“I don’t think anyone has the bandwidth to invest the kind of time it takes to develop these mad things,” says designer Rimzim Dadu. The “mad things,” that she is referencing, of course, are her inimitable and labour-intensive clothes made with complex materials and featuring mind-bending constructions she has been making for the last 15 years, which sometimes question the very idea of what constitutes a garment. Unless you have always looked at steel and wondered why it can’t be used to make clothes, Rimzim’s design genius will always come across as new and unconventional, no matter how many times you have seen them. And given how every fashion-forward celebrity in the country has worn her, chances are, you’re already aware of what makes her work so unique in the Indian fashion industry.
The pursuit of creating things that are unique, in fact, has been quintessential to Rimzim’s journey since the designer made her debut in 2007 at the Gen Next show at Lakme Fashion Week. “I have had a rebel streak since graduating college. I didn’t want to take the usual route of clothes-making. I just wanted to do something unique,” she says. While it’s not out of the ordinary for inspiration to strike designers in places least expected, for Rimzim, it came in karkhanas, scrap shops and even hardware stores. “One of the things I’m very curious about is understanding if I can change the very nature of a material – like steel, for instance – and make it functional.” But not every experiment of trying to transmogrify a material so it becomes functional enough to be worn has worked. And for Rimzim, the 15th anniversary of her label became the perfect opportunity for showing the world just that.
Even if you cannot completely wrap your head around Rimzim’s designs, you cannot deny the fact that her clothes are instances of wearable art. Outfits featuring her signature Leather Patola patterns, inspired by the intricate ikat work that first made an appearance in her autumn/winter 2014 collection were even showcased at the Victoria & Albert museum in 2015 as a part of its Fabric of India exhibition. So it was only poetic when Rimzim decided to showcase her 15th anniversary collection at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi. As a part of their Art X Fashion exhibition, Rimzim even culled out archival pieces from her atelier and made them front and centre in her exhibit in a room that was otherwise lined with swatches of all the materials she has used and the fabrics she has created, not all of which made it to her collections. The fact that she calls her studio, “The Lab,” suddenly starts making more sense.
Looking at her own work through the sepia lens of nostalgia also became the jumping off point for the designer who looked at her archives with a fresh new perspective and revisited techniques that resonate with her brand today more than when they were actually conjured. “As a creative person, you’re never truly satisfied with the work you do. Now that I am looking at the past 15 years, there are pieces I could have designed better. This is a great opportunity for me to redo things officially,” she says earnestly.
So, when Rimzim sent models down a runway coiling through the art-filled corridors of KNMA, all 500 people in attendance – some well-versed with her work and others just discovering her genius loci – witnessed a kind of recap seldom seen in fashion. Textile cording, a trademark Rimzim technique inspired from the Mughal Era, that made its debut in 2009 was not only repurposed but also elevated and used in solid coloured skirt and top separates, dresses and draped sari-skirt hybrids. The same was carefully sewn to mimic foliage and used to inundate lehengas (one was even worn by Tara Sutaria, the Bollywood showstopper) and used as dupattas, too. Inspired by the Indian charpai, cord was also handwoven to make one-shouldered and structured tops. Another one of Rimzim’s signatures, her work with metal wires, filled the show in the form of dresses, lehengas, mens’ jackets (her second showstopper, Vijay Varma, wore a gender-agnostic metal vest) and panelling in their shirts. The winning look, and perhaps the garment that’s become the most synonymous with the designer, was the metallic sari, that wowed the audience just as much as it did six years ago.
When we speak with Rimzim after the show, she tells us that she was as nervous about this collection as she was for her first show 15 years ago. But 40 outfits later, what we see is a woman designer who set out to make something unique, and has changed the very construction of Indian garments.
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