A few days shy of 2023, Delhi winter was being its usual broody self—slightly warm in the afternoon with a hint of bitter cold at night. As someone who for almost a decade has obsessed over blues (metaphorical and sartorial shades embedded in expansive skies and buoyant life) Akaaro’s 2022 collection “The Sky is Mine” showcased at the Kiran Nadar Museum found me in search of the intense hues.
In a quiet corner tucked adjacent to spirited construction, I found myself at the unassuming store, after patient navigation by the masterful designer, Gaurav Jai Gupta himself, who had engineered the collection. I had called up the store headquartered at Lado Sarai-Mehrauli after wrapping up the morning meeting at work, keen on exploring the source-code of hand-woven textiles over my lunch-break. Little did I know I would be meeting the creator himself. Deeply rooted in reality, with an air of malleable humility, Gupta walked me through each piece.
With slivers of mid-afternoon winter sun adding alluring metallic depth to the collection, we got talking about his creative process. As is standard for Akaaro, once the first set of samples come in they are sent to the loom housed at the headquarters, meticulously worked on by weavers he has had for a little over a decade, later going into production. Unlike collections after collections produced to meet the growing demands of consumerism and fast-fashion, seasonless durability remains at the heart of Akaaro.
Mindful and sustainable, the brand embodies a slow-fashion aesthetic that you want to preserve. No surprises there that even though Gupta has remained conscious of scale, his strong design sensibility promises longevity—a trait his loyal clientele keeps coming back for.
Before his Lakme Fashion Week X FDCI’ 23 “Sky is Mine- Part 2” collection showcase on opening day, the self-proclaimed ‘accidental designer’ and textile genius made no bones about his pursuit of handloom happiness, grounded in research.
Curious to know how Akaaro came to life, Gupta took me back to how it all started. He explained, “I was more into music. A friend of mine sometime around 1999 was coming to Delhi for giving NIFT entrances and since I didn’t want to go down the regular path, I tagged along, keen on exploring another world. I come from a small city in the outskirts of Delhi but I have had a very urban outlook right from the beginning. While in college, I started looking and exploring Japanese designs and was taken in by the work of designers like Issey Miyaki and Junichi Arai of Nuno, plus, I was lucky to have good mentors in college who emphasised more on producing conceptual work.”
For his second degree, Gupta went to UK to study handlooms at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where he learnt to weave, followed by teaching in his early years while doing trend forecast for the Design lab at Central Saint Martin.
Organic and unplanned, he let time and design take its own course.
After three years of being part of the prestigious craft show, ‘Origins’ in London, it wasn’t until 2010-2011 that he held his first show in India. He credits his mentors, the founding member of NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) Rasha Bakshi, for making a foray into clothing. Heavy on weaving in his first phase, Gupta took his work to museums and galleries all over the world, except India at the time.
When he participated in ‘Sheer talent in India’ competition on sustainable design in 2009, it was the first time he made his very first full collection which was taken back to UK at London Fashion Week, and subsequently shown at India Fashion Week.
While in London, he thought of the name Akaaro because he liked the sound of it, and in a serendipitous way struck spiritual cognizance with its Sanskrit origins that meant auspicious beginnings. He went on to add, “One of the things I discovered about myself while studying and working in my early days was that I wanted to do something homegrown. India was looked largely as a production space and not known for the extensive design work and textiles we were doing. I always wanted to run a studio, and as a matter of fact, we are still called ‘Studio Akaaro’, which has now transformed into a full-fledged brand.”
While speaking of funding for some sense of scale and outreach at a time where visibility translates to popularity, Gupta emphasised on how he still struggles with it. According to him, while he was lucky to be at the right time at the right place, he still considers himself as an outsider. He lamented about how in India we look at everything in numbers, rarely considering the artisanal value of a product itself and an idea. Clear about seeing himself more as a design person first he talked about blurring lines that stereotype you and your discipline. Eventually recognising that you learn to live with it and navigate through the process.
On asking him back in December before his Lakme Fashion Week X FDCI showcase which country outside of India he would like to show his collection next he said, “It’s important to consider the narrative. If I was to think of international fashion weeks, I think Japan or Korea might understand it but then again, the world could be open to understanding it today.”
Passionate about his craft and elevating his technique, Gupta isn’t looking to prove anything to anyone—focussed solely on going back to the drawing board and his loom to create weaves and textiles interwoven with unlikely materials, hankering for his own utopic take in a dystopic world that’s a mixed bag of complexities.
Curious to know what he might be working on after three years of developing “The Sky is Mine” and allowing the world to see his Klein blue creations, Gupta’s next is a project that will upcycle carbon emissions. Intrigued? Stay tuned.
A big believer in destiny and working hard, in our interaction, he circled back to how everything aligns when it’s meant to. So while he hasn’t gone down the conventional route of seasonal outings, or pandering to celebrity culture for visibility, staying true to designs and layered experimentation with textiles will always override overnight virality for him.
Afterall, leading with conceptual design, Gupta makes a strong case for giving value for money when a piece from Akaaro finds a home on your body.