Rina Dhaka, one of India’s most celebrated fashion designers, joined NewsX for an exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List. She burst on to Indian fashion scene in the late 80s and has showcased her work at The Louvre Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York among many others.
Talking about her incredible journey so far, she said, “When I came around, there was no such career path for people in designing as such. There was late Rohit Khosla as a designer and there was Ritu Kumar in the northeast. But this whole industry as such didn’t exist. My journey in fact, this is what youth is, youth is all about innovation. That was the need of our hour. Our hour means, me and my contemporaries like Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani; we all came around at a time and we were very heady with that period of time. There was no concept really about money, it was all about creativity, craft and trying to pursue some kind of a fashion. In fact, at par with the rest of the world, there was really no design industry, even in the west. There were high street stores like Selfridges, Bloomingdales in America. Designers, as a category of clothing, came about the same time as us. And look where it is today. We have schools of fashion, we have students coming out of these great schools every year and there is a booming trade and industry. When we found the FDCI, we were just nine members. Over a cup of chai every evening and a few laughs, we created this body of FDCI. Today it itself has like millions of followers on Instagram and it runs successful events like fashion weeks, which can help designers in India and internationally come together and get work. So yes, fashion has really been a long way and my journey is that journey too.”
Expressing her views on how the landscape of the fashion industry changed over the years, especially with inclusion of issues that matter to young people like body positivity and inclusivity, she said, “Lakme approached me to do a plus-size show and we did the casting for plus sizes. This was, i think two years or maybe two and a half years ago. There were 300 models, who came for audition, we only announced an hour before. Fabulous, body positive, not shy, very confident, and frankly, they could do runways anywhere. These are plus-size models. And one of the girls I picked out from a crowd called Sakshi. She has gone on to be on the cover of every national magazine. Today, she is India’s most celebrated model. Now in fashion weeks, we have to have a better ratio of plus-sized models as well. This is where the journey of inclusivity has got us and then the noise that we made in the years prior to that, took us there. I’m really happy that it’s no more about a size eight, which is called a sample size and passion because we always made samples are the first pieces on that size, which was the model sizing. Today, a sample size is also a plus size.”
When asked about the difficulties faced by the fashion industry in the past one year and are things coming back to normal, she responded, “Fashion is actually one of the trades which teaches you, especially for all of us who have been designers and my contemporaries. We are always in competition, we’re always running to the next season. We’re always pressured against, what we call a deadline, and deadline has the word ‘dead’ and it’s not a fake word. It really is that you have to die before you finish the clothing. You are really as good as your last collection or your last show. The year was hard. Everything was shot and the costs were high. There was also the demand totally shrunk. People realised that. My own very old client, who always has to buy something new that I have to offer, who is also like my muse, said, ‘Rina, what have I been doing with my life? Where am I going to go wearing these coats? I don’t know what I’m going to do, I have no need. I have decided not to be an active consumer anymore’. This was like what the industry faced, especially the luxury industry of ours. In terms of exports as well, there were a lot of uncertainties, fears with stores, closing down, customers patterns, buying patterns and needs changing. ‘How do you reinvent yourself’ was something we all learnt. We’re on that journey now, we’re on that road now. I must say we’re like roaches, we will survive, because our trade has taught us such. So, you can’t write us off as yet. We just go through, go through this.”
On a concluding note, she shared a piece of advise for the young designers and said, “Have a strong health. Don’t ever ignore your health because you need health. A lot of these children go out and eat on the fruit, you know, roadside and all. Some of them succumb to jaundice, there was a lot of interns who would get jaundice because of the water, in early days, not now maybe now they’re more aware. Second, Fashion isn’t a fashion show or a catwalk, behind the scenes or what we see on Instagram, or social media or television. In reality, it is quite dreary and dreadful. It is a lot of pursuit. You go into these dirty lanes following your garment or where it’s made to get it done. One has to be prepared for the monotony of the daily life that you need to pursue to stay in the grind of completing your work. ”