Nidhi Ahuja’s quiet fortitude gets a vent in her deft pattern cutting and robust knowledge that she attained at NIFT; her free thinking ways, love for textures and innovative techniques is what gives impetus to Pankaj and Nidhi’s autumn-winter line ‘Rouge Minerale’
By Asmita Aggarwal
Nidhi Ahuja, the better-half of Pankaj and Nidhi often lets the latter take the most half of the spotlight, but behind that reticence is a sharp, focussed mind. Maybe it’s got to do with her love for academics, textbooks and her final halt—-NIFT Hyderabad. But it wasn’t always like that for Nidhi, who grew up in West Delhi, and wanted to be an engineer so she was giving all her IIT entrances, when an aunt seeing her interest in drawing and painting encouraged her to apply for NIFT. “I went for the exam carrying colour pencils and that really got me excited rather than heavy science books, I was used to. I saw the campus and it was love at first sight—it spelt freedom, and living away from home made me more independent, I would recommend it to everyone,” she smiles.
What she learnt at NIFT held her in good stead; she fully understands design software, can do graphics in a jiffy and pattern making, which she feels is a must to be able to visualise effectively. “Pankaj, on the other hand, draws by hand,” she smiles, adding, “for hours our teacher at NIFT would tell us to make a straight line, practise somehow makes you perfect, so I am able to sketch quite effortlessly,” she explains.
This being their ninth year and 14th season, Pankaj and Nidhi, when they started didn’t strategise, in fact they went with something that always works—passion, and a bagful of innovative ideas, even though they feel they have made clothes for only the ‘thin’, some of which, Nidhi will laugh and tell you she herself can’t wear (shift dresses), but they are slowly challenging the set norms of fashion and moving to more boxy, easy silhouettes. “We are embracing a trend which is a bit universal, so whether you are XL, L, small or medium you can fit into our clothes,” she confides. In keeping with the brand’s identity, the duo has each season attempted to add newness, whether it was with an ingenious technique or fresh texture. In this journey, they have experimented with Polish paper cutting art, Wycinanki to the Japanese’s basket weave, which they revved up with lattice work.
This aut-winter is a departure from their ornamental and feminine look, it is aptly titled “Rouge Minerale”, inspired by mining and the ramp reflects that landmine complete with the tools of the trade. It started with Pankaj noticing how beautifully the colour red in a ruby splinters when it is shattered and this leitmotif gets mirrored in the haphazard textures that were created with embroidery and printing. Though they did add balance by creating wearable and desirable and not edgy clothes, so the final effect is not that geometric and neither is it in-your-face. Though the line begins with reds and greys, it progresses to softer flesh and nude tones and all the accessories are actual mining equipment.
The leather sequins and Swarovski elements are further accentuated with appliqué, done in a broken mosaic effect, their signature and cutwork, but what remains, a regret with Nidhi is her inability to explore the crafts sector, something that she aims to do, next season. “We did work with Khadi, this time and it was a revelation, though chanderi has been part of our repertoire we want to do more,” she adds.
Rouge Minerale has pure Australian Merino wool, a ‘divine’ fabric, as well as wool and jersey mix which, offers stretch for the evening dresses, and high necks and gloves. They have also imported faux fur to give it a feeling of winter, and as Nidhi says, “Nothing in the line is forced, rather it is free flowing and in pressure we work best”. And her parting shot is even better, “I have so many ideas that I would like to do a high-street label, but we as designers don’t have fabulous production facilities, even though the domestic market has seen an exponential growth in this sector”.