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Rina Singh at her studio in Gurugram. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Rina Singh at her studio in Gurugram. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

How to Ace Summer Layering

Rina Singh, founder of design label Ek, uses versatile separates and Indian textiles tailor-made for summer layering

Summer can evoke mixed experiences—while some dread the onslaught of heat, others love the sun-kissed days. Rina Singh, designer and founder of Eká, belongs to the latter group. Since she founded her label in 2011, Singh has come to be known for her pastoral-chic dresses and separates, whose flowing silhouettes seem to match the slow dance of a summer breeze.

Playing safe is no impediment to being experimental, says Singh, whose clientele includes author Arundhati Roy and director Kiran Rao. In her Spring/Summer 2018 collection, Kinship, the label’s signature billowing silhouettes are elevated with frills, ruffles, muted prints and dainty embroidery. The tiered layering heightens the drama (without weighing down the garments) as cotton and linen are underscored with sheer organza. As the collection lands in boutiques across India, Singh decodes the art of summer layering and talks about how textiles are intrinsic to her design ethos. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Eká retains a familiarity over the seasons in its designs. What constitutes the basics of your design aesthetic?

There are three basic elements that I always work on. I make staples, for women who are not necessarily looking to make a statement every day. They do, however, want comfortable clothes that also look good. There’s also graphics—stripes and checks—and I work on multiple colours to achieve the final mix. Finally, there’s always a sense of romance in my designs. I think there’s a classic ideology that comes from being seasonless—I like staples that can go on for years.

What inspired your Spring/Summer 2018 collection?

This collection/Kinship?? is a cross-cultural collection and the season itself is a great inspiration. I have done bold stripes, colour blocks, and checks in varying sizes. I also wanted to incorporate a language of Indian motifs, and floral is intrinsic to summer. There are also Indo-Islamic motifs and patterns inspired by gamchas and dhotis, or even an old tablecloth. Layers of organza on dresses and trousers, inspired by sleepwear and innerwear, add a sense of romance. The collection is a take on India, but they could also be anywhere else.

My clothes are about who wears it and how they wear it.

Do you design your garments with the conscious intent of layering?

I like to imagine wearing these designs in all scenarios. I have jackets, some in two versions (a trench and a short jacket) that can be worn with denims, trousers, or jeggings and boots. Dresses can be worn with a jacket on top or layered over a longer dress that shows off a hint of embroidery. Organza makes for a great layering option. I think we have a lovely summer that lends itself beautifully to pretty layering.

My clothes are about who wears it and how they wear it—they are tunics for some, day dresses for others. I imagine someone in Japan would wear one of my dresses with a folded trouser and a masculine jacket. In the Middle East, a woman might wear it in layers and cover her arms and legs. A New Yorker might wear a bright floral dress with bold stripes, while in India, a woman might wear the same dress with palazzo and Kolhapuri chappals.

How well do textiles lend themselves to your designs?

The textile integration comes from within—I make clothes my mom might have worn. Dressing in textiles is also about being relevant. This is who we are. We are not a fashion country, we are a textile country. Why would we wear synthetic and polyester when we can wear fabrics that breathe? We have to be more intelligent, and Indian consumers do know the value of textiles. We talk of reinventing textiles, but these fabrics have survived for centuries on their own merit.

How do Indian consumers relate to your designs?

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I started internationally, thinking that no one would buy my designs here. And it did happen. I remember being told that my clothes were great, but I could do a little something for a sangeet too. But I think now people understand that a wedding or Diwali comes only once a year. There are more than 300 other days when we want to dress well too.

What are the biggest challenges of working with handlooms?

I’d say it’s that my fabrics have a mind of their own. If you see my designs, they looked washed, familiar, like they are part of a wardrobe. If I want to cut them a certain way or look pressed and contoured, I find that I often fail. The fabrics make my garments...it’s like Arundhati (Roy) says, that her books write themselves.

What are you working on next?

I start thinking about ideas as far ahead as a year. No idea is bad enough to trash. I don’t want to disclose too much but I am working on, rather around, Kalamkari.

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