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|June 16, 2000|
This gal has designs on you -- and everyone else for that matter.
Ritu Batra, all of 24, comes up with the kind of couture that gives chic a new definition. One that neither disappear into the background nor stand out as a statement of excess. Batra's creations range from hand-painted silks to embroidered chiffons. Raw ethnic fabrics with a neat, western cut is this young fashion designer's claim to fame.
She compares her range to "a western body with an Indian soul,'' and waxes ecstatic about fabrics, even those that are old and damaged. Giving them a coat of body paint or a simple line of stitches, she gives them a new lease of life. And the final touches of textile cosmetology are the innovative pins and tucks, making the fabric sit snugly on skin.
"I want to bring India to the West,'' says the tall and slim Batra, who studied fashion designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, India and reached Canadian shores five years ago.
"I can't believe I am in Canada," she says. "It's still like I'm dreaming and I don't ever want to wake up."
After an initial period of homesickness, she found Canada was the right place for fashion-fusion. It was still a culture shock. "I outgrew that and I've come to love the place," says Batra.
Not too impressed by revered names like Pierre Cardin or Armani, Batra decided to develop a line and style of her own that would be a neat blend of the wild and the innovative, the ethnic and the western.
So she worked on giving Indian wear like the sari, the lungi and the lehenga would get a face-lift.
"The western world has its advantage -- you can design something without being afraid that brows will go up," she says.
And so she puts together a flared skirt and a choli even a light shawl to match. Then she tries printed lungis with short, svelte tops.
"The influence India has on the west is amazing. Conventionalism, of course, is out. In place are apparels with a more modern outlook. Like sari -skirts with long coats, or lehengas with small tops," she says. India being so rich in fabrics like silk, shimmering chiffons and textured cottons, it's easy to add traditional art forms like block prints, batik work, mirrorwork, doriwork, zardosi and scores of others to make an unforgettable fashion fusion, she says.
"Recently Vallaya took colours and textures from Easter eggs, which made his range ever so exciting and adventurous that season. Designing is no different from life. It absorbs all good flavours that life has to offer," says Batra.
For Batra, looking to the west for inspiration came easily. Her fashion diploma school in Delhi, the International Centre of Fashion Studies was based on England's modular fashion schools.
"While back in India, I always hoped to go abroad and learn the western style of dress-making. I wanted to go to London at first, but I guess Toronto is good enough...," she jokes.
Claiming she is a "student forever", Batra has now enrolled into Toronto's International Academy of Design.
"There are so many high-profile Canadian fashion designers, but I guess the ones who really get noticed worldwide are the Italian and the French. I wonder why, though," she muses.
Batra first began doing freelance assignments for renowned boutiques in Toronto, using her Indian clothes with the western look. And as she worked, she questioned the rules.
"Why should the sari have pleats only in the front?" she thought to herself and changed things. Now, you have them running through the waistline, giving the sari a fuller and more unconventional look.
"I even experimented with the mermaid sari that tapers mid-way and then flares up at the bottom. It looks glamorous and different. And anything that is a cut above the rest is a definite sellout,'' says Batra.
While doing her enhanced fashion designing course at the International Academy of Design and her freelance work for boutiques, she somehow finds time to do a part-time job at Marks 'n' Spencers.
The designer outlet gives her exposure to western wear. Once home, she dabbles with her own designs.
"The colours have to be bright, but not garish and the style subtle and, yet, not stand-offish," she says. She made her point at the fashion show held at the India's 50th anniversary celebrations three years ago.
"I don't design for any particular age group, but prefer catering to anybody who has the urge to look different and daring," she says.
"I don't have any particular theme for my designs. But, yes, for the westerner it is India coming alive," she says.
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