In an interview, the designer who completes 10 years in the fashion industry discusses marrying industrial materials with textiles
Most interior designers recommend that the walls of a retail space be light, bright, usually white, to make the space feel larger and airier and to focus attention on the products. Designer Amit Agarwal went all black for his new store at DLF Emporio Mall in South Delhi. The 1,505-square-foot store has black paint on every surface. In an industry that is a slave to trends, Agarwal chooses to be an outsider.
A decade ago, when he graduated from Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and decided to start his eponymous brand, he wanted to change the way India viewed fashion. Recycled materials and plastic polymers may not seem like stuff couture is spun from, but the 43-year-old fashions them into dreamy designs that combine flounce and flair with structural, sculptural volume. Her creations have been worn by celebrities in India and abroad – most recently, Priyanka Chopra Jonas wore her torn Banarasi sari, a dazzling nude with a ruffled cape, at the inauguration of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Center in Mumbai. Was. A sculpted saree that still flows true to the original silhouette will be part of offbeat saree The show at London’s Design Museum opens on 19 May. His unique creations draw inspiration from math, science fiction and art.
In 2021-22, the brand will see an almost 250% increase in sales, claims the designer, due to marketing, revenge shopping and the addition of a store in Mumbai’s Colaba – two of his others in Delhi’s Kila area (Seven Style Mile) There are stores. and in Mumbai’s Colaba, all showcasing a mix of textiles and ready-to-wear. The growth in 2022-23 was close to 140%.
In an interview during the opening of the store on May 5, he spoke to lounge About your customers, creations and expansion plans. Edited excerpts:
Craftsmanship, blended with intelligent materials, and not just ornamentation, is what today’s customers want to wear as an extension of their personality, says Amit Agarwal
I wanted to create a space that was like an art exhibition, or at least a concept of it. When a customer enters a store, he or she must enter the brand’s mind. A retail store is not always about the clothes, which we often forget. It is also about letting people know what the brand stands for. With black, I wanted to create a meditative void kind of space… it defines infinity. And to be honest, I think the customer today wants the experience. This keeps them excited about explaining what the core of the brand is all about.
And what is the origin of the brand?
Development. We understand that every creation will lead to some sort of connection between the past and the eternal future. We are responsible to take inspiration from the past but create something different that will influence the fashion of the future. Craftsmanship, mixed with intelligent materials, and not mere ornamentation, is what today’s customers want to wear as an extension of their personality. I think the story I started telling 10 years ago is finally showing results.
How difficult was it initially to convince people about your design vocabulary?
When I started, my father loaned me some money on the condition that he would supervise me. The first four months were too much; I could not handle the pressure, I used to break down…I used to lose my temper. One day, he cornered me and said, “If you can’t control your emotions, you have to stop doing business.” He has been with me. It’s not that I don’t break out now but I find myself getting attached fast.
Were there other challenges?
Initially, curating a team that would work with this material (the plastic polymer that gives the creations the signature AA structural look) was the biggest challenge. The press will love the runway show but the retailers will shy away from it. We didn’t advertise; It was all word of mouth and we were known for products that were unique. Clothing tailored for you to understand your body and mindset. Like Priyanka’s outfit (for the Nita Ambani Cultural Centre) was national, yet global like her. This gives power to the wearer. This is my biggest conclusion from the last 10 years- clothes don’t make you beautiful; It is how they make you feel, it is what makes the wearer feel beautiful.
Was there a particular moment that made you feel like you were headed in the right direction?
For our first India Couture Week in 2018, we did not do sarees and lehengas like others. Our show blurred the lines between what was traditionally seen on the ramp and what an Indian outfit could be. We did occasion-wear but the amorphous nature of it made it a hit. For example, a saree was not just a saree for one music, You can wear it on any occasion across the globe. My first client for Bridal, the first bridal collection, was my dentist’s niece. She wanted something unique—and this was 10 years ago. Most people today want unique things, so I think I’m in a good place.
how was that piece?
It was an elaborate piece – all black – made of polymer chips.
From Agarwal’s last fashion show ‘Pedicis’ in Delhi
When did your love affair with polymers begin?
Borrowing from my father, I started making in 2012. I used to go to many places in search of waste material, scrap fabric, thermocol, fiber. I have always been interested in different materials as I come from a family of engineers. One day in Okhla (South Delhi), I saw this shiny plastic strip lying as a dustbin outside a factory. I took it with me. It was one and a half feet. I tried a few things with it, made different garments and it stayed with me.
Is it not prohibiting working with plastic?
I am loyal, it is my inherent nature. If I fall in love with something or someone, I stick with them for the rest of my life. There have been instances when Polymer didn’t respond the way I wanted, but I guess that’s how relationships are. You learn to compromise. There’s a lot of fluidity and structure to my clothes; I don’t imagine the fluidity of Chiffon as my core. I am not a fan of chiffon; It lacks character (laughs).
Any other clothes you really don’t like?
I don’t like beautiful beautiful clothes. I like them to have a little bit of structure, some shape or form.
Were you always into structure in clothes?
I’ve always enjoyed things like the intersection of lines, how lines can come together to form a shape, a curve. It has to do with the fact that I grew up with engineering stuff almost all my life.
My mother wanted to become a doctor but could not because of studies. But I think my sense of biomimicry comes from them. My dad and brother are engineers, so there was always a lot of conversation about structure. Fortunately, there was never any pressure on me to become an engineer, although, I don’t want to sound pompous, I was brilliant in my studies. I topped my board in Maharashtra state. But I told my family that I wanted to be a designer at the age of six.
I have always loved sketching, till six o’clock I was sketching. My mother still has them somewhere in the house. I think my desire has a lot to do with my mother. Dressed in the most beautiful chiffon sarees with these beautiful blouses, she always looked stunning. I loved seeing her. But over time, she stopped wearing so many clothes, so I started designing imagining her in those clothes. I wanted to create beauty.
Now that I think about it, I want to share with you the moment that made me realize that I had to take this path. My mother had opened her wardrobe and among her clothes was this bright yellow satin saree that she had worn at her wedding. I asked him to take it out. It had to work in a circular form, with rays coming from the center. He did that work only. That moment has stuck with me to this day. Even today, I watch and create forms that emerge from the sector.
Were there other influences?
Watching Beautiful Every Sunday on Doordarshan. femina, which had eight pages on a designer, and old foreign publications that I used to find around Churchgate. And of course, designers like Tarun Tahiliani and Rohit Bal.
You make clothes that may not be to the liking of every shopper. How do you make sure the bottom line is not affected?
Pooja, to be honest, I don’t think being commercial means doing anything bad. When you attend a design college, you are constantly pushed to tell that you have to be creative, and doing commercial clothes is a bad thing. I don’t understand this. Being able to make money today is really, really, really one of the biggest challenges. I don’t feel guilty admitting that I need lots and lots of money to make sure my employees are paid on time, that their kids go to a proper school, that I’m able to live a comfortable life and, most of all, Important, expanding brand vision. I love glitter, form and shape as much as I love money.
Are you open to the idea of having the company as a partner?
yes of course. I am open to such conversations because today, the vision of a brand needs to be supported in terms of the right set of features. We’ve moved into a huge space, all the production facilities, the equipment, the creativity, the marketing, it’s all in place. But to take it to the next level, I need to invest in taking it to the next level. I need someone to make the brand more professional; Our alternative nature of fashion is our USP and I don’t want to compromise on that. I mean if you want basic stuff there are many other brands out there. That’s why I need someone who truly believes in taking our brand to the next level.
What’s the next level?
Beyond retail, I want to create amazing experiential properties. I would like to expand the brand, expand to menswear, grow internationally, enter homes or design spaces.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Can I tell you one weird line I really believe in?
I don’t think I’m ever going to die. I may have a few pauses but I’m going to come back to make more, because I feel I have the soul of a maker. And I’m only 16, I can’t bear to die right now (laughs).
Re-created ‘Patola’ saree, part of ‘The Offbeat Saree’ show at London’s Design Museum