Launching her first flagship store in Hyderabad, designer Anita Dongre says the pandemic has made people celebrate classy, timeless styles

Digital is a pragmatic route to take during the pandemic, even for luxury labels. The fashion world had always believed that prêt could be sold online but couture, which necessitates a personalised approach, is best done in person. Now, even that segment is exploring newer methods; video consultations, for instance, to keep the business afloat. However, with the subsequent ‘Unlock’s and the festive-wedding season bringing cheer to the fashion and textile sector, designer Anita Dongre took the leap of faith and launched her first flagship store in Hyderabad recently, confident of patronage from the city’s splurge-happy clientele with deep pockets.

The initial plan was to open in summer and 50% of the work had been completed by mid-March. Resuming work in October, the store opened in time for the festive and wedding season. Clients can visit by appointment, complying with COVID-19 safety norms. As Anita puts it, “Buying luxury is a sensory experience unmatched by the internet despite our every effort to create a seamless extension.”

Art meets architecture

Designed by architect Shonan Purie Trehan of Labwerk, the three-storey store spread over 4,000 square feet reflects Anita’s fondness for Rajasthani art and architecture. “This was a rundown structure and it’s been a pleasure to transform it into a home where art, fashion and emotion live. The façade is inspired by the stepwells of Rajasthan, and the interiors are filled with things that inspire me every day — Pichhwai paintings with scenes from nature, stone, marble and antique artwork,” explains Anita.

A 50-year-old vintage ensemble worn by Pashtun women in the region bordering Afghanistan greets visitors at the entrance. The multi-coloured beads, threads and tassels narrate stories of embroidery traditions in the desert land. Anita emphasises that celebration of craftsmanship has been the core of her work, be it couture for men and women, the sustainable prêt line Grassroot, or her jewellery line Pink City.

Anita Dongre

As weddings became smaller and intimate, Anita launched her collection ‘Love Song 2020’, which she terms as an ode to the close-knit family celebrations during her childhood days. Launching this collection during the pandemic was sheer coincidence, she shares: “We conceptualised Love Song pre-lockdown, in a world that now feels so far away. It’s been a relevant collection.”

Dhaaga, the capsule collection that is hand embroidered by the women of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) and the designer’s signature ensembles with gota patti work also continue to be relevant.

Though there has been a dent in sale volumes across designer labels, Anita looks at the silver lining — of fashion becoming personal, and classic styles being celebrated: “To be honest, this has always been my aesthetic — fuss-free, elegant and timeless,” she says, taking pride in her ensembles standing the test of time.

When the pandemic set in, there was an increase in conversation about sustainable lifestyles and buying handmade, handcrafted ensembles. Anita is eager to gauge how long this approach will last: “Defining who benefits from every rupee spent has come into the spotlight. I hope more people adopt this approach with continued messaging to support local [crafts and artisans],” she says.

In June, Anita Dongre Foundation trained artisans in the rural clusters of Charoti and Dhanaveri in Maharastra to manufacture masks for distribution in rural areas and to COVID-19 frontline workers. “I have always believed in using design for good and fashion to empower. My commitment to that truth has only grown stronger in this hour of need,” she says.

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