Subtle, classy and graceful is how one could describe the saris that 37-year-old Mumbai-based designer Anavila Misra creates. And ‘simple’ — yes, her speciality could be summed up in the word ‘simple’. She uses the modest linen for her saris, and the embellishments too are humble. No place for bling here. “Indian fabrics and textiles are so fine that one needs to play only with the colours and texture of the yarn to create a dream, a pattern and a style,” says the designer, seated in her 11th floor apartment in the suburb of Khar-Bandra. At her house, dotted with books on textiles and saris, and artifacts collected from the countries she has visited, there are six white marble statues of Ganesha. After moving to Mumbai from Delhi nearly three years ago, Misra adopted the favourite deity of Maharashtra as her own — she also sports a gold chain with a Ganesha pendant. In the deity, she sees a metaphor for her work. “Simple yet complicated, mysterious yet filled with love is how I see Lord Ganesha. That’s the way I want people to look at my saris too,” she says. Her interest in designing dates back to when her mother would make her and her sister, Anushika, — also a designer — learn stitching. Though she wanted to join a fashion designing course after high school, her scientist father insisted that she first complete her graduation. Soon after completing her Bachelor of Business Administration degree, she joined Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). “The business administration degree is now coming handy in managing my label, Anavila,” says Misra. Three years after graduating as a fashion designer, she was informed by Gauri Kumar, the then-director-general of NIFT, about the institute’s craft project, conducted in collaboration with the ministry of rural development. “I had always wanted to work with craftsmen and this was a godsend. I joined as a project consultant and design studio manager,” says Misra. The project introduced her to artisans across the length and breadth of the country. She travelled to Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka, helping nearly 10,000 artisans come up with new designs, instructing them on marketing skills and assisting them to communicate better with their clients.“Those three years spent with the karigars proved an eye-opener for me and I decided to stick to our roots while modernising the sari,” she says. “My aim was to make the sari popular among youngsters.” It was at the suggestion of her husband, Shivam Misra, corporate executive, that she started her eponymous label. To start work, she borrowed Rs 3 lakh from him.
Then, realising the limitation of the usual silk or the Surati saris, she decided to experiment with the fabric. “My earlier stints with Wills Lifestyle and Madura Garments led me to linen. I understood the beauty of linen when I designed linen shirts for Madura’s Louis Phillipe brand,” she says. But she still had work to do. She sourced the flax yarn from Jayashree Textiles of West Bengal and experimented with it. After several trials and errors, she was able to fine-tune the yarn at the weaving stage to create the linen suitable for saris. She even got the traditional loom settings altered to ensure that the easily broken yarn held fast over a six-yard length. Today, Misra employs more than 15 Adivasi women artisans on a monthly salary plus weavers whom she pays per piece of woven length. She debuted her line in the Lakme Fashion Week in March this year. “If I have something special to showcase to the world, I will participate in future fashion weeks too,” she says. “I personally love the natural colour of linen — pastels, beige, neutral and, of course, white. But youngsters prefer colours,” she sighs. She adds, “As many of my customers want a slightly glamorous look to in their saris, I have introduced silk yarn in the saris, besides detailing in hand embroidery and patchwork.” The colour she chooses for her sari depends on her moods or the inspiration of the moment. The ‘Nautical Line’ collection uses blue, indigo and white linen, while her botanically themed saris has shades of green and motifs of flowers, leaves, herbivorous animals embroidered on them. In the saris, different shades of the dominant colour flow beautifully into the weaves. So if you are looking at a maroon sari in linen interspersed with silk, you are likely to find different shades of the hue merging into others from both the edges of the sari, giving it a symmetrical continuity and taking away the monotony of a single hue. The saris are priced between Rs 10,500 and Rs 42,000, while the stoles are in the range of Rs 2,000-5,000. The Anavila brand also produces home furnishings, with exports to top retailers in New York, Paris and Spain. In India, her creations are available at Bungalow 8 and Melange in Mumbai, Amethyst in Chennai, En Inde and Ogaan in Delhi, Raintree and Cinnamon in Bangalore. Film star Kajol was recently spotted at an event in Mumbai in a sari from her collection, while other prominent patrons are actor Vidya Balan, dancer Shallu Jindal and celebrity accessories and bag designer Meera Mahadeviyan. Now that her saris have found acceptance, Misra next plans to experiment with Western outfits in her trademark linen.