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Pawan Aswani


A new name but not a newcomer. Pawan Aswani is a designer who creates for women who are not afraid to mix colours and patterns…. Whose clothes evoke a personal charm and a variety of moods.

A designer is generally known for the characteristic touches that he adds to his garments and haute couture designer, Pawan Aswani is known for his flamboyant use of embroidery which embellishes many of his creations.

However, Aswani’s journey into the fashion world was less direct. In fact, the designer never dreamt of pursuing the career of a haute couture ladies wear creator till he decided not to be come a doctor. And he has never been able to figure out what made him change his mind at the last minute when he was about to enter medical college. But that is all in the past. In 1988 he graduated from the International Academy of Merchandising and Design Ltd. In Chicago, Illinois.

Aswani’s alma mater is not a familiar name for Indians in the fashion world. “I was the only Indian student and selected this college over the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, because it has a more intensive approach to construction of garments and a technical feedback in textiles. A designer must be able to construct a good garment he wants to design.” Out of the graduates of 1988 Aswani was one of the two students who finished as a couture graduate. His graduation collection took him four months to create during which time, Aswani designed, stitched and finished every outfit himself. So grueling was the course that Aswani was one of the nine students left out of the 100 who started with him in 1986. “It is a really tough course but thorough. We had to create and weave fabrics, paint designs and patterns, tailor, present a complete portfolio (for which he got an A+) and of course produce the graduation collection.”

As a designer, Aswani has always been rather low-key, concentrating on the export of high fashion garments to the USA and Hong Kong. “I have a very personalized relationship with my clients abroad. They can order on the phone and I know exactly what they require. I am aware of my clients as people and also their tastes. I know exactly what colours and what styles they like or dislike.” Aswani admits he is a couture designer. “I am trained to do collections with one of a kind pieces. I also do a higher ‘pret’ or ready-to-wear line. But my clothes are very mood oriented.”

As a designer Aswani can be considered to be quite consistent. “My evening wear should be embellished and coordinated to look feminine. There may not be a shape change to a garment but embroidery plays a major role. Even if a garment is revealing a client must feel comfortable in it.” Therefore embellishments are Aswani’s vital emphasis. He may have unconventional touches like a many layered kota organza outfit that is quite unlined but has embroidery at strategic points. Or there may be heavy sequined embroidery all around the garment with just the side panels left untouched. A revealing lace blouse may be heavily encrusted with embroidery to create the illusion of a brocade or zardozi effect. There is a lot of opulence and flamboyance in whatever Aswani creates.

Silhouettes and shapes are very flexible. They could be structured or easy depending on the mood that strikes the designer. For Indian wear Aswani allows his imagination to really go wild He makes an impact with western styling modified to suit Indian needs. Varying the length of the kameeze from calf-length to knee-length gives him the required creative liberty to produce garments for all seasons. A shape for Aswani is not seasonal. “I am very free with my concepts. If required I will make my skirts mini of maxis. What is important is the overall look and how comfortable and elegant my client looks and feels.” In many cases Aswani is even aware of the exact colour preferences of his customers. Sub-consciously, Aswani is season oriented. “I tend to use deeper colour for fall and winter and brighter colours for spring and summer.”

His first attempt at creating stylized garments for the Indian woman began with his ‘Surya’ collection at the newly opened Eternia. “Creating garments for the domestic market can be tricky and the right atmosphere is needed to display my creations.” Eternia in Bombay falls into the correct buyer image for Aswani. His ethnic line of salwar-kameezes may have traditional touches, “but the overall construction is western,” he emphasizes.

“In ethnic wear dupattas are my weakness. They always end up being the focal point of the ensemble and I love embellishing them. The kameeze could take a rear seat at times.”

Aswani’s approach to embroidery embellishments are quite revolutionary. “I am more into European embellishments and when I use embroidery it is not the run of the mill type. It is way out with various permutations and combinations. He is inspired by fabrics with structure-crepes, silks, taffetas, suiting silk, chiffons, georgettes. Cottons, too, excite him but “it has to be good quality cotton.” As an artist Aswani is very good. His unconventional illustrations have won him accolades in his college.

A Pawan Aswani high fashion garment retails for anything above Rs. 3500/- and can go up to Rs. 1,50,000/- or a wedding dress. “My favourite colours are black and white and I like to mix and match as often as possible.”

Speed is of course a part of the Aswani psyche. He can create a haute couture creation in just three days though for his designer wife’s (she is a graduate of FIT, New York) wedding gown dreamt up by him he took the longest ever- two and a half months. “I wanted it to be the best thing I had ever created.”

Aswani’s idols are the Japanese line-up designers like Issey Miyake, Miyake, Matsuda etc. “It is their sense of structure and pleating that fascinates me.” From the western world it is Christian Lacroix and Emanuel Ungaor who thrill him.

Compared to other Indian designers who are very publicity conscious Aswani’s very modest image is a sharp contrast. “Publicity no doubt is important for a designer in promotion his line but I felt I was not ready for it. When it returned from the USA and till 1991 my styles had been for the western buyers only.

Aswani who also freelanced for Anja San, the high fashion men’s shop in Bombay has noticed the evolution of fashion since 1988 when he returned to India. “No doubt the Indian woman has become more fashion conscious today but that is surprising is that the Indian male is also keeping pace with her and generally everybody has become more designer label conscious. His export of garments to the US and Far East covers diverse markets.

Aswani obviously prefers designing haute couture garments but is quite excited about giving ‘pret-a-porter’ a try as he admits, “as long as the garment has creativity and style I am happy.

Pawan Aswani is no ordinary designer. He may fight shy of publicity but his garments definitely invite a second look with their very flamboyant image.