Q&A | Pankaj & Nidhi Ahuja
Delhi-based designer couple Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja were in the fashion news frequently last year. Among the two labels (the other being Kallol Datta) chosen to present the first finale by young designers at the Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2012, they went on to win the regional edition of the International Woolmark Prize (India) instituted by the Australia-based Woolmark Company. What’s next?
This year is crucial, insist the duo, as they prepare to show at the London Fashion Week next month for the final round of the International Woolmark Prize on 16 February. Besides, impressed by their dexterous interpretation of Wycinanki, a Polish paper-cutting technique, the Polish embassy in Delhi has sponsored a research visit for the two this year to Poland, to enable them to study other local techniques. They tell us about their immediate plans and why the wool fur created by them holds promise in the increasingly eco-compassionate world of global fashion. Edited excerpts:
What’s wool fur? Can it compete with the aspirational value that animal fur has in fashion industries all over the world?
We call it Merino fur. It’s made with Merino wool yarn and has a very soft feel. We don’t have any grand notions of it completely replacing animal fur but it can definitely be used as an occasional substitute in high fashion and yes, it is an ecologically friendly idea.
How do you plan to channelize the prize money of A$50,000 (nearly Rs.29 lakh) you won as part of the International Woolmark Prize?
We are using the money for our next collection to be shown at London Fashion Week Atumn/Winter 2013 next month, as well as at the next edition of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) in Delhiin March. Since we extensively use Merino wool, the funds are being used for research, product development and later, for the marketing and distribution of our new line.
What’s in store if you win the finals?
In addition to the prize money of A$100,000, the winner will get to stock his/her line (a minimum of 50 pieces at wholesale prices ranging from A$150-1,000) at the retail partners of Woolmark Company. These include top stores like Harvey Nichols in London, Bergdorf Goodman in the US, 10 Corso Como in Italy, and David Jones (DJs) in Australia, among others. The winning collection will also be promoted through in-store events, window displays and extensive PR activities all over the world. It’s a lot to look forward to.
Your garments are so technique-and labour-intensive, the Wycinanki-inspired line, for instance. How do you price them?
Everything is systematically catalogued, logged and then costed. So, a showpiece for the ramp, a fully embroidered jacket involving 200 man-hours would be priced between Rs.10,000-25,000. While one that only uses a smaller motif with the same technique (but is not embroidered all over), involving about 20-50 man hours, will cost between Rs.4,000-8,000. Costs vary if a technique requires skilled craftsmanship besides just being time-consuming.
Do Indian designers have enough support from corporate houses for shows, research or production collaborations?
At the moment, the best platform for Indian fashion is the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) fashion week, which allows us to showcase collections season after season at reduced costs, thanks to event sponsorships. What we need, however, are more collaborations with mills, manufacturers, dyers, suppliers and other ancillary industries. If we need 100m of a fabric developed in a certain composition and colour for sampling, no mill is usually willing to entertain such a request. Designers are forced to use what the mill already has in stock and this is limiting. The fashion industry is also waiting for the day a big corporate house like the Aditya Birla Group or The Raymond Group, to name just two, will collaborate with top designers like Rajesh Pratap Singh or Rohit Bal to develop a national prêt label. It can be developed into a big brand. We have the design talent on the one side and the industries on the other, with their expertise and budgets. The two desperately need to meet.