The Delhi-based couturier-to-the-stars Ritu Kumar has launched her summer collection of classic and contemporary Indian pieces in Dubai’s Burjuman centre. Housed within her eponymous flagship store, the range is a mix of wearable separates and classic Kumar eveningwear in vibrant seasonal shades. Kumar has been known for her passionate support of her homeland’s artisans, traditional textiles, print and embroidery since she embarked on her career in 1969. A secondary diffusion line, called Label, was launched in 2002 in addition to her main brand Ritu Kumar, and both entities continue to grow in popularity. Kumar’s efforts to nurture her country’s fashion industry were recognised by the Indian government in 2013 when she was awarded the Padma Shri accolade, the fourth highest national civilian award. Her sustainable and sophisticated designs have been worn by Bollywood’s Aishwarya Rai and Hollywood actress Mischa Barton.
Describe the collection recently unveiled in Dubai.
It comprises day and eveningwear, including kurtis, skirts and suits. I’ve used fabrics such as jersey, crepe, cotton-georgette and cotton voile. The collection blends signature Ritu Kumar prints with subtle detailing and sinewy silhouettes. The pieces are comfortable and chic, with a variety of dresses, tops, and tunics in summery hues like turquoise, navy blue, off-white and yellow. You’ll also notice the intricate use of lace, nets and embellishments on evening gowns, day dresses, jumpsuits and the like.
How successful has Label been at reaching a younger demographic?
Well, we observed that the Indian consumer was changing and there was a need to add on a contemporary collection to take our brand forward. There was a growing segment of young, independent women who were looking for designer clothes with a Western touch. My son Amrish actually came up with the concept of Label so it was a natural decision for him to head it. He has a firm understanding of the styles, fabrics, color palettes, print and embroidery the younger generation wants.
You’re credited with being the first woman to bring the ‘boutique’ concept to India. How did that come about?
By accident, and yes it’s true, there were no boutiques before I started the trend in India. It began when I returned from studying in America in the 1960s, with a desire to learn more about my country, its heritage and crafts. I did a histology course which exposed me to museology and this became the genesis of my interest in the various craft forms. I then learned more about handblock printing and started interacting with artisans across Calcutta. The knowledge and skills of those I came across became the foundation of my continued association with Indian designs and hand-woven textiles.
What are the biggest changes the Indian fashion industry, at home and abroad, has undergone in recent decades?
It’s undergone a sea change since I started out 45 years ago. Especially with weddings, for example. They have become much more flamboyant, giving room to designers to make one-of-a-kind bridal outfits. While there’s also still the need for ready-to-wear bridal lines, which are regal in every way. The modern Indian bride’s wardrobe has expanded to encompass traditional saris, cocktail saris, lehengas and suits ranging from the traditional salwar-kameez to fancy anarkalis. The collection will also include a number of Western daywear outfits. With ‘younger India’ becoming more fashion conscious, there’s ever more demand for contemporary stylized Western-wear from homegrown designers.
Who would you like to dress that you haven’t yet?
Everyone’s a star in their own right, but I think Indian actress Kangana Ranaut would be fun to dress.
Did you meet Princess Diana to design the pieces of yours that she wore in the late 1990s?
No, unfortunately. She cycled to my store in London and ordered the outfit she wore to Pakistan. I spoke to her on the phone but didn’t meet her. She was going to a temple and I was designing a sari for the event. She had the accident before the visit, such a real pity.
• To find out more about Ritu Kumar go to her website.