For textile designer Gaurav Jai Gupta of studio Akaaro, filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his narrations of unrelated incidents and people that converge unexpectedly seem like a steady influence. So while his debut collection in 2007 took off from Inarittu's highly acclaimed Babel, Gupta now draws inspiration from the director's 21 Grams for his debut show at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring/ Summer 2011 later this month. “We've looked at the film visually,” he says. Woven fabrics in silk, cotton and steel will take centrestage, in three looks, with silhouettes varying from structured to draped.
In fact, when we contact him he's just out of a meeting with Gaurav Raina of Midival Punditz, who are doing the music for the show.
Not those that scream for attention, Gupta's textiles revel in woven texture and sobriety, sitting in an equally low-key colour palette. So far leaning more towards the craft than the glamour and visibility associated with fashion, for Gupta the show is a kind of progression. “I've finished my background, studied what I had to study, and I'm very clear about what I'm doing. Now it's the second level; now we have to market ourselves, do products, see the economic side of things. We need to sell, become more visible, spread the word,” he says. “Clothing was something that was bound to happen. I think we've come full circle.”
Akaaro is now three years old, set up after Gupta finished studying woven textiles at the Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, before which he studied fashion and graphics at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in the Capital. Through the label, the designer has been trying to promote the cause of sustainable fabrics in a contemporary context. “It takes a lot of effort in reviving appreciation for textiles; I'm not even saying reviving textiles. As Indians we grow up looking at craft. But then, we take things for granted. How we can bring craft to the level of luxury is what I'm looking at,” says Gupta.
On why he chose textile design over the more popular fashion design and apparel merchandising courses as a branch of study, Gupta says, “It was just the sort of experience that I had. I wanted fabric to behave in a particular way, and was looking for something I could do after I passed out of NIFT. And weaving was something that interested me very much.” Consequently, London happened.
The three years in the industry have been eventful. While he co-curated the exhibition “London Calling” in Tokyo in 2008, in 2009 he was selected for the “Shared Talent India” project on sustainable Indian textiles, an initiative of the Centre of Sustainable Fashion in London.
It was at “London Calling” that Gupta met the legendary Jimmy Choo, for whom he later designed fabric for a pair of shoes. The association has continued over the years. “He visited me at the crafts fair in London last year. In fact, he also wrote my reference letter when I joined the Fashion Design Council of India… He's been really supportive through the years,” Gupta says. While licensing issues stemming from the fact that Choo no more owns his eponymous company are a hindrance to collaborations, Gupta did succeed in getting him to Delhi last year for an event at the British Council.
Delving into woven fabrics in a city not really known for its weaving tradition, more than fashion his label is a “complete philosophy”, Gupta explains.
Next year will see the launch of A.k.a. New Daily, Gupta's new label, conceptualised around Delhi as a city. “I got the idea from the fact that working with textiles we get a lot of fabric left over,” he says. A “casual label”, it will comprise bags, accessories and home textiles, to name a few, with every product named after the date on which it's made. “Because fashion is mainly conceptual and seasonal, the label would focus on craft shows and exhibitions. If you see, there's nothing around Delhi as a city,” he says.
Engineered garments, where the outfit is conceptualised right at the stage of creating the fabric, is his forte. However, it's still early times, he feels. Acceptance and recognition, he says, “will take time.”
“The industry works very differently. Unless they're sure of your work, they will not buy it. People look at my work and they think ‘It's very simple'. They don't understand my work; it's a little more serious, more abstract.”
The upcoming ramp show, here, might be one bridge towards this understanding.