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Designer Roopa Pemmaraju's story

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Designer Roopa Pemmaraju's story
Designer Roopa Pemmaraju's story
21 st Jul 2012

For the majority reading this who don't have a clue who she is, Roopa Pemmaraju, 32, has an eponymous collection of fine silk dresses, skirts and blouses. They are exquisitely made and finished in her own factory in Bangalore, India, and just as exquisitely printed with patterns acquired under licensing agreements with Australian indigenous artists. ''I love what I'm doing, bringing two artisan cultures - Indian weavers, Aboriginal artists - together,'' she says. ''It is very contemporary clothing for today's world. I'm not a trend follower, or looking at what other designers are doing. I try to be unique in a way that people will love.'' The fusion of such disparate cultural concepts hasn't been easy to market. There were misunderstandings, unfair assumptions, rejections. Even the name, Roopa Pemmaraju, could work like a curse. Until prospective stockists actually saw and touched her graceful silks, doors stayed stubbornly shut. She suspects because of her Indian heritage, her collection was assumed to be ''ethnic''. And, because of its indigenous theme, it was stereotyped as being as kitsch as the ''dot art'' of tourist T-shirts. She had also been counselled, by eminent Australian Fashion Week stylist Kelvin Harries, about Australians' ambivalence to colour. ''Australians love their black, white and grey,'' Pemmaraju says. ''They love colour, too, but if you're bringing colour, you have to do it very sensitively.'' Finally, she managed to infuse her evolving high-end international designer look with the sensibilities, cultural traditions and flights of artistic fancy brought by the indigenous artists whose work she carefully selected from hundreds of samples. ''I love the Aboriginal art because it's pure, it's natural, it's ethical,'' she says carefully. ''I don't care about the politics. I care about the artists, what's their inspiration, what they see around them, what's their tradition. It is the same way I see my artisans in India.'' When she moved to Melbourne from Bangalore five years ago with her IT engineer husband, Pemmaraju was a fine arts graduate and seasoned professional with experience in two of India's most prestigious fashion production houses. She also produced her own fashion label, Haldi, out of a factory in Bangalore, and had been selected for a group of India's finest young designers to show at Lakme Fashion Week. Anyone else might have plunged head-first into the market, confident of success. Pemmaraju, however, observed the Australian fashion scene quietly, using the time to take a master's degree at RMIT. Only when she felt ready did she launch her remarkable label, which was financed by a range of hand-embellished saris she called Calanthe and which were selling well in India. Immediately, that inexplicable pall descended. She spent the next three years in fashion limbo, or purgatory, if you count the anguish of being so thoroughly ignored. When her collection was finally picked up, almost accidentally, by the David Jones womenswear manager, David Bush, she had mounted two group shows and one solo show at Australian Fashion Week without signing a single stockist. ''Everybody, after their show, is very happy,'' she says. ''People to greet and parties …'' She, on the other hand, hovered somewhere between crestfallen and philosophical. And the rest, as they say in Indian and indigenous Australian circles, is history. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Shop Indian Designer's Collection at Strand of

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