Art that Runs Deep

Art that Runs Deep

On the ramp, models walked in edgy and glamorous clothes, but not without the fuss-free comfort. The spring/summer 2019 collection by Pankaj & Nidhi drew inspiration from lily and Fran Japanese florals. So, there were tone-on-tone styles, florals with high slits and flattering drapes. The designer duo have mastered the art of texturing, fusing them with contemporary tailoring and fluid designs. Over the years, they have developed unique ways giving their clothes dream-like silhouette, yet kept them fiercely functional.  Creating unique textures and embroidery has been their forte. Edited excerpts...

You have been blending art and design seamlessly, what is your design calling? 

Our love affair with museums and art continues to inspire us. For our autumn/winter 2019 collection, it was a walk through the galleries of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Among several inspiring works, one made a deep impression. Dutch artist Jan Davidz de Heem’s Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase (1650-1683). The detail and realism in this rather small painting is breathtaking. It made its way recently into our home on a magnified customised wallpaper.

Do you think wearable art is a sustainable form of designing clothes?

Our design philosophy blurs between art and fashion. We are inspired by art and like to create clothes like pieces of art. We create a collection that we would be proud of when we are looking at it 10 years from now, say in an archive museum or a retrospective exhibition of our brand. Each piece should be able to evoke a certain drama, excitement and a new visual. People might call it couture, but we make them ready-to-wear. 

When did you decide to start your own label?   

I was working with Rohit Bal, and Nidhi had joined there as a young designer. That is where we got to know each other, got attracted to each other, and got married. In 2006, we decided to start our own design house, our eponymous label. 

You have been into surface texturing, geometric patterns and graphic prints that have become your signature. 

We’ve worked our graphic sensibilities to make a collection, cascading from florals to origami such as geometric patterns on fabrics such as rich taffeta, silk velvets and organza. At the heart of every collection lies texturisation. We use several unique techniques. Drawing inspiration from the Japanese sashiko pattern, we use a lot of cutwork-layering, especially handcut materials with three dimensional origami like images such as semi circles and squares. These are then sewed together in a two way pattern. This season, we have not only revived our signature cutwork in pastels, but also introduced the new age arial embroidery that’s done on striped organza and cotton. Over the years, each collection of ours has had various techniques which have become our signature style. Like, quilting work on a print instead of a solid colour, ribbon work and lattice technique. This time in the form of a mesh and then being embellished with patent leather flowers and crystals. We revived our intricate trapunto quilting. We also like using lattice technique which is our signature using it on wool jersey.  

Did winning International Woolmark Prize change things?  

The Woolmark prize got us visibility in India as well as international exposure. It also nudged us to start using merino wool. 

India, traditionally, has never been too hot on structured silhouettes. Do you think that is changing with designers like you playing with modern silhouettes?

Yes, well, historically India has been a land of unstitched clothes such as dhoti, sari, drapes and shawls but that has evolved into weather-friendly loose tunics and easy separate kurtas that will always be around. We are living in the 21st century and fashion has changed roads. There are many consumers out there who want structured clothing to be able to accentuate and work with their body types, and also look sharp. A more exciting take on fashion would be when there is a place for both. 

What do you think is needed to stay relevant?

We are excited when there are new designers doing exciting work, but it needs to be sustainable, and needs to be done season after season. Each collection and each season brings new challenges and we have to be better compared to the last season to keep the business going. You could have showcased for 20 seasons, but for your next season you need to start afresh. It can make or break you. That’s the irony and also the exciting part of fashion.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.