Couturier Archana Kochhar has been a glamorous presence on the international and Indian runways for decades now, creating garments that are tailored to bring out the best in a person. Ranging from sarees to gowns to anything that can be imagined, the designer continuously keeps on innovating making an even bigger name for herself across the globe.
Kochhar has worked with a lot of who’s who of Bollywood like Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Jacqueline Fernandes, Bipasha Basu, Prabhu Deva, Amrita Rao, Nargis Fakhri and many others. She has showcased her collections in New York Fashion Week, Lakme Fashion Week and India Fashion Week. During the New York Fashion Week 2015, Kochhar introduced the ‘ahimsa silk saree’ inspired by the Make In India campaign. Amputee model Rebekah Marine featured her designs in 2015.
The designer who has been conferred with the title of ‘Fashion Designer of the Decade’ at India Leadership Conclave 2015 and has won many awards, opens up with Cocktail Zindagi about her work, her life, and her dreams.
“I was always intrigued by fashion, I’ve loved things looking beautiful. When I was 16-year-old and was studying at NM College in Juhu. That is when I put together my first trunk show along with a couple of friends. That trunk show did well. I had no idea that fashion was my calling back then,” she says.
She continued her education but that was not in fashion. Kochhar does not have a fashion degree but teaches as well now. Talking about it she says, “I had no idea that fashion was my calling and continued my education after the trunk show. I didn’t study fashion and kept improving as I learnt from my mistakes. Now I teach at 13 colleges.”
For her fashion is an expression not only of ourselves but also of the society around us. She thinks that fashion reflects all the changes – whether social or political – that happen around us.
What are the famous designer’s work ethics?
“A lot of people can make pretty garments but not everyone can bring out the best in a person. Every person has their own body flaws and assets, we understand that while designing the garments. We can make people look taller or two sizes smaller. You look different when you wear garments that are designed like that. We help people put their best foot forward through our brand,” she gladly says.
For Kochhar, fashion is an art. She says that for every fashion designer, the fabrics are the canvas and the garments are their paintings. That is how they express themselves.
She began her fashion empire with a small dream, “We began as bridal designers, about 19-20 years ago. I was around 20-years-old then. I thought marriages were so beautiful and weddings were such happy moments. So I wanted to be etched in those happy memories forever. I wanted to make their special day even more special. I am a dreamy person. We eventually evolved in the journey. Now we design every kind of garment.”
So did she have a fear of failure while opening her first store? “No, I didn’t,” she says and adds, “I got married really early and like most Indian households, my in-laws were not really keen that I work. But I convinced them and won over their hearts. I didn’t take any money from anyone when I opened my first store. I made my first collection for a friend’s exhibition and it was a sellout. My friend had an exhibition scheduled and she had garments that would fill only half the space. She was working for 6 months and I had only 10 days to do my work to fill the other half. I was worried how will I do it. But I went for it. I took a lot of interesting fabrics and mix-matched them. In one week that collection sold out. With that money, I made my second collection and never stopped after that. This was 20 years ago. I didn’t take capital from any living human being to start my store. I was confident I wouldn’t need any money, I would create it. So there was no fear.”
The couturier never tapped her friends and family to sell her garments in the beginning and so there was no fear of judgement. As Kochhar says it, she went straight into the world and sold her garments to completely new, unknown people.
She expresses, “And I never had any whim like I will not do this task as it is very small for me like many people have. I have never found any work to be small. I took it up and went head first taking up every opportunity that came my way.”
While designing a garment, Kochhar and her team do consider the seasonal trends but create unique designs by adding their own touch to it. They infuse their creativity with the season’s colours and make something beautiful. When it comes to designing a collection, there is a theme and some colour palettes that they have in mind. “For the upcoming New York Fashion Week our theme is Warli paintings. We are working with India’s Warli painters and our entire collection will be hand-painted by them,” she explains.
Along with working on the New York Fashion Week, Kochhar is working on a bridal collection simultaneously for the next bridal season.
On asking her about what inspires her she replied, “One of the things that inspire us a lot are my travels. I travel a lot. The various destinations we travel to create a different impression in our mind. Some of those are expressed through my collections. Also, Indian culture and heritage – royal India, that is my second inspiration.”
From her point of view, what is the trend that she sees as ‘the next thing’?
“The fashion canvas is so large that there is a different trend in every different kind of garment. But in general, I think we all are becoming global citizens. Also, there is a lot of fusion of silhouettes. That is what I see, people are enjoying that fusion. It is very interesting. Fusion is what I see as the ‘in thing’ right now,” she tells us.
Archana Kochhar’s favourite part about being a fashion designer is the fact that she gets to meet new, interesting people every now and then and design for them. Not only the famous people but others from various walks of life are whom she loves meeting. As much as conversations, she enjoys silence after her much noisy, hectic day, as it is the silence that helps absorb and process her thoughts about her entire day.
Working through a day where every day is like a fire-fighting situation, Kochhar thinks that problems are a part of life and dealing with them is what keeps life interesting. Her dreams give her the strength to go through it all, “As a child, my parents never cut my wings off. That is another thing I thank my parents for. So I believe my strength is the ability to dream. I believe in my dreams. With God’s grace, a lot of them come true as well. I am the kind of a person who would jump into the pool and then figure out how to swim. But I’ll jump in any way. I don’t think much, so I won’t wonder things like, ‘Is the water too deep? or ‘Is the water too cool?’ I am blessed that I can see positive things in every situation and come out of it happily. That innocence is still there in me.”
If there was one thing she would tell the aspiring designers in the field to focus on, it would be to be a people’s person.
“To become a successful designer, making beautiful garments is important, yes but there is something else that is beyond making beautiful garments that will help you sustain. That is the way you deal with people. One of the reasons why I am where I am today is because people want to work with me again and again. I have people skills, I connect with people. You need to be a genuine person,” she advises.
Furthermore, she says, “I would tell all the aspiring designers that this is a great place to be. There is a lot of hard work. People say that ‘she is lucky’ but it is not about luck – the harder you work, the luckier you get. Cling on to your dreams.”
She is a woman who believes that when we add value to our surroundings, we add value to ourselves. She is the Goodwill Ambassador for Smile Foundation and associated with a lot of causes for women empowerment.
The icon who hopes that she is in a better place 5 years from now wants to make life better for women who are not as blessed as her. “I want to make a difference in the lives of scores of women in need of a push, a support. Since the last few years, I have been doing a lot of things for women empowerment. If we are blessed, we should share that blessing. I feel that the life of a woman is definitely more difficult than the life of a man. Anyone who is saying otherwise does not really understand it or are lying! There is so much a woman overcomes. Many give up and sit back as life gets tough and I would really like to hold their hands and pull them out. I hope I bring light to many lives,” she elaborates.
She adds, “Instead of doing nothing, we should do tiny things, little things that help people. If every day we do one good deed, after 365 days we have done 365 chotu good deeds.”
When we asked her if there was one thing that every man or woman must have in their wardrobe to take their fashion quotient up a notch, she had an interesting take on it, “I think it is great that people invest their time and energy in looking right and nice. You dress up like good things are going to happen to you and they do happen. Gifts come to us. In whatever way, take the trouble to look nice. It doesn’t happen by chance, you have to put in an effort to look right. There isn’t one magical item that makes you look right. You create looks for yourself. When you wear those looks, you stand apart in the crowd. The idea is how do you get there? You might be good at it yourself. There are a lot of designers who can create a look for you. Invest your time and money on that. It is a whole look that creates the impression. Take the trouble to get a whole look and not just a garment created for yourself.”
The vegetarian designer who travels every month to a different city or a country loves experimenting with different cuisines and enjoys all of them. She doesn’t have a specific hobby as her work is what she loves to do. She cannot bear to be away from her work for more than a week.
“My work is my temple, this is where I pray,” she signs off giving good wishes to Cocktail Zindagi and the youth out there who dreams of making it big in the fashion industry.