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Turning heads

Designer Vivek Karunakaran’s strength lies in the attention he pays to detail, says SHONALI MUTHALALY

PHOTO: S.S. KUMAR

COLOURFUL AND CREATIVE Vivek with his collection

“This line is in wine, jade, mortar and black.” I blink. “Purple, green, grey and black,” adds Vivek kindly. So much for the perception that men think in monochrome, seeing just green — for instance — where most women see emerald, jade and the colour of the sea at sunset. Vivek Karunakaran’s strongest advantage is the attention he pays to subtle details, whether they’re related to colour, texture or form.

Which is probably why his brand ViiA is already turning heads across the country, just a year after it was launched. And why his team labours over every detail in his bright Kottivakam studio, which features everything from soft boards vivid with wisps of exotic fabric samples to notebooks crammed with laborious sketches.

Talking about how a single garment can take two days to create because of its complexity, Vivek discusses his strong emphasis on detailing, as we look though his latest collection: shirts, tops and dresses in gorgeously deep colours and luxurious fabrics. “The look is very sophisticated. Very modern. Glamorous but still subtle,” he adds, lifting an outfit to demonstrate that even though he’s used sequins, they’ve been incorporated so they’re “muted and understated.” In layman’s terms, more Audrey Hepburn, less Disco Barbie.

Vivek, who graduated from the Chennai NIFT winning the Best Constructed Design Award, launched ViiA nationally when he participated at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2007, where he was identified as one of the ‘Generation Next Designers.’ “To be at that platform, you have to be as good as anyone else, irrespective of who you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve done,” he says, discussing the challenges of being a young, new face on a platform used to showcasing India’s biggest fashion stars.

Vivek participated this year too, showcasing his fall line at the 2008 fashion week. Besides the complementary press, and flutter of celebrity clients that followed, the most obvious fallout of this fashion week was a contract with Westside. A committee, which included Simone Tata and designer Narendra Kumar chose two designers (the other being Vivek Kumar from Kolkata) to create a new line exclusively for Westside. “It’s going to be prêt (ready-to-wear),” says Vivek, adding, “It’s a great platform, to reach out to the market. This will be affordable, good, chic fashion.”

On ViiA

Shortly after ViiA was launched, Shreya Kamalia, a fashion graduate from FIT, New York, joined the company as a business partner. Their ultimate goal is to unite entrepreneurs from a variety of design backgrounds, thereby creating a useful resource for fashion clothing, accessories and other textile products.

But right now, Vivek’s concentrating on taking the label across India. The signature ViiA look has evolved into a sort of high fashion prêt-À-porter. “A lot of detailing goes into each garment: the cut, seam, top stitch, lining, embroidery, appliqué…” says Vivek, talking about how they develop their own textiles. “So it’s couture in crafting and detailing.” Each outfit is created in a total of not more than 10 pieces, which are then distributed across India. “That way there’s a certain amount of exclusivity.”

ViiA currently retails at a slew of high fashion boutiques including Ensemble and Melange in Mumbai, Aza in Delhi, 85 Lansdowne in Kolkata and Bliss in Bangalore.

But Chennai’s still his base. “The high fashion retail market here is still evolving,” says Vivek, “But my instincts say everything will fall into place. I’m a first generation entrepreneur, and I’m struggling like any first generation entrepreneur. I’m discovering the nuances of business. At the end of the day it’s about growing out of the shoes of a designer.” Which can be difficult if you’re more into colour and creativity than number crunching. “I’d like to go bury my head in concrete when I see numbers and Exel sheets,” he laughs.

The label, according to him, still has a long way to go, even if it has accomplished more than he thought possible a year ago. “You are as good as your last creation,” he says. “So we cannot get complacent in any way. If we do a beautiful dress, expectation levels just go higher and higher. There’s no rest… We need to constantly look ahead.”

(Vivek can be contacted at vivek@viia.in)

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