“I don't think you should take fashion too seriously,” says Sanchita Ajjampur. Her Autumn/ Winter 2011-12 line, incorporates anthropomorphic motifs from the playful 18th Century Rococo period along with, of course, her well-loved animal motifs peeping through naïve foliage.
At the Olive café, Pragati Maidan, at the recent Wills Lifestyle India Fashion week, a bowl of penne pasta in red sauce comprises late lunch for Sanchita. “I think the basic thing in terms of food is authenticity,” she says. “I like authentic products in food, depending on where the product comes from.” So the pasta has to be al dente, the olive oil pure and sundried tomatoes from Sicily.
She's well-placed to be a judge of authenticity. Born in Mumbai, Sanchita moved to Europe when three, and studies took her from Vienna to the U.K. to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in Paris and Domus Academy in Milan. Seven years ago, she was back in India — Bangalore.
“If you've had the opportunity to really eat locally, I think your palate gets that flavour, so you don't want to compromise. I was a vegetarian for a long time — 18 years… living abroad. But I've gone back to eating non-vegetarian.” Wine's a favourite too. “I've been exposed to different kinds of food all my life. I love Indian food as well and I like the staple dal-roti. But I like authentic food, where it's not forceful, similar to fashion…”
Turning to fashion, within a few years of setting up her label sanchita in Bangalore in 2005, distinct elements have emerged — like the use of jersey, emphasis on a well-rounded range of accessories, and animal motifs. Among the latter, sanchita's menswear line that showcased at the men's fashion week last year — a slouchy, urban line high on muslin and jersey — was made particularly attractive through the use of shimmery “bugs” as brooches on shoulders and ties.
“Bugs are definitely a little bit of a fetish here. I study them, and I like their colour and their behaviour. And so I try to incorporate bugs and their colour waves into the collection all the time,” the designer explains.
The new line too, has its share of naïve elements, including animals. For instance, as Sanchita points out, there's a whole jungle of monkeys embroidered in metal thread, made to look like a sari border. “If you look it's like a jungle of monkeys playing. And some of the monkeys are also dressed in clothes, so there's an ironic factor in the clothing. I like that ironic twist,” she smiles.
Putting jersey in a new context — beyond that of a sportswear fabric — has been a constant endeavour. “I like to look at jersey more as a couture product. We're really working with our yarns and trying to do something really technological out of India. Yet the synergy is with hand craftsmanship, which makes it a couture product,” Sanchita explains. While accessories in the past have included geisha doll earrings and the aforementioned bejewelled bugs, this time it is ballet pumps and bags in engineered leather, and Moghul -inspired jewellery.
“The accessories really complement the collection because it's an extension of what you're trying to represent in terms of clothing. We work a lot with different hides, which I'm also aware of because I have worked on a lot with footwear, bags and small accessories before,” says Sanchita. The effort is towards soft accessories that apply metal concepts to fabric, “but not just a banal embroidered soft accessory but manipulation of the shape to create an accessory that's soft.” This, she says, could be an extension of a muffler or even an extension of a button.
This year will see a sanchita store opening in Delhi, with plans of one in Mumbai later. Menswear will see expansion.
Sanchita still travels to Europe every four to six weeks. “You absorb and evolve with what you live and if you're truthful to yourself and trying to be authentic, not only in things you eat, but really with your vision, I think that's the most important thing. My label is definitely not easy; it's a tough label to understand because it's very European, but you can wear it in India and I also incorporate a lot of Indian craft but in a more unusual way that is not just bling or glitter… it's more subtle.”