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Made in India

Indian designers are steadily making a mark on the international fashion scene. But they are not the first ones to make this progress. Over the last four decades, several companies across the country have been doing intricate embroidery for the likes of Donna Karan, Jean Paul Gautier, Vera Wang and Giorgio Armani. Meher Castelino talks to two such firms to find out the method behind the madness

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call to global companies to ‘Come and make in India’ is a recent phenomenon. But international fashion couturiers have been following this trend over the last few decades by seeking the help of Indian design firms, where artisans do the embroidery for their creations. In 1993, the late Michael Stolzenburg, of Escada fame, swore by Indian embroidery for every collection. Even today, the tradition continues with the label. Foreign designers opt for artisans from here as the latter are skilled at creating intricate embroideries with finesse. Founders of two firms, who work closely with international couturiers, share their stories.

Elizabeth Hurley sported a fuchsia pink Versace lehenga for her wedding in 2007. The embroidery on the dress was done by Adity Designs.
Elizabeth Hurley sported a fuchsia pink Versace lehenga for her wedding in 2007. The embroidery on the dress was done by Adity Designs

Putting India on the global map
What’s common between model-turned-actor Elizabeth Hurley’s fuchsia pink Versace wedding lehenga, Meryl Streep’s Bill Blass jacket in the 2006 Hollywood hit The Devil Wears Prada and 2014 Emmy award-winning star Julianna Margulies’s black gown by Narisco Rodriquez? They were all embroidered by Adity Designs.

When fashion was in its infancy, politician Madhu Mehta and his wife Gopi Mehta started Adity Designs in Mumbai in 1968. They worked on the embroidery for Italian fashion labels Gucci and Valentino. In 1974 the company moved into the Indian market with bridal wear. But with the entry of designers such as Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit, Bal and JJ Valaya in the 1990s, they were soon side-lined.

A mini by designer Anand G that was sported by actor Naomi Harris in 2011
A mini by designer Anand G that was sported by actor Naomi Harris in 2011

After the demise of his parents, Nitai along with wife Sumangali took over Adity Designs in 1995-96. He started treading foreign grounds again by doing the embroidery for Donna Karan’s home furnishing and first clothing range. After that, there was no looking back for the duo. Today their list of international designers includes the who’s who in haute couture. Versace, Valentino, Marni, Jean Paul Gautier, Bulgari, Michael Kors, Ferragamo, Escada, Mary Katrantzou, Jimmy Choo, Vera Wang and Tory Burch are their clients. They do the handiwork for 80 per cent of these designs and create 50-400 designer pieces per style.

Adity Designs has done intricate embroidery for a Salvatore Ferragamo outfit
Adity Designs has done intricate embroidery for a Salvatore Ferragamo outfit

Nitai says working with foreign couturiers has been a learning experience for his team. “They have good professional ethics, fabulous administrative skills and backend organisation, and demand professionalism from us,” he explains. He adds that foreigners use Indian motifs but turn them around brilliantly. “If Gucci or Versace start making lehengas and salwar/kameezes, Indian designers will go out of business because they come with a strong design background. Today it’s not enough to just provide designs. We have to ensure that we use environment-friendly materials and get Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification.”

Sumangali and Nitai Mehta of Adity Designs have Valentino, Marni, Jean Paul Gautier, Bulgari, Michael Kors, Ferragamo and Escada as their clients
Sumangali and Nitai Mehta of Adity Designs have Valentino, Marni, Jean Paul Gautier, Bulgari, Michael Kors, Ferragamo and Escada as their clients

One of their most memorable assignments was designing the collection for Versace in 1998 when Donatella had just taken over. “We did a full men’s and women’s collection with Kutch mirror work, badla and thread embroidery for tunics, suits, shorts, belts, shirts, suits, lapels and shoes,” recollects Sumangali.

Later that year, they managed to impress Donna Karan with their paisley and Kashmiri resham work to such an extent that she decided to make her new collection using this handiwork.

In 2012, the Mehtas launched their accessories, belts, handbags, jewellery and scarves collection under their in-house label, Forest of Chintz, where they merge Indian and international motifs from countries such as Africa. It’s retailed in USA, Japan and Hong Kong. Nitai says, “India has a vast cultural heritage but there is a whole world out there, which also needs to be explored. We aim to do that with Forest of Chintz.”

He’s got designs on Italy
Anand Gupta, 60, has been associated with Italian labels such as Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Edoardo Marini, Max Mara, Bluemarine, and Etro. In fact, designers were so impressed with his handiwork and adeptness with cuts that he was known as one of the most sought after men’s beachwear designers in North Italy. After doing his BSc from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, he moved to New York in 1984 and worked in exports. In 1986 he returned to India and launched the Pretty Lady label and did his first assignment for Enrico Coveri, a design house in Florence.

In 2012, Anand Gupta’s (below) haute couture elbow-length sheer gloves with delicate embroidery for the Spring/Summer shows in Italy were seen in Armani, John Galliano and Roberto Cavalli’s collections.
In 2012, Anand Gupta’s (below) haute couture elbow-length sheer gloves with delicate embroidery for the Spring/Summer shows in Italy were seen in Armani, John Galliano and Roberto Cavalli’s collections 

Gupta, who launched his couture label Anand G in 2012, says, “It wan’t easy to work with American and Italian brands. It involved a lot of hard work and struggle. Since I started in the West, I imbibed European sensibilities so it was more challenging for me to adjust to Indian sensibilities.”

His 9,000 sq ft Mumbai factory caters to foreign couturiers while his 300 sq ft studio is for local customers by appointment only.

Gupta has done the embroidery for London-based Norwegian fashion designer Kristian Aadvenik’s black and lime yellow mini (left) and British designer Stella McCartney’s beige shift dress with net details
Gupta has done the embroidery for London-based Norwegian fashion designer Kristian Aadvenik’s black and lime yellow mini (left) and British designer Stella McCartney’s beige shift dress with net details

His most challenging assignment was to interpret the print in micro sequins for Italian designer Gai Mattiolo. “The look could only be achieved if we started at the top and finished at the hem in one thread. We prepared the artwork, stuck sequins, counted for each colour and filled out the thread. It took 40 days to prepare one piece, but Mattiolo loved it,” he explains.

Adity Designs has done intricate embroidery for a Salvatore Ferragamo outfit
Adity Designs has done intricate embroidery for a Salvatore Ferragamo outfit

The sexagenarian has created garments for Kristian Aadvenik, Valentino, Laura Biagiotti, D&G, Tracy Boyd and presented collections for British designer Stella McCartney. In 2012, his haute couture elbow-length sheer gloves with delicate embroidery for the Spring/Summer shows in Italy were seen in collections for big buyers such as Armani, John Galliano and Roberto Cavalli. Naomi Harris, the Bond Girl of Hollywood hit Skyfall, wore an Anand G mini in 2011 at a London event.

So, the next time you adore your favourite international fashionista’s outfit, give a thought to the intricate detailing on the dress. It might be an Indian artisan’s handiwork at play.

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