Anita Dongre makes a triumphant return to the City Palace with her latest showcase

The couturier talks to Brides Today about her recent show at Jaipur’s City Palace, supporting female and independent artisans, her future projects, and more.

This top couturier was the first to get corporate funding, move her workshop and workforce into a Navi Mumbai building, open two flagship stores in New York and Dubai, use only vegan leather, and empower kaarigars countrywide, including female artisans of SEWA (an NGO started in Gujarat) whose handmade textiles and crafts she uses in her ready-to-wear and couture pieces. Today, Anita Dongre continues to support Indian craft through her dreamy yet extremely wearable collections. Case in point: at her latest couture showcase at Jaipur’s magnificent City Palace, each one of her outfits was lauded for its modernity, intricacy, and nod to the city that framed her aesthetic since childhood.

A go-getter ever since those idyllic holidays in Jaipur as a child—home to both her maternal and paternal grandparents, where Anita would scour local markets for colourful bangles in between playtime with her cousins—she wanted to emulate her mother in one particular skill. “We were three sisters, and until we were 10, our mother would cut and sew clothes for the whole family,” says Anita. “We were 35 cousins, and she looked after us all. She would take fabrics and make frocks for us.”

An entrepreneurial mind

 As she reached 10th grade in Mumbai, she was sure she wanted to be a designer. After studying commerce in grades 10 and 11, she joined SNDT Women’s University in Juhu in the 12th grade. During the holidays, she designed, cut, and sewed an entire collection with three of her college friends, which got sold out. She was already an entrepreneur at 19. “It was a technical, sound course, with a focus on pattern making,” she says.

Anita Dongre

In 1995, Anita founded the House of Anita Dongre with her younger sister, joined by their brother a few years later. From her westernwear label AND to her foray into bridal couture 11 years ago, it’s been a journey of knowing exactly what Indian women want and how to use the country’s craft to the brand’s best advantage in an evolving world.

“When I started out, the options available weren’t catering to the modern, free-spirited Indian woman who wanted fuss-free lehengas that allowed her to enjoy her own wedding, one she’d be able to wear again,” Anita recalls. “The wedding wear I wanted to create was not the 10kg lehenga. I wanted to bring in something new—for the cool Indian bride, who’s not heavily made up, without the encumbrance of a ghungat, and wants to dance at her own wedding and be herself.”

Anita Dongre became the first design house in the country to create lehengas with pockets, which brought in a very different aesthetic in Indian bridalwear. “I wanted to bring a certain lightness, with Gota Patti and craft, as it’s not heavy but has glitter,” she says. “I really wanted to bring in that change, as comfort has always been important to me.”

A splendid showcase

And it’s her pursuit of craft that made Anita come full circle and present her recent glamorous showcase at the City Palace in Jaipur, her childhood home. 

 “I always wanted to do a fundraiser for animal welfare,” she says. “My brother Mukesh and I are animal lovers, and the funds we raised at Rewild’23—co-hosted by Princess Gauravi Kumari of Jaipur—were donated to the Nature Conservation Foundation, to amplify their project in South India that addresses human-elephant conflict and raises awareness towards nature and elephant conservation.”

Kala Ghoda showroom

The show took nine months to plan and featured signature pieces with forms and motifs representing flora and fauna, with intricate Aari embroidery by the women of SEWA and traditional Gota Patti and Pichhwai art by Lekhraj, a Rajasthani artist Anita had met at City Palace eight years ago.

“He wanted consistent work, and I was touched by his story,” she says. “We did our first bridal lehenga with him. Today, he employs 20 artisans, which is quite an entrepreneurial story.”

Lekhraj created Pichhwai paintings on each panel of fabric, making every piece one of a kind. Anita’s team would draw out the design on butter paper and trace it on the fabric, and he would then hand paint it on the fabric. “It’s a skill that’s passed on from parent to child,” says Anita. “The best part of craft is that it’s such a big part of our DNA.”

A champion Of Indian crafts

Over the years, label Anita Dongre has worked not only with SEWA (she first met the late Elaben Bhatt, SEWA’s founder, eight years ago), but she’s also adopted around seven villages in Maharashtra; she runs tailoring units with local women, and some of her simpler designs are made here. Anita also works with Chikankari artists in Lucknow (again, with SEWA), Kantha embroidery artisans in Bengal, Kashmiri women as well as Kutch artisans through SEWA. She continues to use handwoven fabrics in her designs and favours Banarasi silks—particularly ahimsa silk that’s cruelty-free.

Anita Dongre

Now, Anita has started Grassroot, a home line with the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation. In fact, the bag that was sent as an invite to guests for the Rewild’23 show was a product of this line.

“We are planning to create a home line using crafts like Gota Patti and block printing, for soft furnishings like table covers, mats, throws and cushions,” she shares.

Anita is currently working on her summer collection, her muse as always the strong, independent, modern Indian woman. With a busy 2023 (she launched stores in Kala Ghoda, Dubai, and Ahmedabad), any business expansion is dictated by her brides.

Anita Dongre

“Whenever we decide to expand, we start with where brides are flying in from or ordering online. We do what we can to make the exciting process of choosing their wedding trousseau easier,” she says.

Over the years, her own jewellery line, Pinkcity, has evolved into ornaments that can be attached and worn as a statement piece or dismantled into smaller pieces for everyday use. “The Indian woman today isn’t looking to buy jewellery or clothing to only wear once,” she says. “That’s the direction in which this collection of jewellery is evolving.”

As a force to reckon with in the world of design, Anita has so much more to bring to the table: “I say, Reemaben (the present director of SEWA), bring it on! Let’s take on more projects together. I have miles to go before I sleep, just like the poem by Robert Frost.”

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