It’s on a surprisingly warm afternoon that we visit Amit Aggarwal’s studio in Delhi’s Lado Sarai. The city is enjoying the last vestiges of winter, executives from design studios located in the neighbourhood are sunning themselves, enjoying a cup of tea. Aggarwal’s studio, however, is engulfed in hecticactivity—fabrics are being tailored, embellishments are being crafted for the last-minute finishing touches. In one of the adjoining rooms, Aggarwal and his assistants are busy with fitting sessions for his grand finale at the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2020 edition on 16 February.

The designer is planning to showcase a new collection, titled Axil, with references to futuristic bio-mimicry. “As a brand, we have always tried to project the future and envision the way fashion is likely to move forward," says Aggarwal, as we settle down for a chat in his refurbished office. He maintains that his language is the same as when he started his journey as a designer. “Only, what was futuristic back then has now become the present," he adds.

Sketch of sculpted dresses from the ‘Axil’ collection featuring recycled polymers and sequin tubes.
Sketch of sculpted dresses from the ‘Axil’ collection featuring recycled polymers and sequin tubes. (Photo courtesy: Amit Aggarwal)

Axil is in sync with the overarching theme this season—#BetterIn3D—and gets its name from the angle between the flower and the stalk that it grows from. Aggarwal carries forth his engagement with themes of coexistence between the world of flora and fauna with bionic and human life. “We have visualized a world in the distant future where every kind of form that has managed to survive comes together to create a cohesive whole," he says. This theme was also reflected in his previous collections such as the Crystalis at the India Couture Week in 2018. For it, he had created garments inspired by two natural phenomena—the formation of crystals and the metallic chrysalis, from which the butterfly emerges.

Aggarwal’s eponymous label is known for creating sculptural garments and working with recycled polymers and industrial waste. For instance, his team works closely with factories that regularly cut sequins and end up with a significant amount of waste. The idea is to use materials that would end up in a landfill or a dump. “We turn these into embellishments and they become a part of a product for life," he says.

Sketch of sculpted dresses from the ‘Axil’ collection featuring recycled polymers and sequin tubes.
Sketch of sculpted dresses from the ‘Axil’ collection featuring recycled polymers and sequin tubes. (Photo courtesy: Amit Aggarwal)

For Axil, Aggarwal has gone a step further and used recycled sequin tubes too. “I imagine a future when a lot of material which emerges from industrial advancement could be used in creating garments, which you wouldn’t just use once and throw," he says. Aggarwal looks ahead, some 200-300 years hence, when you may be able to mould a blouse from a dump of plastic lying around the house to go with a sari. “Everything around us can be utilized in a more elegant and thoughtful way," he adds.

While Aggarwal has always used recycled polymer as strips, his latest collection uses them as full-moulded forms. “They become almost like second skin. I cast a lot of plastic on human forms for the collection," he says.

Referring to Aggarwal’s futuristic design vocabulary, author and fashion commentator Sujata Assomull wrote in a 2018 piece for the Khaleej Times: “There is a term in international fashion called ‘prêt-à-couture’, which involves the fusing of ready-to-wear (prêt-à-porter) ease with the beauty of couture—and that is what Amit does. But what makes his work really exciting is the way he fuses new-age technology with traditional craft."

Over the past couple of years, sculptural dresses have emerged as a big trend on international runways. There were several instances at the Paris Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2020 shows. The Guardian’s Observer, in an article in October, made particular mention of the collection by Loewe, the Spanish luxury fashion house. “Playing with sculpture, knitted shrugs formed capes and billowing poncho coats came with extravagant sleeves. The delicate touches were in transparent Chantilly and marguerite lace, some fused with matte cotton or Japanese satin, decorated with delicate overlays of fringe, pearls and wooden beading," it noted.

In India, the other designer who does sculptural garments really well is Gaurav Gupta, whose asymmetrical dresses and lehnga hybrids are inspired by origami folds and magical forests. In 2017, he created a sculptural Artificial Intelligence-inspired sari-gown in collaboration with IBM Watson’s cognitive technology. He too engages with ideas of sustainability, both through materials and processes—in 2018, for example, he created Melt, a 90-95% zero-waste collection.

While Aggarwal’s garments are sculptural, there is a certain fluidity to his designs. “Water has been one of my biggest inspirations. It takes the form of whichever container you put it in. It can travel between vapour, ice and steam and still be fluid. I think that quality of being amorphous and malleable brings me back to water time and again," he says.

Aggarwal translates this quality in his garments with the use of fabrics such as liquid organza. In Axil, he has also used water-finished metallic chiffons, which have a three-dimensional quality. The fabric reflects light every time it moves, lending it fluidity. In his office, he points to a soft pink dress and says, “On the ramp, when light will fall on the dress, it will look like sunlight bouncing off a wave."

Aggarwal believes that while weddings continue to lead the consumption of couture in India, the younger generation wants to invest in pieces that have a lifespan beyond just the wedding. “Within the wedding itself, there are multiple occasions to wear something more eclectic and modern. I think this collection addresses that," says Aggarwal. So he has teamed up lehnga flounces with structured tops, which can be paired with something different for another occasion. Then there are skater dresses that could take one from cocktail nights to after-cocktail parties with ease. “We have draped saris, which come with a detachable palla, and could be worn as a skirt or a dress. These aspects are important as they give the wearer a chance to invest in something more versatile," he concludes.

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