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Meet Amit Aggarwal, the engineer of Indian couture

In an interview, the designer, who marks 10 years in the fashion industry, discusses marrying industrial material with couture

The new Amit Aggarwal store in Delhi's DLF Emporio mall.
The new Amit Aggarwal store in Delhi's DLF Emporio mall. (Suryan & Dang)

Most interior designers suggest that the walls of a retail space should be light, bright, usually white to make the space feel large and airy and keep the focus on the products. For his new store in south Delhi’s DLF Emporio mall, designer Amit Aggarwal chose all black. Every surface of the 1,505 sq. ft store is a shade of black. In an industry that is a slave to trends, Aggarwal chooses to be the outlier.

A decade ago, when he graduated from Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and decided to start his eponymous brand, he wanted to change the way India saw couture. Recycled materials and plastic polymers may not seem like the stuff couture is spun from but the 43-year-old has moulded them into fantastical designs that combine flounces and flair with structural, sculptural volume. Celebrities in India and abroad have worn his creations—most recently, Priyanka Chopra Jonas wore his deconstructed Banarasi sari in sheer, glittering nude with a ruffled cape, to the opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai. A sculptural sari that still flows true to the original silhouette will be part of The Offbeat Sari show at London’s Design Museum, starting 19 May. His unique creations draw inspiration from mathematics, science fiction and art.

Also read: Amit Aggarwal tells a different story of Indian couture

In 2021-22, the brand saw around 250% growth in sales, owing to marketing, revenge shopping and the addition of a store in Mumbai’s Colaba, claims the designer—he has two other stores, in Delhi’s Kila area (Seven Style Mile) and in Mumbai’s Colaba, all showcasing a mix of couture and ready-to-wear. In 2022-23, growth was close to 140%.

In an interview during the store’s opening on 5 May, he spoke to Lounge about his customers, creations and plans for expansion. Edited excerpts:

Workmanship, mixed with intelligent materials, and not just embellishment, is what today’s customer wants to wear as an extension of their personality, says Amit Aggarwal
Workmanship, mixed with intelligent materials, and not just embellishment, is what today’s customer wants to wear as an extension of their personality, says Amit Aggarwal

Why black?

I wanted to create a space that’s like an art exhibit or at least a concept of it. When a customer enters the store, they should enter the mind of the brand. A retail store is not always about the clothes, which we often forget. It’s also about informing people what the brand stands for. With black, I wanted to create a meditative void kind of space… it kind of defines infinity. And to be honest, I do feel today the customer wants experience. It keeps them excited while informing them about what the core of the brand is.

And what is the core of the brand?

Evolution. We understand that every single creation will lead to some kind of connection between the past and the infinite future. We are responsible for taking inspiration from the past but create something different that will impact future fashion. Workmanship, mixed with intelligent materials, and not just embellishment, is what today’s customer wants to wear as an extension of their personality. I think the story I started telling 10 years ago is finally showing results.

How difficult was it to convince people initially about your design vocabulary?

When I started, my father lent me some money on the condition that he would monitor me. The first four months were too much; I couldn’t take the pressure, I used to break down... lose my temper. One day, he took me to a corner and said, “If you can’t control your emotions, then you need to stop doing business.” That has stayed with me. Not that I don’t fall apart now but I pull myself together faster.

Were there other challenges?

Initially, curating a team that would work with this material (plastic polymer that gives the signature AA structural look to the creations) was the biggest challenge. The press would love the runway show but retailers would shy away. We did not advertise; it was all word of mouth and we became known for products that were unique. The garments are structured for you, to understand your body and mindset. Like Priyanka’s outfit (for the Nita Ambani cultural centre) was national, yet global, just like her. This is what empowers the wearer. This is my biggest takeaway from the past 10 years— clothes don’t make you look beautiful; it’s how they make you feel, that’s what makes the wearer feel beautiful.

Was there any one particular moment that made you realise you were moving in the right direction?

For our first India couture week in 2018, we didn’t do saris and lehngas like the others. Our show blurred the lines between what was traditionally seen on the ramp and what Indian couture could perhaps be. We did occasion-wear but its amorphous nature made it a hit. For example, a sari wasn’t just a sari for a sangeet; you could wear it the world over for any occasion. My first client for bridal, the first bridal collection, was the niece of my dentist. She wanted something unique— and this was 10 years ago. Today, most people want unique things, so I think I am in a good space.

What was that piece like?

it was this elaborate piece—all black—made out of polymer chips.

From Aggarwal's last couture show, 'Pedesis', in Delhi
From Aggarwal's last couture show, 'Pedesis', in Delhi

When did your love affair with polymer start?

With a loan from my dad, I started creating in 2012. I used to go to a lot of places in search of discarded materials, scrap fabric, thermocol, fibres. I was always interested in different materials because I come from a family of engineers. One day in Okhla (south Delhi), I came across this shiny plastic strip outside a factory lying as trash. I carried it with me. It was a foot and a half. I tried a few things with it, created different textiles and it has stayed with me.

Isn’t it restricting to work with plastic?

I’m a loyalist, it’s my inherent nature. If I'm in love with something or someone, I stay with them for the rest of my life. There have been instances when the polymer hasn’t responded the way I wanted it to, but I think that’s how relationships are. You learn to compromise. There’s a lot of fluidity and structure in my clothes; I don’t imagine the fluidity of, say, chiffon as my core. I’m not a fan of chiffon; it lacks character (laughs).

Any other fabric you don’t really like?

I don't love pretty pretty fabrics. I like them to have a little bit of structure, some shape or form.

Were you always into structure in clothing?

I have always enjoyed things like intersection of lines, how lines can come together to create a form, to create a curve. It has to do with the fact that I grew up with around engineering materials throughout my life.

My mum wanted to be a doctor but couldn't because of studies. But I think my sense of biomimicry comes from her. My dad and brother are engineers, so there was always a lot of conversation around structure. Luckily, there was never any pressure on me to be an engineer, though, I don’t want to sound pompous, my I was brilliant in studies. I topped my boards in Maharashtra state. But I told my family I wanted to be a designer at the age of six I think.

That early!

I've always loved to sketch, by six I was sketching. My mum has still kept them somewhere in the house. I think my desire has a lot to do with my mother. She used to wear the prettiest of chiffon saris with these lovely blouses, always looking so pretty. I used to love looking at her. But with time, she stopped dressing up so much, so I started designing, imagining her in those clothes. I wanted to create beauty.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I want to share that moment with you that just made me realise that I had to take this path. My mom had opened her cupboard and in between her clothes there was this bright yellow satin sari that she wore for her wedding. I asked her to take it out. It had gota work done in circular forms, which had rays coming from the centre. She had done that work herself. That moment has stuck with me till date. Even today, I look and create forms that emerge from the sector.

Were there other influences?

Watching Khoobsurat on Doordarshan every Sunday. Femina, which had eight pages on one designer, and old foreign publications that I used to go looking for around Churchgate. And of course, designers like Tarun Tahiliani and Rohit Bal.

You create clothes that might not suit every shopper’s taste. How do you ensure the bottom line doesn’t suffer?

Pooja, honestly, I don’t think being commercial means doing something bad. When you study at a design college, there’s a constant push about letting you know that you have to have to be creative, and that doing commercial clothes is a bad thing. I don’t understand that. Today to be able to earn money is really, really, really, really one of the biggest challenges. I don't feel guilty in admitting that I do need lots and lots of money, to ensure my workers are paid on time, that their children go to proper school, that I’m able to have comfortable life and, most importantly, expand the vision of the brand. I love shine, forms and shapes as much as I love money.

Also read: Why sea, wind and a dream live in Amit Aggarwal's Mumbai store

Are you open to the idea of having a company as a partner?

Yes, of course. I'm ready for a conversation like that because today, the vision of the brand needs support in terms of the right set of facilities. We’ve moved into a much larger space, all the production facility, the tools, the creativity, the marketing, all of that is in place. But to take it to the next level, I need someone to make an investment to take it to the next level. I need someone to make the brand more commercial; our USP is our alternative nature of fashion and I don’t want to compromise on it. I mean if you want basic stuff then there are several other brands. So I need someone who really believes in our brand to take it to the next level.

What’s the next level?

Besides retail, I want to create stunning experiential properties. I would like to expand the brand, expand menswear, grow internationally, get into homes, or design spaces.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Can I tell you a crazy line I truly believe in?

Of course.

I don't think I'm ever going to die. I might have a few pauses but I'm going to come back to create more, because I think I have the soul of a creator. And I’m only 16, I can’t be thinking about dying right now (laughs).

 A restored ‘patola’ sari, part of ‘The Offbeat Sari’ show at London's Design Museum
A restored ‘patola’ sari, part of ‘The Offbeat Sari’ show at London's Design Museum

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