Started nearly two decades ago, Anita Dongre’s fashion empire has become a symbol of cultural heritage. Today, you won’t be surprised to see Dongre’s designs on A-List stars from Bollywood royalty to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
Organized into five successful brands—AND, Global Desi, Anita Dongre, Anita Dongre Grassroot, and Pink City—the House of Anita Dongre has grown to be an internationally renowned name not just for fashion, but also for women’s empowerment and sustainability.
On the heels of opening her new eponymous flagship store in SoHo, Dongre opens up about the philosophy behind her brand and business.
Why did you choose Soho in particular to open your new store?
I love the multicultural vibe of New York City. It connects people irrespective of their culture, language, and ethnicity and has a natural ability to bring out the best in fashion. I was very keen to bring Anita Dongre couture and Anita Dongre Grassroot here to the epicenter of the world of fashion to present a point of view built on heritage and patience.
Is there any difference in style or selection at the SoHo store and other boutiques in India? If so, how do they differ?
The Anita Dongre muse is a global, empowered woman who believes and understands the essence of handcrafted, luxurious fashion. Our stores communicate a universal language, brand value and aesthetic. The décor and collection at every store bring together the Indian heritage and crafts that are very close to our hearts.
The Anita Dongre Couture collection consists of a variety of gowns, jackets, saris, and lehengas with intricate handcrafted detailing. Whereas, the Anita Dongre Grassroot collection offers heritage crafts trickling onto classic urban silhouettes and neutral color palettes. I feel they work just as well for an Indian woman as they do for a New Yorker.
As an India-based fashion designer, it must be a big jump to the U.S.!
Indeed it was a big jump! I’ve always loved the multicultural vibe of New York City and feel a sense of pride in taking Indian fashion to the city of dreams. With all the love received in New York this year, we already feel that we’re a part of the fashion culture of the city.
How do tastes differ between the American and Indian markets? How do you manage to serve them both?
The vibrant, ever-evolving clientele of New York love that we transform heritage Indian crafts to silhouettes that they relate to. We’ve always designed for the global woman, keeping in mind their needs and interests and that keeps a good balance for all our customers over the world.
Many clients, especially brides, used to travel to India to visit my store. Now, with the launch of our US flagship, the bride, groom and their family can enjoy easy accessibility to the luxurious experience, which is Anita Dongre, without hopping continents!
What would you say inspires you the most as a fashion designer?
One of my strongest sources of inspiration is Rajasthan. My early memories of Rajasthan are the summer holidays I spent at my grandparents’ palatial house in Jaipur, and since then the area has occupied a very special place in my mind and heart. I’ve always been fascinated with the detailing of the architectural splendor of the state. One can draw so much inspiration from my country and it simply mesmerizes me as a lot of it is still left to be drawn out.
To my knowledge, you now work mostly with artisans from remote villages in India for your Grassroot collection. When did you decide to implement this practice and why?
Anita Dongre Grassroot was launched three years ago, out of the need to revive craft traditions that are hundreds of years old and take employment back to villages in doing so. We currently work with rural craft clusters and independent artisans across villages in India. This brand is an extension of my philosophy and core values.
The core purpose remains focused on the artisan. It is a labor of love, although the process is slow and challenging, it is rewarding in many ways I cannot even express.
You’re known, not just in India but the world, as a cultural fashion designer and a successful female entrepreneur. What are the most important causes to you and your business?
I’m trying to step toward the future of fashion, which is in every way sustainable. Evolution is always retrospective, and after 30 years in the fashion business, it is the little things that stand out to me, things that have marked me both as an individual and an entrepreneur. I strive every day to empower working women by creating accessible economic opportunities in rural settings of India.
How do you incorporate these causes into your designs?
Working in an ergonomically built headquarters with a women-concentrated workforce all over the country, we try to revive, sustain, and empower the luxurious handcrafts of India. We work with organizations such as Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), to create better opportunities for women from rural India. We also adopted a plantation in Rajasthan as a tribute to the Bishnoi community.
What was your reaction when you saw Kate Middleton and Queen Mathilde of Belgium wearing your designs?
It made me so happy. Dressing women who are the embodiment of everything I believe in is in itself a great achievement. They all look beautiful, comfortable and confident in my designs, and that truly delights me.