From the time Anavila Misra started her eponymous label in 2012, her endeavour has been to champion the sari as an everyday wardrobe classic. The fact that Anavila is one of the first labels that comes to mind in the sari space is evidence that she’s succeeded. So is the fact that today, her drapes can be found in the wardrobes of everyone from college graduates and homemakers to Bollywood’s most discerning dressers. In a short period of time, Misra has managed to redefine luxury with her fuss-free drapes, effortless weaves and minimal textures. She did all this while staying true to her DNA and constantly innovating within her niche. The designer tells us what it took to make it in the big bad world of fashion.
Let’s start from the beginning. What was your childhood like and when did you decide to step into the fashion industry?
I was born and brought up in Karnal, a small town in Haryana. My father is a scientist and agriculturist and my mother, though a teacher and fine artist, chose to be a housewife. My love affair with saris and linen started very early, when I watched my mother wear her beautiful ones, from kotas to dhakais and Banarasis, for different occasions. My sister and I used to play dress-up, for which my mother generously lent us her saris. I always had a keen interest in design which manifested in many ways through my childhood. I used to design clothes for myself and my dolls. Under the guidance of my mother I learnt embroidery, knitting, sewing and painting at home. So choosing my path was quite easy, thanks to the support and encouragement I got at home. I did my post-graduation in knitwear design from NIFT Delhi and graduated in 2000. After some small stints at export houses as an assistant designer, I began working on a craft cluster development project, in 2004, for NIFT in association with the Ministry of Rural Development. During this time, I travelled the length and breadth of these rural craft clusters and that’s when I saw the immense possibility they held.
How did you develop the idea of a linen sari?
We grew up hearing stories from our grandmother about how they would weave their own home linen and it always fascinated me. I experimented a lot with the textile during my tenure at the export house and I fell in love with it. When I was toying with the idea of working on saris, silk and cotton didn’t excite me much. It was while trying to create a contemporary, comfortable sari that linen found its way into my work and life. I love the textile – the lightness, the feel and the fall of linen. It is as luxurious as it is comfortable. Instead of cutting and moulding the beautiful fabric, I like the idea of wrapping it in a gorgeous drape.
You have always campaigned for the sari to become a fuss-free everyday garment in a woman’s life. How have people responded to this?
The sari is making its impression upon the modern woman. She wears it with ease and elegance. It remains my endeavour to make the sari an equivalent of a pair of jeans and a cotton shirt. A woman can curate her own unique look each time with interesting separates to go with the sari.
What was it like to work with the weavers of Jharkhand and West Bengal?
I am in awe with the relationship these weavers have with their looms and yarn, and their immense skill set. Over the last few years of working closely with these weavers, we’ve become one big family. They have now come to understand the aesthetic space we are in and also the brand language, so that makes the work easier. We start with working on textiles and textures for a collection, and follow this with colour experiments before we design the final pieces. Even outside the seasonal calendar, we keep innovating with texture and yarn.
Where did you first exhibit your collection?
My first show was at the Artisans Gallery at Kala Ghoda (Mumbai). I had just 10 to 15 linen saris with some Maheshwaris and silks that I had worked on in Banaras. By the evening, all the linen saris were sold. I still remember every woman who bought the first few pieces that day, and their excitement on seeing saris in linen.
From saris to ready-to-wear garments—brand Anavila is slowly moving in a new direction.
I feel the brand is in the luxury prêt space—we have a collection of shirts, tunics and trousers—and there is still a lot of scope within it.
How do you ensure sustainability as a designer?
We incorporate any leftover textiles into products like dolls, stuffed toys, jewellery or embellishments. I’m always trying to find cues from our culture and heritage, and making them relevant to today's generation. Our sari doll, Busa, is a small step in this direction. This is our way of bringing the sari to the young girl—if not in the wardrobe, in the nursery.