Within a few minutes of speaking with creative consultant and stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania it becomes clear why she would have been chosen as the youngest fashion director in the world—her penchant for diving deep into projects she takes on along with her charming and creative disposition make her timeless and iconic now, as it did in the noughties. Even though she had no formal education in fashion, she has charted a success story completely her own, effortlessly moving from one calling to another, giving birth to an industry and a generation of stylists who have followed in her footsteps.
Needless to say, it comes as no surprise that Adajania’s latest undertaking—her collaboration with footwear brand SKO—promises a colourful and easy spring/summer that is not only replete with choices, but keeps practical matters at the heart of its design. Read: comfortable, premium, and stylish footwear that is made to last.
In an exclusive with Bazaar India, Anaita Shroff Adajania talks about her impressive career arc and takeaways from each experience, the fine art of balancing life in all its myriad forms, ASA X SKO, and more.
Harper’s Bazaar: You have been a big proponent of comfortable footwear, and serendipitously enough you have now partnered with SKO to take a line out which is not only chic but ensures ease of wear. Tell us how this came to fruition?
Anaita Shroff Adajania: For a while I have been feeling like I could never find the shoes that I wanted… you know those with clean lines that were comfortable. To be honest, whenever I am travelling, I buy four to five pair of shoes in the hope that one of them will be the ‘It Pair’. If you see my shoe cupboard you will be shocked… it is very rare that I find the one, so I end up buying really expensive shoes which are not very comfortable. I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to do a collab and develop a line, but I held out till I came across the right fit. Then I met Nishant socially, and some of our common friends connected us making it a very organic coming together. On top of it his factory is very close to my house so it was very convenient for me to go and visit whenever I needed to see samples. He was a sweetheart and very receptive to everything I said… whatever research and development I wanted to do, he made it happen, and finally, we found a sweet spot. For now its pop colours and a lot of metallics in the collection—we spent a lot of time working on the comfort part of it. There is padding for all the pressure points you hit, it’s very thin and subtle as well, so it’s incredibly comfortable to wear. Luckily for us chunky heels are a massive trend. While I don’t do flats personally because I consider it a shoot day must-have, but since Nishant said we should, we ended up doing flat forms. It’s a process which took a couple of months, and we arrived at the finish line by trial and error, slowly and steadily.
HB: What is a non-negotiable for you when you are collaborating with a brand and styling? What’s the big distinguishing factor between this range and others available in the market?
ASA: Nothing like that. There was demand to be produced, everything was available in-house… and I guess the only non-negotiable was that we needed to develop the line well and do the shoot well when we were finally ready with it. The brand ethos needed to come through and I wanted that to come out in the way we presented the collection—so we had a great bunch of people who collaborated to make that happen. From the best photographer on board, hair and makeup artist, to models, everybody stepped up. Nishant and I were completely in sync and it was clear that we would get ethically sourced nappa leather which felt great against the skin and was durable. You know, everyone does pretty busy shoes but ours are very clean. I wouldn’t call it minimalistic but it’s definitely contemporary where comfort is a big USP. The way we have ensured sourcing of the leather is done, there is a longevity to the range. You won’t just use and throw them because they are long lasting and can be passed down just like our mothers have done when it comes to their prized collections. The beauty of leather is that the way it ages it never goes out of style. Another thing I loved is that since everything is made in-house, you have the luxury to customise, so for instance if you don’t like orange and tangerine combination, you can ask for metallic and green. For me it was about people having a say in their style and enjoying how they put together combinations they like lending a certain bespoke quality to high-street brands.
HB: The colour palettes in the range are perfect for Summer. What colour do you naturally gravitate towards in this collection and why?
ASA: For me honestly, the sap green and yellow have my heart. I didn’t imagine I would wear yellow shoes but I recently paired it with a yellow dress and I loved how it all came together. Honestly, I have always liked colour even though I have shoes in black and nude and would like more people to add colour to their feet like they do to their wardrobe. I relied on instinct and that’s what I did in this collection. Even with heels, I am past that age of wearing them and suffering—so we have cool angular block heels and rounded ones which perfectly cater to mid-occasions like lunches, meet-ups etc.
HB: You started out at the turn of a new millennia, with one of the first international magazine titles in the country, forayed into styling soon after, and was one of the first to open your own styling company. What has each experience taught you?
ASA: I have to say that my first job with ‘Elle’ was when I was more of starry eyed girl—where I was thanking the universe for giving me the opportunity to work with an international title. When I became fashion director later, I was youngest in the world to be given that kind of opportunity. For me, my learning had to be very instinctive. When I got appreciation for what I did there it gave me the confidence to be more of myself. We were so relaxed in those days and were a part of everything through and through—we styled our own shoots, ironed the clothes—it was very hands on in that sense. I remember there was a beauty shoot that I did where we had to show a range of nail polishes and we were thinking what to do that was different. In those days there were these African daisies which were considered exotic and now of course they are extremely common, but we were excited to procure them and I ended up painting each petal of the flower with a different colour of the nail polish and photographed that. I remember Shobhaa De writing a column where she said this was what styling was all about that left me chuffed because I was a young kid.
It was also the time that I started to do films and started to create a system for myself which I felt worked because we didn’t have anyone to tell us how things were done. The film world opened my eyes to how I would put a look together for something which would come out a year later and was still relevant, plus, how to be true to a character without following my own fashion sense. And then when I was working with another international title where editorial was king, I felt like I had reached the top of my game because I had the opportunity to work with the best photographers, make-up and hair artists, stylists, models and art directors in the world… it helped us create magic which lasted forever. And now, on my own, where I have been working independently for the last couple of years, this period has been THE most special, because for the first time in my life I have to only look at myself and not have someone tell me what to do. I feel so fortunate for the audience I have on the gram who are so supportive and are genuinely a growing community that are there for the right reasons. I am here for who I am and what I have done and for no other reason which is immensely gratifying. Which perhaps, also means that I may be doing something right.
HB: With so much going on with regard to all the projects you have ongoing, how do you structure your day to fully commit to everything on your list.
ASA: I am a brilliant multi-tasker and I am not using that word loosely here. Till today I work out of a physical diary which I streamline from scratch and plan everything around. I write everything down because I have a terrible memory and I make sure my life is not chock-a-block so I give enough breathing room to myself. For the last two days I was shooting a campaign in Goa and today I will make sure I keep myself completely free because it is a day to be home with the kids. It honestly comes down to time management. I come back home by 8 and have dinner by then as standard practise, unless it’s an exception. Also, I don’t go out much at all since I am definitely not a very social person in terms of night life. I also plan my day geographically, so if I am going to Bandra, I will do a few meetings there and then move on to the next place on my list.
HB: Is work-life balance truly possible or should you love what you do enough so that it seamlessly eases into your life without crowding it?
ASA: You need to love your work regardless. In fact if you are fortunate to love your work you feel less of the guilt and pain. There is such a thing as work-life balance for me though. So for instance, I don’t work on Sundays, since my kids are older and don’t need me that much I don’t mind working on an occasional Saturday now. I also feel like people have become way more demanding of our time so I feel like just because they have emailed and you don’t immediately respond, they need to just calm down. For me when I am styling for a campaign shoot I want to be present there and not be on my phone all the time. You have to make these rules for yourself. I see people who can’t not be on their phones, but for me if I am in a meeting with someone, I will be with them instead of on my phone.
HB: With fashion leading the conversation on sustainability what do you make of plant based vegan alternatives.
ASA: I feel there is space for everything as long as the final product is bio-degradable. I know someone who does fish scale leather, someone who does pineapple fibre, but at the end of the day as long as whatever you are putting into it still makes it biodegradable then that’s great.
HB: New kids on the Indian design block whose work you love?
ASA: I cannot possibly pick one because all of them are doing such brilliant work. Also, it’s unfair for me to take anyone’s name because it means leaving out other kids who are doing interesting stuff. But since you are insisting, I am always excited to see what Dhruv Kapoor, Kanika Goyal, Bloni, Raw Mango are doing, amongst others.
HB: How do you centre yourself on an especially hectic day?
ASA: I don’t think I centre myself very well at all. But for me if I have to say, I think it would be my husband who just puts me in my place and tells me to calm down. He is my calming factor and some deep breathing always helps. Plus, I always have major pick-ups in my life like dark chocolate and desserts that I must have before 4.