Written by Sara Sharma and Kanita Tariq
As South Asians living in New York City, we’re always looking for a slice of home. Walking into the House of Anita Dongre Limited flagship store in SoHo brings exactly that.
Founded by fashion designer Anita Dongre and her two siblings Meena Sehra and Mukesh Sawlani in 1995, the luxury fashion house pays homage to India’s heritage through Dongre’s signature designs, which seamlessly weave in her nods to Indian culture. The brand is one of India’s top luxury fashion houses , reviving traditional fashion for a modern audience. Dongre’s designs have been worn by influential people globally, from Bollywood celebrities like Alia Bhatt to British royals like Kate Middleton .
The store, located on 473 W. Broadway, is Dongre’s second foray into the New York fashion scene, having previously opened a pop-up shop for her Grassroot collection in 2017.
“New York has always been a melting pot of art and culture, and there isn’t a better place to shine a light on Indian craftsmanship,” Dongre wrote to WSN. “Separately, I was excited about bringing an authentic bridal experience to New York where so many women are looking to celebrate Indian culture — either as a bride or a guest.”
South Asian garments are distinct in that they present themselves as tangible entities, keeping us connected with our cultural roots. When we walked into the store, a subtle yet peppery incense scent permeated through the spaces of the store, invoking nostalgia and comfort.
The fashion house offers bridal lehengas in vivid hues and floor-length salwar kameez sets in spring pastels, all with intricate detailing. One pastel pink lehenga in particular caught our eyes for its soft, subtler colors with ornate silver and blue detailing. There were exhibitions with ornate glass cases holding silver jhumki, a signature bell-shaped earring from the subcontinent, and mangalsutra necklaces traditionally worn during weddings in red for good luck.
The SoHo location pays homage to Pichhwai, a traditional Indian folk art style, which was inspired by Dongre’s visit to the state of Rajasthan a few years ago. Dongre met Lekhraj Ji — an artist who painted the walls of City Palace in the capital city Jaipur. Inspired by his flawless brushstrokes, Dongre collaborated with Ji and designed a collection of handpainted Pichwai lehengas in 2019.
“What fuels my creativity today, is not just restricted to design, but also about reviving the craft,” Dongre said. “Now, we incorporate a bit of Pichhwai into every store to keep this craft alive and to help people experience it without having to travel to Rajasthan.”
While most know of Dongre through her large online presence , Apeksha Dhavale — a styling and marketing associate at the SoHo flagship — said that she sees several customers intrigued by the storefront, peeking through the window to catch a glimpse of dazzling gota patti designs, a type of highly detailed Indian embroidery, and exquisite Pichhwai art and furniture.
“Everybody here loves it,” Dhavale said. “We see a lot of mixed weddings happening right now so a lot of people from the Western community are coming into the store. We also have ready-to-wear for everyday shoppers, wedding guests and now Diwali’s coming up so a lot of people are coming for Diwali shopping.”
The House of Anita Dongre is more than just a luxury designer brand. Dongre is a committed environmentalist and women’s empowerment advocate. Dongre’s activism takes center stage through her designs, all of which are handmade by local artisans, who are often professionally-trained tribal women in India. Dhavale said Dongre uses her platform to make a difference in the lives of marginalized people, especially rural women in India, while working with nonprofit organizations including the Self Employed Women’s Association.
As a staunch supporter of sustainability, Dongre’s values have followed the brand to SoHo. According to Dhavale, the SoHo store has incorporated eco-friendly practices in the workplace, such as eliminating plastic and conserving energy, as part of the small actions the brand has integrated while conducting its day-to-day activities. In fact, Dongre wholeheartedly believes that designers, especially those with such a wide-reaching audience, have the responsibility to be ethically conscious.
“Anybody with the privilege of choice should choose to put our world first,” Dongre said. “Simple things like growing your own herbs to larger things like building a system in homes and offices that reuses water all add up to make a huge difference. As the face of an industry infamous for building landfills and polluting rivers, designers must do that much more to undo the damage of the past.”
Dongre’s passion for sustainability could also be interlinked with her recent Spring/Summer 2022 collection “Paradise Found,” which pays homage to the cycles of nature with flora and fauna motifs.
“From leaves and flowers to birds with their gorgeous plumes, the motifs, detailing, colour palette and mood of the line are inspired by the richness and innate joy of flora and fauna,” Dongre said. “Nature is a generous muse, she is different every millisecond — every sunrise is different, every snowflake unique and every leaf without a twin.”
With the uniqueness of her S/S 2022 line, and that of her current bridal line, who knows what spectacular designs The House of Anita Dongre will come up with next. Whatever they may be, the designer said she wakes up each day excited to share her Indian heritage with New York.
“It’s been a joy to watch people discover the beauty of handwork,” Dongre said. “The fact that craft traditions transcend cultural heritage is what gives me joy and gets me excited each day about the decision to be in New York. While we’re working on our next collection, I’m most excited about this one and getting to see brides lend these outfits a personality and bring them to life.”
Contact Sara Sharma and Kanita Tariq at [email protected]