
The collection was very contemporary. Who is a Ritu Kumar bride in 2023?
You! I think the new millennium bride, who is structured with her own ideas, but at the same time, there is a lot of going back to the past as well. Generally, I find that, like for the other occasions they might wear a gown or something else, but very rarely have I seen them completely part company with their tradition. In Punjab, you’ll always see that the bride wants to wear something that fits into that Darbar Sahib feel. In Bengal, they will wear red. No one is going to wear black. In Gujarat, they wear white and red. In Kerala, they wear white and gold. So, in some ways, that tradition of what people find auspicious for the actual ceremony tends to stay. But you know there is a lot of experimentation for other occasions like a Mehndi or a Haldi. Now they have so many things. So, all the younger girls’ wardrobes are getting really full. For Indian clothes, it is no longer just a sari or a lehnga. There are so many variations. I think an Indian girl’s wardrobe is the most rich in the world. Many people have also changed what they wear for the actual ceremony. That is if they have a shaadi in Goa, they wear pastels, but inherently, it hasn’t changed too much, but where it’s changed is you can have a beach party and wear just about anything.
The minds of the kids have expanded, in the sense that they are open to fresh ideas and they like to make their own wardrobes, given what is available.
What was your creative headspace while putting this collection together?
Well, what happens over the years, you start layering techniques. If there is an aesthetically done print, but it’s looking a little dull, then we put taar and tikkis on it. Now the third dimension comes in with shapes. Shapes are no longer what they were. So, now we are experimenting with cutting on the cross and there are capes and other things that go into it. We also had our Anarkalis, but with a twist.
The sari you styled on a model with a headgear was so dramatic...
This is how the younger generation would like to wear it, boots and a sari, a full blouse, not necessarily completely bare. There were accessories used on the arm and the headgear... it was a little bindaas and fun and a new way of wearing a sari, which everybody experiments differently with.
We also loved the piece on Lakshmi Rana...
It was a trouser suit, velvet, printed, with a little bit of work on it. The inner is one of our odhnis in organza with a bit of glitter on it. It’s a third dimension and not worn like a normal chunni. I like that. I always want it to be wearable. You don’t only want to go to a red carpet event in these clothes.
How have you stayed young at heart?
Well, I do some very young collections (laughs). (I would tell those starting out now) study Indian textiles. There is so much richness there that you will never run out of ideas. You can study a beautiful booti, but put it into a different format. Use Indian textiles as your base... printed, woven, and embroidered.
What takes up a lot of your time now? Have you let go of some responsibilities to focus on the things you want to do?
We have a very large design team and I do much more editing, the prints, but much less of everything that I used to do at one time. It’s like a parent (laughs). So, the advisory nature is a very big one because we are running so many labels now.
Is it difficult to let go?
No, I let go. I am very good at assigning responsibilities and letting them get on with it. You know you can just do this much by yourself. And, you shouldn’t. The next generation must learn.