Roopa Pemmaraju showcases her Resort/Swimwear collection to an enthusiastic audience, reports PRIYANKA TATER
I wake up to a lazy Wednesday morning and am still planning to plan my day, when suddenly the editor calls, asking me to cover the Resort & Swimwear line at the prestigious Rosemount Australia Fashion Week (RAFW) 2011.
A heady ambience
It’s Day 3 at RAFW, the venue is the Overseas Passenger Terminal, against the spectacular backdrop of Circular Quay. Unlike the fashion weeks that I have covered in Mumbai which revolves around Bollywood and only Bollywood, RAFW was definitely a welcome change, with fashion being the focus and designers, the stars. So here I was, all geared up to watch the 3:30pm show, the Resort/Swimwear group collection. (Perhaps at this point I am the envy of all the men reading this, but read on and you’ll experience it like it happened to you!) Four designers were showcasing their collection: Foxton Danger, Karen Neilson Collection, Terri Donna and Roopa Pemmaraju. Did that last name strike a chord in your heart? Well, it did in mine. Being Indian, it certainly was a proud moment to see a fellow Indian showcase her collection at the RAFW, amidst a group of well-known Australian designer labels.
On the catwalk
It was Foxton Danger’s bohemian charm and the relaxed, carefree Australian attitude that kickstarted the show. Followed by hand-airbrushed prints, neon colours and a lycra swim collection, kimonos, jumpsuits, wideleg pants, one-piece shapes such as catsuits, lace-up fronts, bare backs, cutaways and sexy sliding bottoms, all which exemplified the Karen Neilson collection.
Terri Donna’s beach goddesses exuberated effortless style and confidence, celebrating everything Australians love, summer, fashion, fun and pets! Oops! Yes the dog on the ramp was the one who stole the show!
Desi chic and charm
And then there was our very own desi collection infusing the ramp with the old world charm of the Nizams. Flowy fabrics, intricate embroidery, splashes of colour and barefoot models in stylishly flowing kaftans sipping coconut water, bringing in the much needed exotic flavor in all things Australian! This was Roopa Pemmaraju showcasing her collection for the second consecutive year at the RAFW.
A packed house of almost 500 fashionistas, connoisseurs, critics and experts of fashion scrutinized every designer’s offering. And yes, Roopa seemed to have held her own.
Roopa Pemmaraju shared the history of her success, her creations and future plans with me in a short chat….
Priyanka Tater: You were the only Indian designer selected to showcase at the FAFW for the second consecutive year. What really clicked for you?
Roopa Pemmaraju: It’s hard to say, but I was excited to showcase my designs for the second time. It does take lot of hard work to be a part of such a prestigious event and literally compete with the Australian designers.
PT: Tell us about your journey so far. How did fashion designing happen, that too in a foreign land?
RP: It’s my partner who got me here. He got a good job here and I followed him. Though before coming to Australia I showcased my collection at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in Mumbai and my runway shows were styled by one of the mainstream Australian stylists, named Kelvin Harries. He was the one who encouraged me and said that my clothes would do well in Australia. My colour sense would win over the clichéd blacks and grays that dominate fashion here. He gave me a lot of ideas in terms of how I could move forward to the Australian Fashion week. Coincidentally at the same time, my partner decided to migrate to Australia and that’s how things came into being. Having said that, I took almost two years to decide if I really wanted to be a part of the fashion world, or if I should start a regular 9 to 5 job. It took a while for me to understand the Australian taste and what they like to wear. So finally, when I applied for the first time to the RAFW, they asked for my profile and its details. After screening, the committee chose me to be a part of their designers. Not many overseas designers come to Australia to showcase their collections because we are almost a season behind, and not many designers can cope with that.
PT: Having experienced both, the LFW in India and the RAFW in Australia, what do you think are the major differences between the two?
RP: Fashion in every part of the world is about glamour, style and making a statement. But in terms of LFW, the focus is Bollywood. Almost every big actor or actress is a part of it and it’s all about them, they are the ones who hog the limelight. But here at RAFW, it’s about business. One gets to meet buyers from all over the world and selling is the focal point.
PT: Can you describe your resort and swimwear collection for those who weren’t able to witness the splashes of color on the ramp?
RP: I can vouch for the quality of my collection. I use pure fabrics such as chiffons, georgettes, silks etc. I do not use polyester mix or synthetic, and poor quality fabric. My collection is very thematic; I look for look for a concept or theme in everything I design and work on it. Since I originally come from Bangalore and have my studio based there, I make all my collections in India.
This time, my collection was inspired by the Nizams from Hyderabad. That era boasted of intricate work, detailed embroidery, flowing fabrics and colour and my resort line reflected the same. Resort wear needn’t be structurally fitted clothes; it’s more about comfort and loose, flowing fabrics.
Also this year I had lot of sponsors coming onboard, as opposed to last year. I couldn’t believe it because last year I was struggling to put my name out there and make myself known. But just one show at the RAFW, and things had changed for the better.
PT: How different is Australian fashion from the world over?
RP: Australian fashion is really different. It’s just too different. People coming from overseas to Australia are shocked to see the amount of black that dominates. If you’re looking down onto a street from a high-rise building, all you’d see is black with a sprinkle of grey or white. I understand it transcends from the European culture, but even there people have started experimenting with colour, whereas here we are still stuck with black!
PT: Who is your fashion guru/idol?
RP: Amongst international designers, I really like Etro. I look forward to see Etro’s designs, season after season. Etro brings in a lot of prints, colours and styles. Manish Arora is an Indian designer who I feel is brilliant with colours and concepts. He’s doing very well internationally, and I really appreciate his work.
PT: So what’s next for renowned fashion designer, Roopa Pemmaraju?
RP: (Smiles) I will only be thinking of how many orders I will get from this fashion week (laughs aloud). I believe that for every designer this is the most crucial phase, when one looks at how many buyers really come up to you and place their orders, and what the agent feedback would be after a particular show. I am looking forward to this as I have got some great feedback from my agent and a few of my buyers. Also, there’s been a huge demand from outlets in Brisbane and Sydney, saying that they want to stock my label. In the next few weeks I will also start selling my collection online.
PT: While I was happy that you were the only Indian designer to showcase your collection, I found myself asking why just one, and no more. What does it take for more Indian names to feature on the RAFW list?
RP: It’s just the mindset and the fact of whether you really want to focus on the Australian market. I think India has some brilliant designers, but Australia is a small market in terms of demand and stocks. So it’s about whether one really wants to cater to this island.
PT: Finally, your fashion tips for readers of Indian Link?
RP: We should show how colourful we can be. We shouldn’t blindly follow the Australian trend as we Indians know how to dress up and go beyond ‘black’. We need to come out and make a style statement that the Ozzies can follow. India has the best variety of fabrics, such beautiful embroideries and palette of colours
While day three of RAFW, was a peaceful affair, day five was embroiled with controversy. Designer Lisa Burke’s swimwear line sparked outrage, flaring Hindu emotions. She used images of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi on skimpy bikinis for her label Lisa Blue at the Australian Fashion Week. In India, sentiments poured out on streets as activists burned the Australian flag and demanded an apology from the Australian designer and the government.
While the designer has apologized and promised that none of the swimsuits would ever make it to store shelves, spokesman Brett Galvin said: “She really just wanted to celebrate the culture and bring that to people through fashion, and obviously she got it so wrong. As soon as we found out we acted immediately and we have halted production.”
Though India resorted to violence in order to protest, Indians living in Australia have been showing mixed reactions. While Rakesh, one of the callers on my show on Indian Link radio, blamed the issue on mutual cultural differences and ignorance of the others’ beliefs and faith, he stressed that resorting to violence is not the solution; instead, it is important to be aware of other cultures. Another listener Gargi sounded helpless, claiming that had she been in India, she would have joined the activists and protested; but here, all she can do is feel bad and lament.
But the question that irks me is: if Lisa Burke could find a picture of the goddess Laxmi to adorn her swimwear line, sure the same Google search would have indicated to her the importance of the deity in terms of religion. So was she blind to have overlooked it, or was she being knowingly ignorant? After all, any publicity is good publicity and in that sense, she’s got it bang on!