The mention of the word “milestone” usually sets rolling, for most people, a slideshow of events in the head that summarises the journey so far. Sitting in her spacious and elegantly dressed up studio in Delhi’s New Friends Colony, Anju Modi takes a minute to let that word sink in. An intrinsic part of the Indian fashion industry, the designer’s label completed 25 years at the start of this financial year. Though Anjuman took birth in 1987 in Bangalore, Modi shifted to Delhi soon after. “I remember the barsaati I hired. It was a cubby hole but it was my home, workplace, studio and everything,” the designer reminisces. She vividly remembers how she would cycle to her workshop and how clients would have to jump on top of her bed after putting on an outfit. “I didn't have a full length mirror and that was the only way to get a full view,” Modi speaks fondly of the past.
The years have seen the founder member of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) successfully straddle the roles of an artisan and a designer. She has developed new blended fabrics as well as revived long forgotten classic traditions. If the beginning of the career saw her bring back real silver and Benarasi zari, she moved towards Kutch soon after, where she reinterpreted bandhani in a contemporary way, giving it geometrical patterns and neutral colours. Modi has also developed Kota fabrics and helped modernise and improve chanderi weaves and patterns. Even khadi got a makeover from her in early 2000 when she developed the yarn with fine rich fabric, which was styled into casual, comfortable yet trendy silhouettes. “India is a storehouse of crafts and textiles. It’s sad how we are so quick to forget that,” says Modi as she chides a staff member for throwing away the katran (a small piece of fabric). It’s her closeness with the weaves of India and the craftsmen that makes Modi hold on to every textile with dearness. “Indian handlooms are precious and when I visit fashion institutes for workshops, I make it a point to deliberate on their importance,” says Modi, whose collections are retailed at high-end boutiques in India and for her NRI clients and international market, in Jeddah, Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, London, California, San Francisco, Miami, Singapore and Hong Kong. After Nita Ambani and Shabana Azmi, recent fans of her work include actress Madhuri Dixit, who has been spotted in saris and angarakhas from her couture collection at various events.
Working on fabrics is a continuous process for Modi who has developed a blend of viscose thread with silk cotton, which shows up in her new Spring Summer 2012 collection. “Cotton is India’s best friend but lifestyles are changing and there’s a demand for easy to wear clothes, that are easy to maintain and look good too,” says the designer, who admits to finding inspiration for her collections in history books. “Fashion has to be looked at in totality. We can be contemporary but can’t break away from the past. The past to me is beautiful,” says the soft-spoken designer whose demeanour reflects in the soft, fluid flow of her garments.
Taking the past forward, for Autumn-Winter 2012, the designer researched on the regions of the former USSR belt bordering India, and drew inspirations from the Afghan and Kutch regions. “The colours red, black and ivory dominate and I have used embroidery that you would see on headgear in Uzbekistan,” explains Modi, who refers to herself as a one-man army looking into all the aspects of her work such as research and development, retail and design et al. “Some years ago I bought a house in Jaipur, with an aim to stay there and just read and research. It now seems like a retirement plan,” says the designer with a smile. The setting up of a holistic craft village — a research and development centre as an ongoing project with FDCI — is something Modi is also eagerly looking forward to. To summarise Modi’s silver anniversary and her journey ahead, we borrow a line hand-painted on her studio wall — Kehne ko bahut kuch hai mere paas, ek chehra, ek libaas (I have so much to say, a face and a garment).