As the London Design Week stages local and global talent in the city, visitors from Italy, Russia, Japan, Europe and the US are being invited to explore a new space. It is a four-floor-tall fashion store whose window dressing boasts lacquered bamboo sculptures and interiors reveal a minimalist India. This was the entry of Varana, a new brand, to London’s fashion address, Dover Street.
It is said that when the Taj Mahal was being built, precious stones were imported from all over the world. There was jade from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and sapphire from Sri Lanka. The stone flowers set in marble surpassed real flowers in colour. These nuances of pietra dura are woven into the fabric at Varana, which sits next to a Jimmy Choo showroom.
Varana’s founding members — Sujata Keshavan, Ravi Prasad, Meeta Malhotra — bring their respective expertise to the brand. While graphic designer Keshavan headed globally-renowned studio Ray + Keshavan Design for over 25 years, Prasad made Himalaya a household name in nearly 92 countries. Brand strategist Malhotra has worked with multiple clients including Infosys, IBM, HP and Xerox.
Conversations between the founders on what India is capable of, turned Varana from being an idea into a brand in 2015, which would empower Indian craft to compete in a global market. “Varana takes its names from Varanasi, which I imagine is the heart of India. I was on a boat with my son when I thought of the name. That’s why our logo is like a river. Our aim is to showcase the finest textiles and skills, and our USP is stitched garments. Our fabric is bespoke, using the best quality of raw materials. We have international designers on board who give our Indian textiles contemporary cuts. There are things that designers take for granted and which Varana pays close attention to, from the finishes to detailing,” says Keshavan, Creative Director and Head of Design at Varana.
Using their repository of Indian iconography and narratives, Varana presents techniques of aari embroidery, woodblock printing and jamdani, on contemporary silhouettes of dresses, palazzos, coats and shirts. Their store decor is kept minimal and elegant with wood, stone and brass, with cane shelving and art decor furniture. It’s introverted with a tiny courtyard in the centre, with a skylight that affords natural light into the space.
“This is a huge step for the Indian fashion industry, and oddly enough, is taken by someone who comes conventionally from outside of it. To do this in the same retail environment as hugely established international brands such as Louis Vuitton — and at similar price points — is commendable. For a former Alexander McQueen store to now house India’s first international fashion brand, is a matter of great pride,” says Mayank Mansingh Kaul, textile designer and curator based in Delhi, who consulted with the brand in its initial stages of development.
“For the London Design Week, we have three bamboo sculptures on display, which have been done in collaboration with designer Sandeep Sangaru. We’re calling them Dancing Girl, Vicereine and Debutante. We had craftspeople from Tripura who helped make them, and we also have Channapatna furniture done in lac and teak,” says Keshavan.