October 17, 2023 FDCI

Brand by Hand

Giving leather longevity through contemporary design, Sonal Varma of Rara Avis, offers versatile shapes for a global traveller.

By Asmita Aggarwal

She chose leather design over fashion, as she believed if you master the former, the latter is a cakewalk, and this is what made Sonal Varma of Rara Avis, a force to reckon with. Born and raised in Delhi, in a family which ran a jewellery business, creativity was a part of her childhood, whether it was sketching or painting. NIFT Delhi was an organic extension to understand a specialised area, and to learn the trade, she worked with both Ritu Kumar and Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna, before branching out on her own.

Education being the fulcrum of growth, Sonal travelled to Spain’s IED Instituto Europeo di Design, where a masters and a final project on leather sculptures, and the appreciation it received, motivated her to launch Rara Avis (or rarity in Latin) in 2013. That is why her bags, and jewellery (crafted in Jaipur embedded with natural stones and precious materials), have stood the test of time, being one-of-a-kind. “My dad was a jeweller, we lost him two years ago, I wanted to carry on his legacy,” she affirms.

From participating at trade shows in Tranoi, Paris for the last six years, it is only after eight years that Sonal is back on the LFW 2023 runway. “The mistake every designer makes is trying to handle everything on their own, and fashion really must be run like a business even though it is art. It is time-centric; punctuality matters and patience can really get you anywhere, she confirms.

The core philosophy of the brand is ‘immortal design’, offering contemporary classics, in handlooms, blazers that can be worn from New York to Manali, demographics don’t matter, psychographics do. I am addressing the needs of a global traveller,” she says.

The Rara Avis gilet carefully constructed can be worn with almost anything, so it is not a one-time wear, and few know that all the accessories —- shoes, bags and belts, the casts are made in Italy and developed and produced in Chennai, materials are rooted in India. “Embroidery is an important aspect, so we do it in leather, basket weaves, create textures, using interweaving techniques, which give the product strength and character,” she says.

An animal lover and vegetarian, she believes there are many myths around leather, and confirms animals are not killed in the process. “Leather is fully biodegradable unlike plastic,” she adds. Most of her stories come when she is travelling and this season for LFW the “African Safari” is her leitmotif, where you are dressed chic, preparing for a fun trip, carrying from parkas, to trench coats in washed wool with detachable pockets, all separates,” she explains.

The USP is usage of classic Indian techniques in a contemporary manner and being aware of global value systems in design is important for Sonal. “Leather is not malleable, it can’t be altered, but it has longevity, is rich and subtle. Experimentation with many colours is impossible, as the skin reacts to it differently, and takes texture uniquely. Yet it is built to last, one good investment piece can add to your look,” she concludes.

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Fashion Design Council of India