When I entered Asha Gautam’s store, tucked in and visibly bright amidst the extravagant stores in Defence Colony in Delhi, I knew it was going to be an experience worth remembering. Well, that was the first time, and I was unknown how drawn I’d be to listen to Gupta’s narrative eye for fashion and love for handloom. Every fabric was taking my breath away and tickled my curiosity. It opened my eyes to the world of handlooms and the stereotypes that follow.
“I guess, it’s time the stigma of handloom needs to be broken and make it more inclusive to the younger generation.” chides the designer. But giving it a 21st century vibe isn’t enough, it’s about fabric innovation and developing surface fabrics that make an impact. Well, Gupta definitely knows how to. The eponymous label that completes 18 years now has its design aesthetic deeply rooted in handloom, weaves and embroideries.
“My mother was the entrepreneur of the family. She was the one who gave me what I have today. She started, back in 1998 selling sarees from home to home. Slowly and steadily, the clientale began, and so did her appetite to be more creative and enterprising. I sat with her to understand what she does on lazy afternoons after school, but never did I think I will fall into this line, ever. But yes, some things are destined to happen so they did. As I kept seeing this at home, day-in and day-out, I thought doing a degree in design made absolute sense. I studied design and set out to explore my tryst with textiles.”
“We still had a very homely feel to the label when it was named Vinayak Couture but with a similar business model. But sooner or later, I felt the need to change ourselves and move into a space that allowed more innovation and R&D- something I am greatly fond of, is when we renamed and re-branded ourselves as Asha Gautam.”
Making the Cut
“When I started working with weavers and their clusters, I got to know the typical prints and designs. Be it the Ikat weavers in Pochampalli, or Paithani in Maharasthra and the Patolas and Bandhini weavers in Gujarat. Each of them have typical motifs that they have learnt from generations on, and don’t want to give up for newer designs at all.
So that’s when I to keep the motif constant but play with its colours, shapes and sizes. That way, the weaver and the buyer- who’s really experimental and young, both are happy. And it has really worked well.”
From making Pochampalli scarves, to creating Patan sarees using a modern butterfly motif; it’s form, functionality and art that Gupta has put together in one piece.Years of research and experience have proved every bit useful into making the designer a successful yet sensible businessman. The label, is in fact one of the few that merge embroideries like the Parsi Gara with handwoven fabric. Without fancy frills, accents or the world traveller vibe, Gupta is the designer who makes you feel at home because he is, home. His label represents India in its most simplistic form.
Art as Fashion
Talking about spending and splurging on fashion in India, couture and the bridal-wear market, the designer says the culture between westerners and Indians differ quite a bit. “Westerners love spending on fashion, and that’s a big market in terms of expenditure and disposable incomes. But the only time we, at home spend that heavily on fashion and forget about budgets is during weddings. We love our weddings, we like it big, fat and bright.”
While women might cut down on cost on carpets and uplhostery, they would NEVER imagine doing that on their bridal trousseau. That’s how important bridal wear is to Indians. For a designer, it’s about how you express yourself on the canvas of a lehenga that decides its price tag. It’s couture, it’s art and it’s the designer’s best ideas come alive. “Although, the youth of our country is still not buying things independently, they’re still not shopping like the west. But with disposable incomes and social media, they’re becoming much more aware about everyday fashion happenings.”
What’s in Store?
Plans for expansion? The first thing he says is, “I will never have another store in my life.” With utmost confidence and a smile on his face. The sense I make of this is that Gupta is unmistakably someone who’s thought a lot about what success means to him, and how he wants to retain its essence. For some it’s infinite like the sky, they keep fuelling, re-fueling themselves to reach further up. But for others like Gupta, it’s the freedom, liberty and caliber to float at a certain feet above the ground without any turbulence.
What he definitely aspires though, is to make an impact on the lives of the weavers he works with and for. Alongside that, he wants to scale up his digital footprint to such a large extent that it’s a business model in itself.
He’s a master of his craft, and the best part about him is his never ending thirst to learn, create and conquer. And that, sets him apart from the far and wide who’re still finding their identity in fashion.
Photography: Satya Suresh
Post Processing: Somya Suresh
Interviewed by Somya Suresh.
Outfit: Asha Gautam
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