She has followed a few rules, and created many more, and those are the only ones she lives by today. With no formal or technical training in fashion, Anamika Khanna will tell you that it was her ‘good fortune’ that she knew nothing about fashion before she ventured forth. It gave her the chance to start at the beginning, unhindered, unencumbered. Today, the styles she creates are unmistakably hers alone…the subtlety, class and singularity of her designs make her one of the most watched-for names in world fashion.
GJ: You don’t have a degree in fashion. What prompted you to take up fashion as a career?
AK: I have been a student of science, but creativity is in my genes; my nani (grandmother) and my mother have been such fine artists. I can’t remember a time when I have not been creative: whether it was decorating the house, or taking my needlework seriously, or winning awards at classical dance competitions, or striving to create a perfect painting. I heard about the Damania fashion awards, and sent across some sketches, which got short-listed. I realized I was going to present a collection, and if there was one thing that I was going to stive for, it was originality. Neither did I want to ‘copy-paste’ somebody else’s work, nor did I want to improvize on an already existing piece of work. I looked for new fabrics, and used original concepts like hand painting on embroidery and different layers of colour.
GJ: What was your idea of success when you started out?
AK: My parameters of success are very different from what is generally perceived. I still have a long way to go despite having made a long journey in terms of my work.
I wish I could sit back, make a plan, and follow it. I feel I would achieve much more than I do now by letting myself be guided to go along with the flow. I have never sold a piece of garment myself, and I have never told anybody to buy my creations. I have been fortunate enough to have committed staff; I simply create and give my suggestions. While earlier I made sure I was aware of every trend and move in the fashion world, today, it doesn’t matter.
GJ: Is it because you create trends yourself?
AK: I don’t know if I create trends; I simply follow my heart. Every individual has different ideas and perceptions, and there is no trend per se. One day, it’s something and the second day, it’s something else.
GJ: Can you define a typical Anamika Khanna creation? What is your style statement?
AK: My creations reflect my idea of a modern woman—subtle, never screaming for attention, extremely feminine and sexy, without revealing what they are going to bathe in... Each piece of clothing I design is an individual creation, and I follow no rules while designing them.
GJ: You are credited for bringing ‘minimalism’ into Indian dressing, where one doesn’t need any jewellery because the garment stands out and makes the woman shine, speaking for itself and for the wearer...
AK: Sometimes, you notice the diamonds, the shoes, and the watch, but you forget to see the woman wearing them. You take in every detail of the garment, but you forget to notice the face wearing it. I don’t like it when the outfit is so overpowering that you forget to ask the name of the person wearing it! My creations don’t overshadow the people wearing them; rather they enhance their whole look.
GJ: What goes on in your mind when you are creating garments?
AK: Don’t hide yourself in the clothes that you wear. Why should more embroidery mean that the outfit is more expensive? I have to-be brides calling me and saying they simply want to wear me; that it doesn’t matter what it is. Now that is truly a moment of pride for me when people put their complete trust in me. But that’s really tough because I do not know what each one’s type is. So I end up trusting myself, and creating something unique for each person. I do not ‘judge’; there is nothing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in my dictionary. I guess that is what helps me create what I do.
GJ: Where do you get your inspiration for creativity from?
AK: It is stress; I perform under pressure! Everyone knows that if I am stressed, I will deliver. But if I am having a smooth conversation in office, I will produce nothing! Of course, you need to keep your mind and eyes open. Inspiration can come from anywhere, anytime. After a show is over, if someone comes and asks me what my inspiration was, I feel like saying: I don’t know!
GJ: What is ‘glamour’ to you?
AK: It is not something you can generalize. I will give you an example. Take a rickshaw-wallah. If he wears a ganji, or a shirt, or some neck-breaker pendant... that, to me, is more glamorous than a woman who buys a designer outfit, is in the right shoes, and carries the right bag. Glamour is not restricted to spending money, or to a certain section of the society. Fashion is everywhere. While for you it might be that pair of sunglasses, for someone else it might be that extra white bangle that they bought. It’s in the mind!
GJ: What makes a woman sexy?
AK: Above anything else, it is her attitude that makes a woman sexy. When you walk into a party and you know you are the odd one out, yet you can be who you are... that, to me, is sexy. If you know yourself and know your skin, you can look sexy in a high-collared blouse and sari. If you are able to make a conversation, let your eyes sparkle, and smile genuinely, that is sexy. Pretensions are boring!
GJ: Where does Indian fashion stand today?
AK: We are still trying to find our footing. It is a very young industry in India. While the world has indulged in fashion for hundreds of years, we have not even played in it for fifty years. We have a lot of hope, but we are still grappling with things. It will take some time. We have to understand and identify our USP for not just ourselves, but also for other people. For example, give me one good reason for buying a little black dress from an Indian designer, and not from a European one. As an Indian designer, my USP is my craft which nobody else in the world has. Indian designers need to believe in this, and then sell their wares. I don’t want to make western clothes which are available all over the world on high streets.
GJ: You are a non-conformist in a conformist role. Born into a Marwari family, you chose to marry into a Punjabi family. Were your parents-in-law supportive towards your work?
AK: It was a strange time; I was nineteen when I got married. During times when I had a show coming up, I would get back home at odd hours.My mother-in-law would bless me with all her heart. When I used to go to college from my in-laws’ house, my father-in-law would get me chocolates everyday. My life would have been miserable had it not been for their support.
GJ: Given your busy work schedule, do you feel guilty about not giving enough time to family and friends?
AK: My children seem to have come to a certain understanding about my work. The guilt factor plays up with my mother and mother-in-law. I miss spending time with them. With my mother, I sometimes do not even return her phone calls. And it is amazing how my mother-in-law puts up with me, given my crazy schedule. We live in the same house, and sometimes I don’t get a chance to speak to her all day.
GJ: Very little is known about Anamika Khanna, the mother, despite the fact that you are devoted to your kids. What’s your one tip on parenting?
AK: It is extremely important to let your children know that you are there for them, and they can talk to you about anything at all, even if it is checking whether they can have alcohol because all their friends are having it! When I was growing up, I remember there was a time when I wished my mother would go away, because she was being so difficult. Today, I understand her better. If she threw away my needle work because it was not perfect, or she made me re-do my science project because my handwriting was not good, or I had to roll chapattis again because they were not round, today, I thank her for that.
GJ: Is it important for a woman to play the balancing act at all times?
AK: You have to maintain a balance because you are a woman. However, it is important to prioritize things. I am a daughter, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a mother, and much more. Hence, there is a lot to balance. One understands this after going through various phases in life, which is evolutionary. For example, today, I don’t want to be a workaholic like I used to be. I will happily give up any appointment, no matter what the repercussions are, when my children have an exam and they need me. I will take time off from work, whether I have a show or not.
GJ: What are the qualities that have helped you reach where you are today?
AK: Over and above everything, I am a perfectionist. But I am also extremely disorganised! I wait until a design comes to me; I never copy. I create from the scratch, and from nothing. I can proudly say that it comes from a thought. That it doesn’t come from something that already exists. That is my mantra for success.
GJ: How have you evolved as a person from when you started out first?
AK: To put it simply: things that mattered to me then, don’t matter to me anymore. The only thing that has remained constant is that I do everything for the love of it. Initially, I had to do things to prove myself to other people. Now, I understand that being a human being is far more important than proving anything to anyone. I don’t need to do that. I am a very different person today. I don’t believe in competing with anyone other than myself. And I believe in finding and making my own path in life.
GJ: You are somebody who has worked hard to reach the pinnacle. What makes you so spiritually aligned?
AK: To me, hard work is the key to success, as clichéd as it may sound! On a parallel note, I have found awakening through books that have taught me the concept of ‘love’. I interacted with children who are victims of cancer. My perspective in life changed when I realized that some of these children may not survive the disease because their parents do not have money for the treatment. I did what I could; and the whole experience was amazing. I donated the money that I needed myself for a fashion show. It made me a better person by making me realize that I was not going to play with people’s lives to reach my goal.
GJ: What do you want to be remembered as?
AK: I am someone who has the courage to make her own rules. I have discovered a few things, and created some others. I have followed my own path, and this is what I want to remembered for.