Fashion designer Anita Dongre has got many international dignitaries among her clientele.Now on her way to global domination, the 54-year-old has launched her first flagship store in New York.

The new store features several sub-brands—the sustainable luxury brand Grassroot, Anita Dongre’s bridal couture, menswear as well as prêt—all available under one roof. The space is located at the iconic 473 West Broadway, a pre-war building that dates back to the 1900s. Dongre’s establishment occupies three storeys and spans over 4,500 square feet. The lower level is dedicated to menswear and Anita Dongre prêt. The ground level is dedicated to Grassroot. The topmost level is dedicated to her bridal wear, ready-to-wear and fine jewellery collections.

Dongre’s Indian bridal collection is quite popular overseas. What is it that so attracts the West to her traditional garments?

“My brand,” she says, “has always been a reflection of the woman of today, of what she seeks. It has always been about placing wearability and effortless grace in focus. Indian women have already deviated from traditional bridal wear silhouettes. Brides have moved to choosing lighter outfits that they can move around and dance in. My design philosophy caters to every need of the modern woman across silhouettes, sizes and age groups, all over the globe. The collections that are available at all our stores, and are elegant and versatile—perfect for the modern woman who likes to make a statement without going over the top.”

Committed to revive and showcase Indian textiles and designs, Dongre looks up to the country’s cultural heritage for inspiration. She tells Guardian 20, “As a designer, the more I travel within the interiors of India in search of inspiration and resources, the more I am amazed at how much our country’s heritage has to offer. There is something new to rediscover every day. I say, ‘rediscover’ because these age-old crafts are already there, but somewhere with modernisation they were losing their importance. Every experience with rural artisans has impacted me and influenced my work. Grassroot was born out of these experiences. And it is now a medium which allows me to bring these Indian heritage crafts into mainstream fashion.”

‘Diary of a Rajkumari’, from Dongre’s bridal collection.

The “core” of her inspiration comes from Rajasthan.So how exactly has the state influenced her work?

“Every time I am there, I see something and feel something new that rejuvenates my creativity. The crafts here are thousands of years old, like the Gota Patti, which we revisit through every collection.  Gota Patti as a design creates a luxe look, fit for royal occasions, and yet is surprisingly light and easy to wear,” she said.

The designer also roots for sustainable practices in the fashion industry. On this topic, Dongre says, “The handloom industry is suffering at the hands of technology and modern ways. We are already experiencing the effects of decades of neglect and it isn’t going to get any better with time. Therefore, it is imperative for us to adopt more sustainable practices as an industry.”

Dongre has remained a committed champion of India’s handloom sector, about whose future she is optimistic. The recent initiatives taken up by the government, the interest of renowned designers and fashion schools in this area, have also contributed to the rising popularity of handloom and traditional weaves in our time. “The active involvement and thoughtful initiatives of the government have accelerated the spread of awareness about our rich handloom heritage. A lot of mainstream designers are creating pieces using Indian textiles and crafts. Fashion schools are also doing fantastic work in sensitising the design community to these relevant issues. I’m grateful to see that people are demanding change and support for indigenous textiles. With Grassroot, we’re going one step ahead and making sure fashion benefits the maker as well as the buyer,” she elaborates.

Designer Anita Dongre.

In addition to Bollywood and Hollywood stars, royalty like the Duchess of Cambridge and Queen of Belgium have also flaunted creations by Dongre. On her experience of designing for celebs, Dongre says, “These are all very inspirational women. They love my designs and I am honoured they have
worn them.”

Now a recognised face in the fashion world, Dongre has had her share of ups and downs in the past. The biggest challenge was to “stay true to my core beliefs when very few others believed in changing the status quo,” the designer says.

“I remember my initial struggles with mall owners regarding store space or even for that matter, to be taken seriously by everyone at work. That has changed significantly over the years and it has certainly affected who I am as a person,” says Dongre reminiscing about her three-decade journey in the fashion world.

What of the rampant plagiarism and knock-off culture in the industry? How does a designer cope
with that?

“It is difficult to fight it and it continues diluting fashion. It is rampant in this digital age of instant information sharing. But true connoisseurs of fashion will know how to differentiate. As a designer, it hurts that so many manufacturers of fast fashion churn multiple copies of garments that have otherwise taken us several months to design and produce. The industry needs to have a system that can curb plagiarism. As a preventive measure, we have also started copyrighting our designs,” she says.

On trends that are set to dominate this season, Dongre says, “In summer one should ideally first have comfort in mind. Relaxed and easy should be the vibe. Think floral and botanical motifs as well as light hand embroidery in beautiful pastels. As far as colours are concerned, muted tones of blush, sage, powder blue, yellow and pristine white work well for the balmy weather.”

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