Bibi Magazine had an exclusive opportunity to interview South Asian fashion designer, Agnimitra Paul, when she was in Houston, Texas for a charity fashion show. She was also featured in our 2016 Bibi Bridal Annual for her take on bridal trends for the season. Here’s our in-depth interview with the eclectic fashion designer that you should keep an eye on.
So how did you become a part of “Ramp With A Cause”?
The organizers (Aalpunaa – the three ladies) were in touch with me for a show called NABC (North American Bengali Conference), which was three months back in Houston. But, then, that got cancelled. But these three ladies still wanted to get me here. They had seen my work and they wanted me to showcase [in Houston]. We had been in touch for 6-8 months, until the date was finalized. Then, it took shape as to what I’m going to showcase, how it’s going to be done, models, music – bit by bit, the entire program shaped up.
Where do you get your inspirations when you’re designing your collection?
Anything – it can be anything! I went for a holiday to Bhutan. You know, Bhutanese women are very hard working; they are the bread earners of their family and I loved what they wore. So I picked up a lot of yardage from Thimphu (the capital of Bhutan) – a beautiful brocade fabric that’s a little thick and warm because it’s a cold country. [From that fabric,] I made a collection called “Notes From Bhutan,” that I presented [at] Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai. My showstopper was (Bhutanese actor and model, based in Mumbai) Kelly Dorji, who’s the ex-boyfriend of Lara [Dutta], and Kelly belongs to the Royal Family of Bhutan. I got all this headgear and footwear, all from Bhutan. So, Kelly was walking with me [down the runway] and I had these monks who were there on the ramp, playing that “thung, thung, thung” [sound] and there were chants. The famous footballer, Baichung Bhutia, he’s from Gangtok (the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, which is bordered by Bhutan), so he gave me all these Bhutanese chants. So that was a show [that] I did.
Where did you get your inspiration for this collection, “Threads of India”?
I like working with Indian crafts, textiles, and art. I used to see a lot of Madhubani painting, which is very light. My paintings are very colorful, while Madhubani paintings are usually like an outline. It’s like the two words, ‘kachni’ and ‘bharni.’ Bharni is when you fill up with color, which is what I did, while Kachni is just streaks of lines. Usually you get to see Kachni, which is in black, light red, and these kinds of colors. But you don’t get to see Bharni. And Madhubani painting is something which was restricted to wall paintings, bed sheets, and bed covers; [it’s] not in western clothing, so I thought it would be a good idea to make it on Indian textiles with western silhouettes, and present this beautiful Indian art to the western world. Somebody like Crystal would love to wear a jacket or a pajama of a Madhubani painting, but maybe not a sari. So I presented this collection in India and it was very well accepted. I have a lot of artisans under me right now, especially women, who are doing this well and they are all from the Madhubani district of Bihar (eastern state of India, bordering Nepal).
Who are some of your favorite Indian designers?
My inspiration, my icon has always been (Indian fashion designer) Ritu Kumar. She’s a lady I feel I look up to because when I became a fashion designer, by accident… I never planned to be a fashion designer; I always planned to become a doctor (gynecologist) because my dad was a doctor. But, both the professions are somewhat similar, I think, because both [deal] with scissors. I like Ritu Kumar because I like how Ritu Kumar combines Indian textiles and craft with western silhouettes. Another thing I like about her is the way she balances her family life and her professional life. You usually don’t see that in this kind of profession because in some way you see that you can’t really balance it. She didn’t get any formal training. Whatever she has done, she created it by herself. So I think she’s great! She’s one of the pioneers of Indian fashion, and she’s still doing so well. That’s why I really look up to her. She [offers] very classic designs.
Which Western designer inspires you?
I like (British fashion designer) Alexander McQueen. I know his clothes are something very different, extremely creative, and, at the same time, I would like to wear it – it’s very wearable! It’s not so quirky that you’re not very confident wearing it. I really like the collections he has done.
Which celebrity have you enjoyed working with the most, and what did you design for them?
I started my career designing for (Indian film actress) Sridevi, so she holds a very special place in my heart, because she gave me a chance when I was no one. She produced a film, called “Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche,” where she launched Esha Deol, the daughter of Hema Malini, and I designed for Esha Deol, along with Sridevi’s personal collection.
I [currently] design for Manisha Koirala. Her taste is very different – very subtle. She’s not a blingy person.
And, of course, Mithun Chakraborty (famed for his role in the 1982 Bollywood film, “Disco Dancer”)… he might not be a fashion icon, but he has been like an elder brother for me. He’s helped tremendously, especially in Kolkata. I design for all his films.
These people have been really important in my life. There are other stars; I’ve designed for every star in Kolkata, from Priyanshu Chatterjee, Rituparna Sengupta, everybody.
Do you feel there is a global style and that we all seem to be following it?
I think, gowns are in, globally. The [design] may be different. A gown in London, a gown in Houston, and a gown in India are a little different. The treatment is different. But, the silhouette is still a gown. I think a gown is very in this season.
Who are some individuals that you believe are global trendsetters?
The first name that comes to mind is Princess Diana. I think she’s just amazing! I think style is something that you don’t have to force and she’s the kind of lady that whatever she wore, she carried off so easily, so comfortably, so elegantly, and it was like a second skin to her.
I think my designs are very elegant. I want my muse to be very elegant rather than sexy, that’s my thing.
Have you been inspired by the city that you live in?
Kolkatta – yes, very much. I did a line of t-shirts that were inspired by Kolkatta, [with prints] like the double-decker bus, which we don’t have right now, the famous Kalighat Temple, the rickshaw.
What are some of your must-haves in your wardrobe?
In my wardrobe, I love saris! I love to have one of my Madhubani saris, one plain beautiful Pashmina sari with an embellished velvet blouse in an aubergine color.
I love to have a pair of well-fitted jeans, beautiful white blouse or shirt, a very nice blazer, or a long coat – but not the formal type; something really different, maybe in a light print. And a long skirt in a beautiful Indian textile, maybe in an Ikat [print]. I’m a very skirt person, so I love long skirts. These are the must haves.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
My plan is to make my brand more visible, around India. Definitely, all designers would like to see their collection on the ramps of New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, and Milan Fashion Week – even I want that. But my dream is for my label to be popular even in the remotest of villages in India. I dream that a farmer’s daughter has bought my outfit from a store closer to the village and there’s a village fair going on where she takes out my outfit from the trunk. She wears it with those ribbons that my mother had and she goes to the village fair. So that is my dream, that my brand reaches every corner of India. Every girl dreams to have Agnimitra Paul and it is [accessible] and affordable. I want that before I reach the runways of New York or Paris.
Where is your brand available?
I have two stores in Kolkatta and I supply to many stores around India. But I’m not yet available in the U.S., so probably in the future. This is my first stepping-stone to Houston. There are a lot of inquiries right now, so I’ll probably plan it out. [Online], I’m just starting off with Amazon. (You can also purchase online via Triveni Ethnics.)