Born in Calcutta, the city known for its literary, artistic and revolutionary heritage, Pranay Baidya has been immensely celebrated by the fashion community. We caught up with him at The Wedding Vastra event at Pernia’s Pop-Up Studio, where he took us through his journey and where his desire to be a designer came from. From digging deeper into the creative process of design to discussing the future of fashion, this interview brought to light all that goes into creating.
How did your journey into the fashion industry begin?
Being from Calcutta my family has always been interested in the creative arts. My great-grandfather was an exceptional writer! Even though my family lineage has been more bureaucratic, through generations, we’ve always had an interest in textiles, music, performing arts, architecture, and travel. I have grown up in the very stylish company of my mother and grandmother. As the saying goes “ The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree”, creativity is definitely genetic for me. I recognized the lineage I came from at a young age and hence I have always respected and valued my craft. And it’s never just been about ‘fashion’ for me. I’m known for my travel articles and Bengali food experiences that I curate. Growing up I had a lot of interest in architecture and spaces. But there was always a special love and enthusiasm towards fashion and design and I’m glad I chose this as my career.
I think studying changed my perspective about fashion and the way I look at the business of fashion! I studied at the Design & Arts College of New Zealand, one of the most exclusive and prestigious colleges, especially in Australia. I was looking at studying in London, but as luck would have it, I ended up meeting the owner of Design & Arts College in Calcutta, and we really got along. She convinced to move to Christ Church. So, that’s where my journey in fashion really began. I am of a firm belief that education is a vital part of any trade or craft, to honour your creativity, and understand the business and financial marketing aspect which is very important in the world.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your brand? Where does your inspiration come from?
As a design house, we try and promote trans-seasonal collections. So, we don’t just work for a particular season, we try and create clothing that is seasonless and has an eclectic influence. I definitely believe that fashion in all its Splendor and glory must be wearable. I personally have a very eclectic and contemporary style, so that sweeps into the work.
The world is increasingly becoming a smaller space. We have clients from across the world. Indians living in Buenos Aires to Amsterdam, Australia, and the UK, and their style is a mix of their Indian sensibility and a global eclectic contemporary style.
The current collection named ‘Wanderlust’ is inspired by my travels across the world. We worked on the prints rather than embroideries. Digital prints are a huge global trend but we’re trying to make it more relevant to Indians by concentrating on hand block printing, and lithography printing. You’ll see references from the Mughal era to the Byzantine era as well as Turkish influences. The collection focuses on the Kurta and how it can be styled and featured differently during the wedding season. But the idea is to make that more contemporary and wearable for the younger generation.
Why did you choose to focus on Kurtas this season? Can you give our readers a few styling tips?
I find it really interesting that globally there’s a notion that the saree is the most traditional and iconic Indian silhouette. I actually feel it’s a Kurta! Different styles of the Kurta have been part of peoples wardrobe through empires and civilisations. And even though I am a huge fan of the saree, I truly think that a Kurta is a more versatile silhouette which can reach out to a far larger audience. When I’m travelling, I always pack two tor three kurtas with me.
The kurtas we design are contemporary. So you can style them traditionally with Dhotis, Salwars and Jodhpur pants; but apart from that, they go beautifully with straight pants and ripped jeans. In the wedding season, kurtas are definitely the game changer and the star player! So it has a lot of avatars and I don’t think there’s any other particular silhouette which really has that.
It’s also about accessorizing it right. So with menswear, we do a range of slip-on shoes and pocket squares. You can also style them with aviators. There’s a chance to think outside the box while styling a Kurta.
We’ve had a client who wore our Kurta to a wedding in the Philippines and styled it with a straw hat. It was really interesting!
What is your process of coming up with prints? How important is it to promote craftsmanship?
To be really honest, this is something I learnt from my grandmother. She used to always tell me stories about how, when she lived in Banaras, all the sarees she ever wore were exclusively woven for her and often times designer by her. A lot of times, if she bought a particular pair of earrings, she would match the motifs to the saree. She always said “Point your craftsman in the right direction, but then let them do their craft.” I have a team of printmakers and skilled craftsmen. Whether it’s block printing or screen printing, I definitely guide them in the right direction, by showing them pictures I’ve taken or a book that I’ve read, talk to them about my inspirations and then let them play around.
Prints are such a rage across the world. and digital printing is completely taken over. But what’s happening, is that we are losing out on our craftsmen. I feel like it’s a loss for an entire generation. So as a brand, we try our best to work with local craftsmen and celebrate their craft as much as we can. We also work with muslin Jamdani which is handwoven by craftsmen in Dhaka. Again, I basically only give them colours that we want to work on that season, and let them do their traditional designs.
It’s not just about empowering them, but I think it’s about empowering a legacy. It is very important. to understand that craft is not just a medium for one generation to sustain, it’s a story.
Does your creative process change when you design for men and women respectively?
Not at all! I’d like to quote what Gianni Versace famously said -“I design to bring a smile on a woman’s face”. Likewise, when I’m designing for men it’s ultimately to make them feel happy. That’s very important to me! You may feel beautiful enough in a perfectly sculpted hourglass gown, but you may not feel happy about your body. Hence, we try and look at happiness and create silhouettes which are relaxed, fun and has a little bit of storytelling.
The only difference is that while designing womenswear we make it a little more intricate. Women like a little bit of Sparkle and Razzmatazz, whereas men prefer contemporary, fun pieces that they can talk about and laugh about with their friends. In general, the process is exactly the same.
The Ateliers in Delhi and Calcutta are truly fascinating! How did they come along?
We’ve tried to recreate home!
I’ve always been fascinated by spaces and I believe that the concept of interiors is very important! I wanted a creative space where I would be comfortable working on a day-to-day basis.
People say “Home is where your heart is”. I always joke that my home is where my favourite Chandelier is, my grandmother’s bed is and my objects are!
My Calcutta Atelier is housed in a 170-year-old building. The one in Delhi is housed in a mid-century house. We’ve tried to create more cosy experiences that make you feel like you’re walking into Bengali home. There are objects from my travel experiences across the world, Heirloom pieces of furniture. It feels like home to me because it has my favourite pieces of art that I’ve collected over the years. My Mom calls me a young hoarder, I like to call myself a young collector!
Do you have any plans of opening an Atelier in Mumbai?
It’s definitely on the cards! I think Mumbai has a very interesting Colonial story when it comes to architecture. I do think the business is changing and the reality of operations are changing. Of course, we have a booming online business. Yet, brick and mortar stores are becoming increasingly popular again. And a collaboration like this, with Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop, is so important because one is able to get an idea about the ‘store-in-store’ concept and the way retail is changing into storytelling.
Do you have any advice for young designers?
I think my only advice would be- Study! I think education is the only thing that can empower us. So my biggest advice would be to study but be aware when you study. A lot of colleges have a very theoretical curriculum instead of a practical one. I would suggest doing your research and invest in education because that is your game changer. It’s okay to feel a little threatened by the operational aspects of fashion, but that’s what education is for. It’s going to help you balance and streamline your ideas on creativity versus your ideas on commercial viability. As for me, I know that’s something we learnt every single day because you have to understand the audience that you are catering.
Also, don’t get fearful of competition, you have to be a part of it. There is always room for everybody.
Over the last 5 years, we have become a celebrated label. In Calcutta, there are brands that are my direct competitors but it makes me feel good that with a choice of iconic designers, people still choose to buy my product. They may also shop from them but they also choose me. As a designer, it’s important to feel confident.
I am amazed to see the very young designers who have wide reach and designers who have been in the business for over 25 years take notice of them and appreciate them. So it’s an interesting time, it’s all about having fun.
The bubble of constant consumption has made it seem as trends rule. What is your opinion on this?
I don’t care much for trends, I care for personalities! I make bohemian clothes because I am inspired by a bohemian way of thinking and I make traditional Bengali clothes because I am inspired by my culture. In our collections, you won’t see much of new trends but classic trends.
I think as a designer it’s very important to be aware of the trends, but it’s your choice if you want to incorporate them. You need to find your USP, by being loyal to your own personality and interests.
What has been your most cherished design experience or favourite collection?
It wouldn’t be fair to choose a favourite. But this particular collection is very close to my heart. The campaign coincidently launched the same day we all had the momentous victory of the decriminalisation of section 377. I felt great that I was able to strike a chord and It came naturally. We also reached out to audiences across the world. Love is Love and Love always wins!
Shop Pranay Baidya’s collection online: https://www.perniaspopupshop.com/designers/pranay-baidya-men