Rahul and Shruti Reddy call each other Nana. Neither is embarrassed, they laugh too. Nana, which means “baby” in Telugu, is also the name of their first store at Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village which stocks the work of both. The Rahul Reddy clothing line is hung up on one side and Shruti’s décor items dress up the rest of the store. Orderliness, offset by whimsy, stalks you in the small, perky space.
Rahul is bearded, lean and jeans-clad. Shruti, also in jeans, sports multiple piercings in both ears and says, “I am obsessive about neatness,” while compulsively restacking her appliquéd cushions.
Quirk and craft. Shruti and Rahul. Nana and nana.
They met in 2002, as students at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (Nift), Delhi. Rahul was pursuing a course in leather design and Shruti was studying textiles. They would hang around with friends, till they realized the rest of the world didn’t really exist for them when they were together. There was a deep connect—it emanated from their shared love for design beyond fashion. They dated for two years till Rahul casually proposed. Over Old Monk rum, Rahul’s staple drink, the families agreed. Rahul is from Andhra Pradesh and Shruti calls herself a “north Indian pahari”. They have been married for eight years.
Rahul, who worked with master of minimalism Rajesh Pratap Singh for six years before branching out on his own, has developed a clear fashion signature. His cotton tunic may have the face of a girl embroidered on it but her braids will use three-dimensional thread work. “That’s my brand definition: simple garments with a quirky twist,” says Rahul.
Shruti, who worked with Mirabelle International, an export house in Noida, near Delhi, is a minimalist too. At Mirabelle, she designed for American home décor chains like Pottery Barn, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdales and the UK-based Laura Ashley, among others. Her products are created to invoke familiarity, humour and sensitivity. She makes cushion covers in soft cottons or linens with funky appliquéd messages, textile bags, hot-water bottle covers in printed fabrics, patchwork quilts, metal products and felt toys. “I feel products at home must speak back to you, offer cheer and warmth,” she says.
They are non-conformists in a world where commercial success is made easier with the use of crystals, sequins or opulent fabrics. Rahul and Shruti promise alternative thought in design. It puts their brand Nana in a distinct slot. One of Rahul’s collections that got rave reviews was inspired by street children (Spring/Summer 2011). Created in white, it had mismatched patchwork in red, yellow and orange, with shirts worn over coats. “There is power in style when you don’t give a damn. Absence of fashion is fashion too,” he says. Another took inspiration from the widows of martyrs (Autumn/Winter 2010) and yet another was titled Back to School (Spring/Summer 2012).
"A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Clear demarcation in decision-making territories. Free to critique each other brutally but not challenge the final call."
Curiously, despite attention and applause, Rahul has opted out of fashion weeks. Unafraid to lose the publicity that fashion weeks often churn out, he is busy establishing independent retail networks for his garments—now 70% menswear and 30% women’s wear. He sells to Japanese buyers who adore his simplicity and stocks at Tokyo’s famous boutique Sun Motoyama. In India, he retails from L’affaire in Delhi, Collage in Chennai, Evoluzione in Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore and 85 Lansdowne in Kolkata, among others. The two have recently signed up as interior decorators for a large residence in Bangalore.
"WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Shruti creates the home décor line and Rahul the clothing line. She manages their home and the store; he manages retail consignments."
They assert that theirs is not a “typical” love story. It’s a chatty, informal, friendly, funny relationship, a parallel track to their harmony as business partners, and they keep asserting the atypical. Yet, typically attuned, both find the garment limiting as a canvas and want Nana to have more than clothes. One of the reasons that their relationship manages to skip the traps of predictable marital conflict is that they talk a lot and disallow fuzzy logic.
"CROSS-CURRENTS: Shruti’s mantra: When in conflict, step back and be the unconditional enabler. Rahul’s mantra: Communicate and resolve. "
The territories are clear. Rahul is the boss of his clothing line; Shruti, of her décor creations. They are free to critique each other but will never try to stop each other from pursuing a core passion. Neither is any good in the kitchen but both adore their Bengali cook and his spicy meals. They hang around endlessly in malls but at home, Rahul is fixated with television, which doesn’t engage Shruti. Domestic chores and management fall into Shruti’s domain, Rahul takes over only when she is travelling. They can read each other’s moods and attempt to finish each other’s sentences.
"DO NOT OPEN: Still to discover forbidden, no-entry zones."
There is too much agreement, you could say. It’s a Nana deal.