Designing Indian Fashion
The designer and entrepreneur talks about her journey, indian fashion, and her Ogaan chain of designer stores
Kavita Bhartia’s Ogaan was the first store in New Delhi and just the second store in India to house collections by a multitude of designers. Now with 5 stores across the country, the lady behind Ogaan sits down with Abraxas Lifestyle at her very first store in the colourful Hauz Khas Village for an in-depth conversation about how it all began and a whole lot more.
Kavita Bhartia comes from a business family and grew up in Delhi, studying at the Convent of Jesus and Mary. After she finished her schooling, she studied Textiles as it was something she really wanted to do. Soon she got married into a Marwari family, and with the support of her businessman husband and her family, she started working in November 1989.
When Kavita started in November 1989, there were very few fashion designers and also very few women were in the business community. Of course a lot of women were working, but they were doing things for charity. Her husband, who was a very good mentor, asked her what she wanted to do and encouraged her. She believes that that was a life changing experience for her and says, “I think every woman has so much potential, and it’s so important for them to realise that potential. I think a country only truly evolves when women join the work force. I’m really happy that I got this opportunity and my family supported me through and through.”
Currently Ogaan has five stores across India and she and her daughter Ashti are fine tuning the business. Though she wishes she could have expanded Ogaan to a 100 stores, she is content with her five stores given the state of the world and the economy. She feels that indian fashion is in a good place right now with fashion weeks starting, international buyers are coming, international stores opening up and designer houses coming to India to buy from the Indian designers. She says, “I think Indian design has a lot of content and restricted price points. I think it’s something that’s being respected all over the world. I think Indian designers are doing (I would say in my experience) the best because I think the content, whether it’s printing, our heritage, our digital prints, our block prints, our hand embroidery, hand work, bead work, you can afford to dream in India and realise them. We are able to produce Indian as well as very contemporary modern design so we are able to give something special to the world.”
Since she started the business, she has strived to keep doing something new. “There has to be innovation on a constant basis,” she says. Every time she has an exhibition (which is once a month), she makes sure the whole store looks different, the invites have to be something unusual, and unusual and innovative people are involved in the process – whether it was for the displays or for the garments. Since it was a new business and not a family business, there was so much to be done, especially with the constant stream of new designers coming out. She believes it’s good for the designers to have a competitive environment, and it’s excellent for the buyers as well – they can find so many unusual things under one roof. Ogaan stocks collections from designers like Sunita Shankar, Sonam Dubal, Anjali Kalia, Sabyasachi, and Anamika Khanna – designers who make contemporary clothes inspired by Indian heritage craft forms like bandhini, and ajak.” It’s all about using Indian handwork in a contemporary style,” she explains, “because everybody wants to look good and smart and stylish, but not typically traditional.” She laughs when she talks about how people have evolved over the years. “When I started Ogaan,” she reminisces, “we made what everyone used to call ‘the tents’, because the Indian woman back then was not very confident about her body and we used to wear these ‘tents’ to hide our shape.” She goes on to say that in contrast, today everyone wants to show off their beautiful bodies –everybody works out. “It’s all about going that extra mile and making yourself very presentable and being one with the world,” she explains.
Design sensibility and how it has changed over the years.
The designer believes that her design sensibility has become more streamlined over the years. Earlier, it was all about embroidery, no matter how much embroidery you put, it was always less. Now it’s about less embroidery and more about the cuts and limiting yourself. She confides that though Indian people still love their embroidery, they want it to have that contemporary touch – it has to be a blend of both.
There was a time when she was very inspired by Rajasthan and taking that inspiration she created a really colourful collection. With her factory having tie-dying, printing and embroidery facilities, she could afford to dream and realised her dreams too. In her previous collection she essentially worked with a lot of braids. Her present collection lays more emphasis on the threads – her team created their own fabric for a lot of jackets, etc., and the collection was really well received. “It’s all about experimenting, innovation, exploration and using Indian elements in a contemporary way,” she declares. With an extremely competitive environment and people being more evolved and fashion conscious than ever before, designers have to constantly improve and have to do something unusual. Since there are two fashion weeks, Kavita and her team works for two seasons as they have to present a summer collection and a winter collection. She essentially works with pieces that are basically evening wear but can be worn throughout the year. As each collection has to be different, it’s not easy and sometimes it can be a bit of a hit or a miss. “Sometimes we do very well and sometimes we don’t,” she says.
She describes her eponymous brand’s USP, as easy to wear clothes which have a style of their own; a specific look and feel. Not one for outlandish costumes, even her Fashion Week creations are creations people can relate to and wear easily. She also likes to use a lot of prints as is evident by her having an entire department in her factory dedicated solely to printing. Besides prints there is also lots of handwork involved, which ends up creating a truly unique product.
A Kavita Bhartia woman
According to the designer, a Kavita Bhartia woman is someone who is confident and is looking for something usual. She has fond memories of people coming up to her over the years and telling her about the number of her designs which they possess and how much they enjoy wearing them.
On upcoming designers
A stalwart in the Indian fashion industry, Kavita sees tremendous potential in the upcoming generation of designers, potential which she says is owed largely to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). She believes that NIFT teaches its graduates about fashion in depth and also makes them understand the strength of Indian handwork, they understand what is happening in the world and they are able to provide the Indian content in a very contemporary format, which works really well whether it is in India or abroad.
The Indian Fashion Industry and the influx of foreign designers
Kavita has noticed that people these days are choosing to wear Western formal attire like gowns even at Indian marriage functions, and that Indian designers like Gauri & Nainika, Gaurav Gupta and many more have also started designing Western eveningwear. She believes that the influx of foreign brands and labels doesn’t pose a threat to the Indian fashion industry because as far as pricing and styling goes, the Indian designer labels are able to give something more than international labels can. The international labels that are present in India at this point in that category are extremely expensive and also sometimes don’t work for the Indian bodies. She reveals that even though she has access to international designer labels and does buy a lot from them, she personally loves to buy from Indian designers. As she very correctly puts it, “For traditional indian fashion no international designer can ever do justice to it. You have to have the Indian sensibility; you have to have been brought up in India, with the things we grew up with, like visiting Rajasthan, wearing the saris, wearing the lehengas, the kurta pyjamas, and the kurtis. You have to have the Indian ethos.”
However if there is one issue she believes the Indian fashion industry needs to tackle, it is sizing. She says that usually unless it’s an order for an international market and they order small, medium and large, mostly designers do a medium one -size-fits-all and then there are tailors who fit you and do lots of alterations as the need arises. But if there is a request for an extra large or an extra small size, then it has to be specifically made to order.
Favourite Fashion Era
When asked which fashion era is her personal favourite, the designer prefers to stay in the now, feeling the current era of indian fashion is the best. “Fashion has really evolved and I think right now there is a boom,” she says. “We didn’t have access to anything while growing up. Now we have to access to DKNY and Armani and Zara. I think right now is the best era. It’s a fun time to dress up,” she continues. She also points out her personal preference for Zara’s white shirts as well as their everyday wear, while saying that she loves wearing clothes by contemporary Indian designers like Sunita Shankar and Anjali Kalia, because they are contemporary and stylish as well as easy to wear – the latter being important when you’re working and busy in a factory all day.
Favourite Make Up Look
Kavita keeps her look totally natural with just a kajal, a little blush and lipgloss. She steers clear of lipsticks, calling them “too made up”, and that they don’t suit her.
She loves to pair black with different accents because “then you don’t have to think about your accessories and everything looks good with it”. Although she finds black classy, these days she likes to have a hint of colour somewhere, as she’s bored of just black.
She favours Sonam Kapoor as a celebrity indian fashion icon for the way she dresses as well as for her sensibilities. She goes on to say that there are so many people who stand out because they do things differently – the way they combine their clothes, mix their colours. “They don’t do it like it’s usually done. They pick something from somewhere and something from somewhere else and the way they put it together look so special”, she says. Those people, in her opinion, are fashion icons.
Having enjoyed fashion for many years now, Kavita has made it a habit that every time she sees something she really likes, she picks it up. It doesn’t always have to be designer or high street labels either – even though she loves buying clothes from Gaurav Gupta and shirts and basic clothes from Zara, an item at a stall on the streets of Goa might catch her attention too. “There are so many occasions that one needs to dress for, you can’t always be stuck to any one particular brand or label,” she finishes.
Message for the Readers
A staunch believer in healthy eating, Kavita believes that looking after one’s health and weight is really important. With the advent of super foods like kale, quinoa and brown rice, eating healthy and staying healthy is easier now than ever before. You don’t need to make any drastic changes, she observes, just tweak your habits a bit – like eating light dinners, and avoiding carbs post 7pm.When it comes to fashion she insists on investing in good basics like throws and gilets so that can create your own signature look.
Her Autumn Winter Collection
Traditional and patterned motifs create new forms. Hand-block print techniques used with textures unite different craft based communities to create an unusual self-expression. Charcoal, black and beige are the base colours, while oranges, yellows and purples are highlighted with gold and silver. Metallics play an important role this season. Mixed media embellished fringes and braiding are incorporated, while the shapes this season are simple and wearable.