Can less be more when it comes to traditional Indian wear? And, does functionality and wearability have a place in it? We ask Charu Vij, the designer behind Aekatri
By Asmita Aggarwal
What does it mean to be an Indian ready-to-wear brand in today’s age? And, does it have to distinct from traditional Indian luxury? Is there a way to balance commerce with creativity? These are pertinent questions that keep sprouting in our design lexicon. Charu Vij, a graduate from Pearl Academy, found herself at this crossroads six years ago.
In fact, she wanted to do demi-couture for an audience that is only now willing to look at Indian design through a new lens. After working for an export house for a year, she gradually started to understand how to survive in a market dominated by bridal wear. So, she quit her job and started her own label — Aekatri. What followed next were a series of trials and errors that has led to her sombre yet luxe aesthetic.
Aekatri, meaning assemblage, is exactly that — a convergence between traditional and contemporary wear. So, dresses, tunics and lehengas, made in fabrics as diverse as chanderi, kora and cotton silk, are lightly embroidered with thread in floral motifs. On asking Charu, she says, “We try to do simple designs that are rooted in an unparalleled love for nature. This encapsulates the spirit of Aekatri. Nature really intrigues me all the time and my love for it is the essence of what we’re trying to do.”
A first look at the garments would make one think that the designs lack innovation.
But, Charu’s endeavours are focused towards making luxury wearable. And, wearable they are. So, functionality comes through wispy pockets and handmade buttons, that are omnipresent in the collection. And, lehengas have restrained volume (and are easy to walk in). Tunics are made in breathable, skin-friendly fabrics. “We try to bridge the gap between minimal and the maximum by approaching Indian craftsmanship and techniques in a muted manner. Our price points start from INR. 12,000 for semi formals to INR. 45,000 for formal wear,” she reveals.
The 30-year-old designer notes how domestic market has evolved over time, “Back when I started my label, occasion wear was limited to over-the-top embellishments and silhouettes. So, our clothes are a respite from superfluous design. Back then no one understood chanderi. They couldn’t decide where to wear these clothes. People have started appreciating the fabric, craftsmanship, techniques that we use and the comfort it offers to the wearer.
The designers who inspire her, the likes of Rina Singh of Eka and Aneeth Arora from Pero, have formed a brigade of sorts — one that’s constantly trying to redefine Indian design through their Gandhian ideologies. Charu says, “Their (Rina and Aneeth) aesthetics have a distinct identity. But, they’ve still managed to reach to a global clientele. The Indian market has a mad race but they always stick to their core.” These designers are also exemplars of how indigenous designers are trying to reach a wider audience, which is a format that Charu wishes to follow.
Charu started her label in 2011 from “a small room at my dad’s factory with four people to begin with. We have certainly come a long way. But, as far as I can remember, I always wanted to make clothes. Being a commerce graduate, my tryst with design began in college. However, I was always interested in art. I loved to sketch and paint in my free time,” she discloses.
As far as the future is concerned, her anxiety and excitement to meet international buyers at the on-going fashion week is evident. However, she seems positive as she concludes, “Aekatri is trying to pave a way for austere luxury — an outlook that customers have gradually started appreciating more and more. Eventually, we want to leave our imprint globally. We have started a new diffusion line called Aek, that’s more than just everyday wear. It is a step towards diversifying our existing family. However, this again will be done in a manner that is true to our language.”