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Free Falling
Text by Nikasha Tawadey
Published: Volume 18, Issue 8, August, 2010
Having lived in various parts of the country, Nikasha Tawadey perfectly represents the term ‘pan-Indian’, both in design and persona

She emerged onto the national design scene in 2006 with her unique ethno-quirky aesthetic, which immediately struck a chord with everyone – buyers, press and them fashionistas. All wanted a piece of Nikasha, the label which designer Nikasha Tawadey calls an ‘unlikely baby’. Unlikely, because stepping into fashion was not a premeditated move, but a chance phenomenon which gradually became a full-time profession.

Within the short span of four years, the psychology graduate turned psychoanalyst turned designer has managed to consolidate her position in the industry as a creative force to be reckoned with. With participations at Singapore Fashion Week, Coterie New York and the recently held Shanghai Fashion Week, she has taken her easy Indian ensembles to audiences abroad, as well as retailed from stores like Selfridges in London and Macy’s in San Francisco.
In a chat with SOHINY DAS, she discusses growing up, inspirations and her brand that embodies a laid-back and effortlessly ethnic charm.

Banning fashionable terms like ‘boho, luxe, glam-hippy’ from the vocabulary, what does the Nikasha brand of Indian stand for?
It’s very personal, stemming from a little world in my head, which records everyday life in this country. The ‘Indian’ is very natural, reflecting the value of simplicity.

Your recurring inspirations?
Experiences that I’ve accumulated through life, particularly memories from my growing-up years. Stories that my subconscious memory stores.

So tell us about growing up....
I grew up in different cities. Chennai was first – I remember the women with their oiled hair and fragrant gajras and incense. My mother’s Bengali, so I’ve spent lots of time in Kolkata with my grandparents. My father’s Maharashtrian, so that culture’s ingrained in me too. Then we moved to Delhi, where I saw the lovely Punjabi ladies in their patiala suits and kurtis. I’ve travelled cross-country by train so many times and observed dress, habits, cultures. These live with me forever.

How’s setting up base in Mumbai working out?
It’s a laid-back place with an inherent coolness, as they say, ‘bindaas’. You can do your own thing; you don’t have to try too hard to impress anyone. Clients here are a lot more price-conscious than in Delhi; there, they’ll step in and buy ten things in one go – Delhi’s full of big spenders. Here, people are more individual, they know exactly what they want.

How did the switch from psychology to design happen?
It wasn’t planned. I guess I was creative all my life, but I never expressed it. But then I cut up some old dupattas, got some everyday clothes made and wore them. Someone noticed and asked me to create a 10-outfit collection. From thereon, growth happened with small steps, as an organic process. Somewhere down the line I realised that I was making this into a career.

How much of your own muse are you?
The emotional content or the core of my clothes is me and my life at a point of time. But the beautiful models on the runways give them a life of their own. So I also visualise my designs on models.

Any sounding boards/ guides?
My mother. She’s a textile expert, and has been working with costumes and handlooms from all corners of the country. She’s my rock every step of the way. I’ve seen her incorporate traditional regional dress with her own spin, like a Kashmiri phiran worn with corduroy pants and stilettos. She’s taught me a lot, invested in my company. I depend on her.

Follow or create trends?
Neither. In fact, I’m not much of an internet person either. I rarely go online to view collections. I tend to live in my own cocoon, and do my own thing. But my mental landscape is rich, and I follow my instinct.

So more heart or more head?
Heart – totally! But if you have your own company, you have to wear many hats – manager, accountant, production supervisor, quality checker…sigh… I’m trying to put in more of ‘head’ into my business.

Sexy or sensual?
Sensual. Little bit of sheerness, the curve of the back, cut-outs in shoulders or upper arms. My clothes heighten romance.

Do you see women wearing your clothes well?
Sometimes they put in their own twist, like knot things up, add a belt… Then I think, hey, that works well. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

And when they don’t?
Then I either keep shut, or say – I’d have worn it different. I’m traumatised when I see my saris teamed up with lace corsets or bustiers!

How was the recent Shanghai experience?
Fantastic! They were very warm and welcoming. I’d been skeptical about language problems, but it’s great how people can communicate despite those.

Silliest question asked at a post-show press conference?
“What were your colours and inspirations?” Did you not watch it? Did you not read the press release?

Changes/ improvements you wish to see in Indian fashion?
We need to be more stringent about quality. The selection of showcasing designers at our fashion weeks needs to be a more qualitative process. It should be about talent, not money or contacts. Once that’s looked into, the level of interest will change. Also, we designers as well as the media need to be less celebrity obsessed. Fashion’s focus should be the clothes, not who’s walking the runway.

What do you do to unwind?
I visit my brother in Goa many times. It’s like a step back in time, where everyone still drives their small Maruti cars and sleeps in the afternoon. I also like flipping through art books, studying genres like Impressionism and at present, Abstraction. I find it fascinating that you can learn so much about a painter’s emotional state from brush strokes. An angry black, a sad black, a furious black – they’re different!

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