Indian fashion is A-OK!

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New Delhi, Dec 21 (IANSlife) Reliance Brands Limited’s investment into Anamika Khanna’s AK-OK, says corporate India is finally ready to say it’s A-OK to look beyond bridal fashion.

It has been quite a year for Indian fashion with Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar all receiving corporate investments. Most of these labels are known primarily for their bridalwear, a market we all know flourishes in India. Now Anamika Khanna can add her name to this list.

However, her buyout speaks about a shift with the industry. It points to changing consumption styles and a niche sophisticated fashion audience that corporate India sees the need to cater to.

If there is one designer who has defined Indian contemporary fashion, it has to be Anamika Khanna. Her label is over two decades old, and the Kolkata-based designer prefers to stay under the radar, always letting her work do the talking. You can credit Khanna for making the cape a de rigueur part of an Indian women’s wardrobe, she gave the dhoti a modern twist and there is still no one who can rival her label’s zardozi.

Anamika made clothes that were Indian and yet had a global feel. Sonam Kapoor has worn her label at Cannes several times, and many Indian fashion editors wear her designs while attending fashion weeks in Paris and Milan. Within the industry she is loved; designers ranging from Gaurav Gupta to Masaba Gupta have spoken about her talent, and how she has been an inspiration.

So, a few weeks ago, when Reliance Brands Limited (RBL) announced that they were buying stakes in two homegrown brands Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar, rumours were rife that Anamika Khanna was next on their list. What no-one expected was that RBL had its eyes on her three-year-old ready to wear brand, AK-OK.

The timing of this announcement is interesting as it comes hot on the heels of the Tasva launch, the menswear pret label by Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Limited (ABFRL) and Tarun Tahiliani. ABFRL bought a stake in the Tarun Tahiliani label earlier this year. With men’s kurtas starting at Rs 1,599, Tasva plans to open 70 stores, taking Tahiliani, a label primarily known for woman’s bridal couture into a new market. As the designer himself put it, “it is about complete accessibility of pricing”. And the only way fashion can become inclusive is by being more democratic, especially in a country as large as India.

Anamika Khanna though, is clearly still trying to be a little exclusive, as her message is a different one to that of Tasva. AK-OK prices are much easier on the wallet than her main brand — you can expect to spend Rs 30,000 on an ensemble from this label. So, for many this is still not accessible. The pieces are very much still investment buys made of silks and include embroidery details, with a complete feel of luxury. A better term to describe them would perhaps be diffusion wear.

RBL now owns a 60 per cent of AK-OK, and Khanna will remain at the creative helm. AK-OK was a label, the designer started with her twin boys Viraj and Vishesh, while she was going through some health issues. Unlike her earlier attempts at more accessible fashion, this one seemed to hit all the right style notes. The label is currently available in her own stores, on her own e-commerce website, as well as leading multi brand boutiques.

Says Khanna, “AK-OK is not just another fashion brand, it has the potential to stand for a life-style — a capsule of beautiful objects that bring joy to the modern, conscious consumer.”

They are investment buys for the discerning client. The silhouettes are experimental while having more of a lounge feel to them, than her couture label, while staying true to Anamika Khanna’s design aesthetic.

Even after this partnership with RBL, the Khannas’ are not talking about either the number of stores they will open, nor about pricing, but only about making beautiful clothes, for women of all shapes, sizes and ages. Clothes with an Indian soul one want’s to keep forever.

RBL’s president-chief executive officer Darshan Mehta has not really spoken about strategy or statics but instead says, “For me what sets this unique brand apart is that it is an outcome of a strong insight from Anamika, bordering on spirituality, of an increasing mindset amongst a tribe of global fashion consumers, ‘to do their own thing’. And the brand, through its merchandise, salutes this free spiritedness. The common goal for both partners is to build a brand that evokes strong desire; and the resultant power that AK-OK will have over its followers.”

While AK-OK may not have the Bollywood glamour of Manish Malhotra, nor the doors and reach of Ritu Kumar, it does have a unique beautiful creative message. The fact that a corporate like Reliance has invested into the brand, speaks of a coming of age of Indian fashion— that we are looking beyond brand, beyond glamour, beyond weddings. And there is no better note for the industry to end 2021 with.

(The writer Sujata Assomull is an IANSlife columnist. Assomull is the author “100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes” and was the Founding Editor In Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, India)

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