Over the last few years, Indian style — from the streets to the runway — has seen much change and a growing number of younger designers have opted out of kitschier prints and bold patterns, choosing instead to focus on muted hues and delicate embellishments.
While walking through the streets of Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised to find people wearing interesting traditional pieces that were a little more understated — clothes that I found I could wear in traditionally Indian settings and certainly things that I could wear out and about back in New York. One of the lines that’s becoming famous for this "new aesthetic" is Rose Tree, a brand that nails the combination of "versatile yet traditional" perfectly, by mother-daughter duo Kamini and Chandni Kumari Singh. I sat down with 26-year-old Chandni, a well-known Delhi style star and the creative director of her line, to talk about all things Indian fashion.
Tell me a little bit about Rose Tree. What’s the story behind it?
"Well the idea of Rose Tree came around after I graduated college and was working for brands like Mango and Satya Paul. While those brands are great, I realized I wasn’t really selling the clothes I wanted to sell. I felt like my personal growth was being curbed and I was never really cut out for a 9-to-5 schedule. I’m constantly coming up with ideas, always designing, and showing things to my tailor at all hours of the day.
"When I first started, I realized I really needed my mom’s help since I had no real background in fashion and she did. She taught me everything I know, and Rose Tree definitely wouldn’t have happened without her."
What’s it like working and collaborating with someone who isn’t your own age?
"It’s really great for gauging trends and also just so fun. With two generations of fashion experience, there’s a lot of crossover in terms of relevance and we know how the same trend can work for people of different ages — that makes us able to cater to women anywhere from their 20s through their 60s. I sold a really cool gold piece the other day to a woman who was probably in her 50s or 60s — it had a lot of detailing that I think might have looked a little tackier on someone younger, but on her it was effortless and classy. I loved that and she was pleasantly surprised that she pulled it off so well."
What’s Rose Tree's aesthetic? Tell us a little bit specifically about the pieces themselves.
"Right now, we work exclusively with organic cottons. They’re quality pieces with a lot of intricate detailing that’s all done by hand in different parts of India — outdated techniques of stitching and embroidery that most people don’t really know how to do anymore. We incorporate a lot of Mother of Pearl beading and moti beads (small, brown, wooden beads). It’s all very delicate work. And because of that, we downplay other elements of the clothes and only really prefer to work with creams, whites, and pastels — even the hard colors we work with are earthy and kind of muted. I think if I were to do the same thing for you on a hot pink or turquoise, the color would take so much attention away from the work that you wouldn’t actually be able to see the detailing of it.
"Other than the work and the colors, I’d say the other thing that we try to maintain for Rose Tree is versatility — we try to make it something that you want to keep in your wardrobe for a long time. Initially, I’d wanted to design only for the European market, which I’m actually just starting now, but for some reason it took off here. Because of that, our pieces work in different contexts and different parts of the world. Like, we had a salwaar kameez (a traditional tunic) that someone here used for an engagement party. The same piece was picked up in Spain by someone who wanted to use it as a dress for a brunch. And then in Milan someone wanted to use it as a beach coverup."
Many Western designers have adopted elements of Indian fashion in their brands (hello, Chanel Bombay-Paris collection!), and it’s almost always reflective of the vibrant colors and heavy jewelry that India’s known for. Considering that that aesthetic makes up a large part of the Indian market, how do you feel your line compares?
"Surprisingly, I think our clothes are much more understated and focused on silhouettes and detailing instead of what you often find. It’s selling really well in the Indian market because people haven’t seen anything like that — as you said, it’s not typically Indian to be subtle when it comes to color. I’m trying to bring the old ways of working and embroidery (which a lot of designers here have abandoned) back in a very modern way. A lot of people are doing only machine-made prints with all kinds of embellishments, and while it’s great and colorful, it isn’t really wearable for day-to-day. I would love to be able to change how people around the world view Indian style — to be able to contribute to showing the subtler, softer sides of it."
Do you see that playing a larger part in the future? How do you see Indian fashion progressing?
"I definitely do. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a real difference in how people dress here. They’re becoming more comfortable with their natural features, and with Western pieces, too, outside of just jeans and T-shirts. It’s been a slow start but I think a lot of interesting things are going to start happening — outside of what people usually think of when they’re asked about Indian style."
Any collabs that you’re working on at the moment? What’s next for Rose Tree?
"Yes! I’m doing a T-shirt collection for men with David Rocco, the foodie from the show Dolce Vita. It was really bizarre actually — we set the whole thing up on Skype and he told me his two passions in life are clothes and food, which coincidentally are my two passions as well. We’re working on a basic T-shirt line with food motifs and prints. It should be interesting to say the least!
"Separately, I’m working on another collection that’ll have some edgier pieces. I want to call it Wild Rose, since it’ll be darker, with more focus on glamor. I’d also really like to start doing a bikini line, maybe crocheted ones with beading hanging off the tops because you know...one can never have too many bikinis. Sort of like shoes."
I fully agree. Other than that, what are the three pieces you feel every girl should have in her closet?
"A pair of dark-wash skinny jeans, an oxford shirt, and a blazer. Perfect uniform for virtually any occasion, anywhere in the world."
Photo: Courtesy of Rose Tree