counterfashion 4- indian brands for real people

I’ve been so swamped with stuff that I wander around the house with ink stains on my nose and my glasses askew and my oiled hair disciplined by a piece of jute string that was formerly the handle of a FabIndia paper bag. I make so many Flash-like trips to the kitchen and the fridge they barely register, even with me. I call Nirula’s so often that they auto-note my order, which is always hot chocolate fudge, two scoops and extra fudge please. I live in Husband’s old shirts, floating in their tent-y bigness and vaguely wondering why I shouldn’t just set fire to my wardrobe and wear these all my life. I chug water directly from the carafe and eat straight from the frying pan. I don’t moisturise for days, I can’t remember when I last wore kajal. And in moments of lucidity, I blog. So pardon me if this reads like a stream of consciousness rant.

This is the third-from-last installment in the Counterfashion series, a bunch of posts about Indian brands rooted in double-chinned, blotchy-skinned, chapped-lipped reality. If you haven’t already, do check out parts 1, 2 and 3.

8. Ritu Kumar/ Label by Ritu Kumar

I have a soft spot for Ritu Kumar because she just won’t give up or give in. Purely in terms of presence, her brand is a dinosaur that has seen people wear HMT watches, guzzle Gold Spot, smoke Charms and crush-stalk Doordarshan news anchors Gitanjali Aiyyar (the big hair!) and Neethi Ravindran (that mole!). And that’s okay. France has their Chanel, and we have our Ritu Kumar.

My only grudge with the brand is that it hasn’t really evolved; it’s suspended in time, indifferent to and unaffected by changing context. You might argue that this gives the brand a classic, timeless quality, but I don’t agree. I expect better of one of India’s first female enterpreneurs, a  woman who stormed the sedate European retail landscape in the 70’s with OTT ethnic chic, dressed the women we showcased to the world (Shyamoli Varma, Anna Bredemeyer), and melded social responsibility and couture long before it was cool.

What I’d like from Ritu Kumar is the sari reimagined, practical bridal wear with both longevity and versatility (not unlike Iron Man’s suit), a line of separates for the workplace, cuts and silhouettes that keep pace with the Indian woman’s changing roles. What I see is insipid blouses, uninspired saris and unattainable lehengas, all of which look a lot like each other. The design aesthetic is so incestuous and repetitive you can’t tell a garment by year or season. Same ole, same ole.

But don’t get me wrong- the garments are undeniably beautiful, if not particularly witty or ‘with it’.  The eye candy in her stores is a pretty safe bet if you’re not very conversant with the Indian fashion scene, are in a bit of a hurry, have a ton of money to spend and want something trusty, Indian-looking and shaadi-specific.  My wedding trousseau had lots of Ritu Kumar (hard-earned brownbacks, devis!), and my favourite is a forest green sari that looks like it’s made out of moss and seaweed and the green stuff you see on old cement walls in the monsoon.

You know a Ritu Kumar garment from its intricate needlework and from the sense of deja vu you get when you see and touch one- have I seen this before? this looks awfully familiar!- which just goes to show how singularly focused the nature of her aesthetic is- traditional, familiar, rooted. Harsher critiques, many from within the industry, point out her disinclination to innovate, to contemporise. But Ritu Kumar soldiers on. Her weapons are dabka, zardozi and gota patti, and her armour, silk and cotton.

Label is perhaps her only attempt at wooing an increasingly fashion-literate, eurocentric fashionista who associates the brand with her mum’s wardrobe. It’s also an attempt to woo real people, as opposed to the kale-and-kiwi-scarfing brunch set. Is this then a brand for people like me, people with the proportions of a dumpling? Yes it is, and yay! The Label stores stock easy-breezy beautiful garments- a snatch of embroidery here, a smidgen of sequins there- that you can wear to a friend’s housewarming party, your brother’s graduation, or to a play. There’s nary a lehenga or sari in sight- only beautiful blazers, gilets, skirts, jackets, pants, dresses, blouses and handmade leather accessories that smell like toasted wood.  I gift a lot of Label to friends- I bought my friend N- a brand new mum- a diaphanous top that reminded me of a summer breeze, and my friend A, a newly-minted Govt. of India hotshot, a wallet made from soft, buttery leather that took me right back to college. And a slouchy grey jersey top with pretty pink-and-orange threadwork at the neck for my sister in law D, because she’s just become mum to the cutest, button-nosed imp. And a sheer-ish blue and white number for Husband’s senior, good friend, and fairy godmother-of-sorts S, who is an excellent surgeon and accomplished shopper to boot.

Label is expensive (a top could set you back by three thou and a dress by ten to fifteen thou), but they’re on sale a lot, so its best to time your shopping spree to their sale cycle. I never seem to find good stuff at their sales (bad timing? poor nose for cheap gems?), so I shop when they’re full price to save myself the bother of disappointment. However, I do know people who shop armfuls of goodies from Label, only to dump them potato-sack-like in the car and return for moar. If you are one of these people, please adopt me for a day. I will hold your bags for you and help you sip Gatorade with a straw while you rootle through the produce.

And oh- Label’s done a tie-up with Wills Lifestyle, so if you’re nowhere near a Label, you can always check into a Wills.

My favourite Ritu Kumar looks (these aren’t Label):






Doesn’t Priyanka Chopra look amazeballs? And 90’s Aishwarya too, in her white woven chanderi. I’d lose the hideous pearl/ ivory jewellery and let the sari rule.

Delhi Ritu Kumar stores I haunt– The Crescent @ Lado Sarai, Archana Complex @ Greater Kailash. She’s also stocked at Aza, Ensemble and Kimaya, the addresses of all of which are Googleable

Delhi Label by Ritu Kumar stores I haunt– DLF Promenade @Vasant Kunj, Archana @ Greater Kailash. A swanky new one’s just opened at Khan Market

What I mostly buy– from Ritu Kumar: their saris and salwar kameezes. They also stock ‘budget lehengas’- not as expensive as the serious bridal ones, but pretty doable if you’re having an intimate bohemian wedding, or attending one. From Label by Ritu Kumar: their cotton tops and blouses, and the occasional leather goody

Similar Delhi based brands I love– L’affaire at GK M Block has saris, lehengas and the like in lovely prints, textures and fabric

I’m tuckered out from all this blogging! I will now go and ravage a mango that’s been whispering ‘Eat Me!’ every time I open the fridge.  Toodles!



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