In the ongoing Mumbai Lifestyle Fashion Week, the husband wife designer duo of Aparna Wangdi and Norden Wangdi are getting 20 minutes on the ramp to showcase their art and reach one more milestone in their glorious career. Known for their distinct look, the duo has carved out a name for themselves in the Indian fashion industry. But how much effort goes behind the glamour on the ramp?
Originally from Sikkim and MP, the Wangdis, who run a store in Gangtok by the name ‘Ollatin’, talked to Tilak Jha, at their home in New Delhi about their life, the challenges, and how they complement each other.
A classic fairytale of regional diversity. What is the fairy tale?
Aparna: We belong to different places in India. I am originally from a place in MP at the border of Rajasthan and Norden is from Darjeeling. But we do have very similar backgrounds. Both our parents were in administrative services. So one can say that we are technically diverse and at the same time we do have very similar background.
Norden: We are diverse in the sense that I am from the mountains and she is from the plains. There are lots of differences that we have having been brought up in two different climatic conditions with very different eating habits and many other things. At the same time, as far as design is concerned we are very much similar and we have worked together for so long.
In the Spring Summer 2011 collection to be showcased at the Lakme Fashion week in Mumbai you have chosen the theme of your collection as, “The New Tower of Babel”. The tower of Babel comes from Christian mythology in which God punished the people who were trying to build a tower to reach heaven (the tower of Babel) by making them unable to understand each others’ languages. How are you trying to depict this theme?
Aparna: We took this theme as we thought it to be something that is universally known. We would be using scripts, alphabets and characters from different languages in this. Some outfit will be in one language while in others it might be two or three languages. It deals with more of the fact that how the world is becoming smaller again (in terms of all languages coming together) contrary to what God would have wanted.
Do you believe that God would have wanted this?
Aparna: No, I mean in the whole story of Babel God was scared that man would become too powerful. But again man is making the world very small with technology.
How do you relate this theme with the use of different characters?
Norden: The story of this theme, as Aparna said, is that God made all these languages to divide humans so that they don’t become too strong and take over heaven. In this case we are doing everything that we normally do and we are doing different languages. Through different scripts from different languages on the gowns, we will try to do the same theme on the ramp.
Here we have two persons, one from MP i.e. Central India and another from mountains i.e. northeastern India going for themes from west. That makes the whole thing pretty global.
Aparna: Because of our backgrounds, we have been always moving. Since our fathers were in service which kept us moving around. So, it’s not simply about the way we lived. It’s that we have more of a cosmopolitan view in general. The label Free Falling that we used dealt with the mindset of the people. It’s about how our attitude makes our clothes. It’s just to let go of yourself; just to be free in your thought when you are wearing. When you wear our clothes you have to have that open mindedness in you.
Norden: Yes it’s about you having to be experimental and free. I am from Darjeeling and Sikkim but I was born in Shimla, studied in Delhi. So, when it comes to themes, we are very open to every language and religion. In the Lakme Fashion Week we are showing a lot of bridal gowns and especially Christian bridal gowns.
You have been into fashion for quite some time. How have you evolved over the years?
Aparna: The best achievement has been that we have stayed quite true to our design sense and we have not let ourselves swayed by the things going all around. There is a very fine line between going completely commercial and following your heart. We have tried to follow our heart as much as possible. Now, the markets are at a very interesting stage. Especially the Indian market, where people are bombarded with things from everywhere and they are willing to experiment and change. It’s a very interesting time for fashion.
New theme is something that comes with every Aparna and Norden Wangdi Colleciton. What is the thing that is common at a subconscious level in all your designs?
Norden: The look would always be the same but how we go around different colours and textures depends on the theme that we choose. It’s like when anyone sees something, they can say that it is by Aparna and Norden Wangdi but with a different feel.
Aparna: We pay a lot of attention to the garment stitching, detailing of the garment and to the cut of the garment. Our garments are not very simply cut. The detailing actually happens in the cutting. That is something we stayed true from the beginning. It is the cut of the garments that actually makes the difference. This is one thing which is consistent throughout.
Tell something in detail about your forthcoming collection in the Lakme Fashion in terms of cuts and details.
Norden: There are lot of scripts in different languages like Korean, Arabic and Russian. All these different scripts are incorporated in the garment in different ways through prints, texturing and fabric. The colour we are using is cobalt, grey, whites and blues.
How did you figure out scripts from all these completely different languages?
Aparna: A lot of research went into this. Internet is a great tool for all this. We also tried to get to the persons who know the language.
Norden: And it was not about language alone. Once we figured out scripts that we will use, we did a lot of research about music that will go along.
It must have been very exciting for you both to come across different languages, scripts and music. Is there any particular experience during all of this you would like to share?
Aparna: In one particular dress I wanted to use words from some other language which would mean Shiva, the destroyer. We came across so many names of his. At the end we didn’t land up with anything satisfactory and used Hindi and English. Because, it has to look nice, aesthetic and sound beautiful at the same time.
Again, in case of some Tibetan scripts, the embroidery was being done by a Bengali. He said that this looks like Bengali. I said that no this is Tibetan. And then when I looked closely, I felt like there is a closeness. All these little things that we came across were very interesting.
Your store in Gangtok, Sikkim has garments revolving around the theme of Baku, a traditional dress. There are different themes that you experiment with and you have stores all around. How do you design something with a global taste?
Norden: It depends. When we do the Wills India Fashion Week, we see the last couple of years. We study how the buyers have reacted. What one chooses is very connected to where the buyers come from. In India we do a lot of Spring Summer since we get a lot of customers from warmer climatic conditions. In such a case we design something that would be more viable for them. So it depends on buyer, stores and season but the whole design has to have a global appeal.
How do you complement each other in the project that you take up?
Aparna: Once we start a project we do a lot of brainstorming, figure out the theme and work out the general silhouettes and then we divide our work.
Norden: It depends a lot from project to project. We designed the uniform for the ONGC. Now, I come with a soccer background and they wanted it to be sporty. So, in that particular project I gave more inputs about how the outlook should be according to the comfort level on the part of our users.
Recently we had to work for Niharika Khan in the movie Band Baaja Baraat. It had a totally different kind of requirements. When it comes to colours, Aparna does it better than me. Whenever we get a project, we divide our work. We know what we are good at.
One of the many projects you worked for was a French Opera set in Banaras.
Aparna: It was one of the most exciting things to do since it was a period drama. For a designer, a period drama offers much more excitement. It’s very interesting to work with old fabrics, brocades, prints. It was based on Banaras. Even silhouettes; period is very interesting to work on since there are so many little details that happened during the old days. You have to mix everything together.
Coming back to the same questions, when are the moment when you say Aparna or Norden, leave this for me.
Norden: Yeah! Colours!!! Anything to do with colours. I would say Aparna please.
Aparna: Once we decide silhouettes and all, I normally take care of the sampling, putting colours together and Norden would take care of other things. But when we are doing a show, you have to do a lot of things from accessories to music. The show has an impact when everything is right.
Norden: This industry is so diverse. You have to keep in mind all of them. Especially when you do a show you need to do all of them A1. The guest list, the media and the buyers are other very important things. And of course you have to take care of the music, sound, lighting, garment and choreography of the whole show. You get twenty minutes on the ramp to show all the efforts that you have been putting for three to four months. It becomes very hectic.
How often do you have a fight?
Norden: Very often (laughs). We are like two different personalities. I am a little pushier and she is always chilled out. We have a lot of differences in our thought process. Actually there is so much of work pressure that it just happens. But then we understand each other well. Now there is a fight and after two minutes we are back at work, because, there is always a deadline to be met.
What about the small issues?
Aparna: Which is why we have pretty different spaces! Norden keeps all his files here and there and when I clean up, he starts saying, ‘you messed up everything and I can’t find anything now’. I would say ‘I have just cleaned up’ and he would say ‘you have spoiled everything’.
Norden: We don’t match together because our way of cleaning places are different. I don’t want to keep my things here now and find it at some other weird cupboard at other time.
Aparna: At times like this, when we have a show around, I don’t do anything. I leave it. Let the place be dirty.
You talked about hectic. With so many fashion shows going around how do you strike a balance?
Aparna: We were able to manage but now we have two small kids now. One is two and a half and one is nine months old. We don’t leave our kids alone. When I go to the factory, Norden stays. We have made an office in our house. So even from home, we keep working.
Do you find time to go for a vacation?
Aparna: We make it a point to go for vacation as often as we can and the good thing is that we have a store in Sikkim and we always find excuse to go there. We definitely take a break from all our work for a month in a year.
Tell me how it all began. How you started and evolved and finally came together?
Norden: We started long time back. We met at NIFT and since then we have been working together.
Aparna: After we left the course we worked separately for quite some time. I worked for some textile projects in Himachal. I also worked on a little bit of theatre and furniture design. Norden, meanwhile, went to the US for almost three and a half years. Norden also worked in manufacturing and buying of garments. By the time we joined together, we had enough experience in design and business.
Norden: Understanding both sides of the business is very important. Being in the US, I was at a place where orders came from. It helped me know the business.
Aparna: In fashion it is very important to know both the production and design. If you don’t know production, designing is of no use and if you don’t know designing, production won’t help. That is how we pooled in our resources.
You joined NIFT in 1996-97. That was the time when fashion itself was not much in fashion. How did you decide to go for this career?
Aparna: Actually that was the time when fashion had started booming. By 2000, the fashion weeks had started. By the time fashion began catching up with India, we both had pooled in enough experience.
Norden: For me it was not something much planned. It just happened.
Were you very fashionable when you were young?
Aparna: I was very casual; completely jeans and t-shirt kind of person. Some people have fashion in them and it grows on you in case of others. Actually now I take more interest in terms of personal fashion. I love doing clothes but not much in terms of following them.
Norden: I did make extra effort to dress well. My style was more about being comfortable. But still you can say that I was a little bit more fashionable than Aparna was (laughs).
All that you are doing is a highly challenging and creative task. How do you learn from fashion and what fashion has learnt from you?
Aparna: It’s an interesting question. As I said earlier, there is a very fine line between fashion as an art and business. If you design for the pure love of designing and you are not able to sell, you will lose it. Same thing applies to business. You can’t sell if there is no art. There has to be a balance.
If you start thinking always, what would sell the best, your identity goes away. We tried it but we realized that it can’t happen. We want our buyers to be really happy about what they wear. And it can come through a balance only.
Thank You Aparna and Norden Wangdi. We wish you all the best for the Mumbai LFW and all other projects that you take up in future.