October 13, 2017 Asmita Aggarwal

The Bell Jar

Ragini Ahuja’s brother Tanmay gets a touching tribute, as she raises pertinent questions about displaced refugees through soft as mul Chanderis and dexterously executed appliqué


By Asmita Aggarwal

Fashion should ideally not be divorced from reality even though many term it as fantasy, so if Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia sent down models wearing ‘fake news’ print ensembles (reminding you Mr Trump and his antics) at the Paris Fashion Week 2017, Ragini Ahuja at AIFW SS’18 paid homage to those who are displaced due to political strife, fleeing their homes and forced into hard labour.

Whether it is the Rohingya Muslims or Syrians, their fate is connected just like the Kayan tribes in Myanmar, who have become a spectacle due to their long ringed necks (they are elongated with brass coils that are a symbol of attractiveness as well as resembling a dragon which is part of their cultural ethos) and their altercations with the military forcing them to flee to the Thai border looking for shelter.

Tourists now pay to come to see how they live and experience their culture, taking away their right to privacy. She was witness to this ignominy, due to the travelling bug that she inherited from her father; to see and experience new places and also reward herself for working, rather hard.

Ragini’s graphic rendition of appliqué and her washed out Chanderi, a fabric she loves (she soaked it in water to remove all the starch and give it that soft mul-mul texture) with tribal motifs that exemplify their state of distress was rather revelatory. “We have been working with weavers in Chanderi, since I launched my label Ikai (or the smallest atom that can’t be broken further); I considered it my responsibility to give them more business, so that they can comfortable sustain,” says Ragini, who studied at Istituto Marangoni, Northern Italy.

The silhouettes were oversized and comfy, and practical as Ragini admits, “I used to wear my dad’s shirt while growing up”, adding hints of androgyny in the line. Though she adds, she designs for women who are liberated, strong-headed, have a point of view and are unafraid to express it.

Born in a family of exporters, who also owned various dyeing units, there was always exposure to fabrics, though, she says no one was into fashion,  a space where you enter when the rest of the needs in your life like food, house and money are satiated. It is not a profession for the faint-hearted, but yes, your sensitivity can make your line straight from the heart, which in Ragini’s case fits well and tugs at your heartstrings.

And she will be moved to tears if you ask her about the brownies, she gave away as a tribute to those who are voiceless, like her younger brother Tanmay. This was Tanmay’s first time ever at a fashion week, as he is a special boy, but that doesn’t take away from the love he showers on both his sisters, Ragini and the older one settled in Boston, US. “When I come home, tired, he greets me with enormous affection and he is undoubtedly the biggest asset in my life, as he loves me selflessly. The brownies are made by the NGO Shaurya that works with children with special needs. My brother is one of them and he used to bring these goodies home, along with makhanas and mathis that we all enjoyed. I wanted to share his story through the brownies, but in a covert rather than overt manner that’s why there was no labelling on the box. Fashion should be inclusive shouldn’t it? And this was my first step in that direction, to have the most important person in my life, my brother be part of my showing,” she confesses.

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