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Being new by being old

Almost everything we wear today has the influence of years gone by, and not without reason
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First Published: Sat, Mar 23 2013. 12 36 AM IST
Saisei bags made from old materials. Photo courtesy: Aneeth Arora
Saisei bags made from old materials. Photo courtesy: Aneeth Arora
Updated: Sat, Mar 23 2013. 03 03 PM IST
As a designer who showcases regularly at fashion weeks, but prefers to call herself a textile and dress maker, I often face the challenge to find words to express myself in my own language, rather than being overawed by trends and by what’s in and what’s out.
A language that continues to make itself accessible to those living in the cities and helps them understand what I wish to offer is not fashion really but nostalgia. Something that is consistent but not static. My work is about building on memories, not losing them.
Therefore, I see myself drawing a lot from the past, be it my grandfather’s handmade Chikan kurta or a vintage piece of clothing that I bought during my travels. The clothes I create fit perfectly in the style period that can be defined as “Vintage Modern”.
Designer Aneeth Arora. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Since vintage fascinates me so much and I continue to look in detail to the past, I feel there is nothing that I want to change about it to make it fit into the modern context.
For me, nothing can be more modern than taking a shape or silhouette associated with a different moment in fashion history, refining the construction techniques, changing the weight of the fabric, altering things to make mobility for contemporary living in these clothes easier or reinventing them, using traditional Indian textiles.
But when the word “modern” is applied to fashion, most people think anything inspired from vintage can only be termed dated, whereas in my opinion almost everything we wear today has the influences of years gone by. It is an eclectic mix of modern and vintage styles.
A pero garment from Autumn/Winter 2013. Photo courtesy: Aneeth Arora
We continually recycle, adapt and evolve, making vintage classics and timeless pieces. What makes it more obvious is an ever-increasing interest in vintage clothing at auctions.
There are many young women who have never really seen these vintage clothes and I am sure if a woman wears some once, she will definitely want to wear them again if they fit well in today’s context. Our customer is a modern-day traveller, who embraces the contemporary without being contaminated, keeps her history intact and lives her memory in the present.
She is a smart gypsy who nonchalantly mixes haute couture with flea-market finds, be it a vintage denim jacket or old pieces of lacy lingerie.
Vintage, to me, is symbolic, traditional and time-honoured, but rarely is it considered a thing of beauty in its own right. I always thought that the pages of Vogue magazine would never be the natural habitat of vintage, at least not until I came across a beautiful editorial photographed by renowned fashion photographer Kim Kyung Soo for the Korean Vogue.
Kyung Soo was invited by Vogue Korea to shoot photographs focused on hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. His story, “Full Moon Story”, captures this traditional Korean garment—which has evolved over 1,600 years—at its most refined. The images have a calm, lyrical quality.
Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress featured in ‘Vogue Korea’. Photo courtesy: Aneeth Arora
Surprisingly, most of the designers that come to mind when I think of vintage-inspired work are Japanese.
A brand called Saisei, which in Japanese means rebirth/recovery, works on the concept of bringing life back to materials that have been forgotten—fabrics relegated to old attics, upholstery scraps which return to life by acquiring new spirit.
Made in Italy, the collection has unique and original pieces which stand out for the use of recycled military materials, which have been treated and regenerated.
Another brand whose simplicity always fascinates me is Arts&Science, which comprises garments inspired by vintage work and ethnic wear. Its creative director, Sonya Park, calls workwear the “basis of all good fashion ideas” but what distinguishes these clothes in the modern era is their impeccable quality and highly skilled Japanese craftwork.
When British designer Vivienne Westwood first began referencing couture in her collections, she was not only one of the first avant-garde designers to do so, but also one of the first to proudly accept the fact that she was copying vintage exactly.
"In the 1980s, Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo became internationally known for her beggar or rag lookwhich she first presented at a show in Paris in 1983. Her clothes were made from aged fabrics, had holes, were often ripped and lacking in variety of colour—it was an expression of the ancient Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, where beauty is found in imperfection. "
Otherwise designers are usually so bothered by the press wanting something new each time that they normally stress only how they can interpret a period style and take it to the next level. They are bashful about what they’ve kept historically intact.
As the late English author and art historian James Laver rightly said, “Ten years before its time, fashion is indecent, ten years after it is hideous but a century after it is romantic.”
Aneeth Arora is the founder-designer and owner of péro, one of the most notably successful new fashion labels from India.
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First Published: Sat, Mar 23 2013. 12 36 AM IST