As the yearning towards relaxed silhouettes superimposed the predilections towards buying fashion that sustains for longer and speaks for itself, a surge of anti-fit fashion that spotlighted material excellence rippled in the high-end designer label segment, and the trend soon became a fashion movement that is still growing organically. One such designer who champions this array of clothing while intelligently juxtaposing several textures, fabric manipulation and design details to create a single, no cinch and tuck, fluid silhouette is Ujjawal Dubey, a Gen-Next star behind the label Antar-Agni.
Antar-Agni, which translates to ‘the fire within’ is a perspective that focuses on two extremes: to break away and yet embrace the mundane, and was founded in March 2014. The perspective is based on the restless curiosity to explore human nature through aesthetics and clothing.
“It gave me a sense of freedom while making me realise my affinity towards business. The brand is all about the human self and its expression of emotions, psyche, behaviour and experience,” said Ujjawal. He debuted his first collection at Lakme Fashion Week 2014 under the Gen-Next category. Since the very first collection, anti-fit drapes and fluid silhouettes have become their signature feat. In his own words, Ujjawal defines them as design statements that ‘perfectly translate the complex phenomenon we call the human mind’.
After going down various avenues of design, Ujjawal chose to study apparel design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata. The educational diversity, the various experiential projects and experimentation gave him an intense urge to prove his own worth to himself, and explore the extents of his own potential, and find the balance between his talents and capabilities. After graduating, he worked under a prominent designer for about 3.5 years where he explored various genres of fashion design which made him confident towards his craft.
As the brand’s recognition garnered pace and growth, Grazia Young Fashion Awards recognised his talent and awarded him the Best Upcoming Designer for menswear in 2015. In 2016, GQ listed him under the ’50 Most Influential Young Indians’, and the Elle Graduate Award was conferred upon him. Forbes India magazine named him in their ’30 under 30’ list in 2017.
“We won accolades for the 2017-18 International Woolmark prize (Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East regional final) in the menswear category. It was a proud feeling to reach the finale where industry experts like Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent have made their mark,” Ujjawal expresses. Having a firm start, the brand today is receiving appreciation from several celebrities and fashion enthusiasts, and it is thriving on the continued efforts of a small team of about 30 people including tailors, masters, helpers, design assistants, merchandisers, accountants and production managers.
The brand’s signature lies in its use of fabric to spotlight the uniqueness of the garment, as Ujjawal furthers, “I just follow my current state of mind. My approach is to hero the fabric and the layers, drapes and graphic compositions that form a colour block while making the garments help us get closer to our mood.” The label works with myriad of all natural fabrics and handmade fabrics being Ujjawal’s favourites, as they exude a lot of character that is waiting to be explored and have a natural aesthetic to it. “The fact that it goes through a process of touch and feel elevates its look and value,” he says.
Aesthetically, Ujjawal’s fascination with architecture reflects in his designs, as he says that the technical side of design fascinates him. Experimenting with clean cuts, layered placements and reinforcements to balance the weight of the drapes comes from his affinity towards structures, which has now given direction to the overall design language of the brand that leans towards creating a signature silhouette that is anti-fit, showcasing fluid drapes in solid colours.
On the fabric front, Antar-Agni uses handwoven cotton and blends of cotton and silk. “I have been working on fabrics like linen , zari and lycra blends, with subtle ari work. We also work with Malkha fabric which is sourced from Andhra Pradesh and have collaborated with master weavers in clusters like Bhagalpur and Meerut. We get 70 per cent of our fabrics made from craft clusters like Maheshwar, Meerut, Bhagalpur and Andhra Pradesh,” Ujjawal maintains.
They retail from a design studio in Noida as well as their e-commerce and have also found demand globally. Antar-Agni stocks at multi-designers stores like Ogaan (New Delhi), Aza (New Delhi and Mumbai), Ensemble (Mumbai), Atosa (Mumbai), Curato (Mumbai), Angadi (Bengaluru). Internationally, Ave Indian Design Collective in New York is where customers can find the label’s collections.
Their recent release, ‘Slate’, is a collection that was meant to be a juxtaposition between fluidity and rigidity. A visual representation of the variances of our mind, it also is a resonation of their collective acceptance of it. The new line plays with the high contrast of black and ecru along with a singular element of stitched pleats and subtle layering. “The lockdown pushed me towards a journey of self-discovery, to explore those grey areas that exist within ourselves and that is what I have tried to channel through this collection,” he avers.
Giving back to the chain
In order to garner the kind of fame the label enjoys today, Ujjawal had to overcome several challenges in order to sustain the label, and he expresses those challenges as something that are always around the corner but ‘they also make work more interesting and keep one focused’.
He continues, “When I started my label in 2014, I applied to the Gen-Next program at Lakme Fashion Week with 2 garments. I started working on the entire collection only after the results were announced. I was on my own at that point and it was a time when I had to believe in myself more than anything to move ahead. But I learnt how to emerge out of deep waters and keep myself afloat.”
In order to do their part for the overall sustainability and conscious fashion that the industry desperately needs, the label recently launched the initiative- ‘Restore Love’, inspired by the need of the hour- to refocus on our priorities and question the fashion industry’s consumption. “Nature demanded a course correction and ‘Restore Love’ seemed like the appropriate answer,” he says.
Through this, the label is asking their customers to send their old Antar-Agni garments or picture of it which has faded and need re-dying or are torn, or if they require any kind of alterations. The team will fix these pieces at a very minimal price. The owner of the garment is involved at the initial stage where the label’s team receive the garments from them where they further try to understand the consumer’s requirement, what exactly are they looking to get fixed in the piece of clothing and then work on it accordingly.
Talking about his own viewpoint of the industry’s current scenario, Ujjawal predicts that there will be a change in the collective consciousness of the industry, makers and consumers alike.
As he says, “Seasons and trends have already been dissolved and as we progress to the future, clients will spend more on clothing that gives them an experience and a genuine story linked to it,” He also opinionates that Impulse buying will take a back seat and there will be changes that will affect the fashion industry on a holistic level.
“As an industry stakeholder myself, I and my contemporaries have been decluttering and reminding ourselves of the relevant priorities that we have for our brand. It is very easy to get lost in the buzz, but the lockdown has really centered us,” he expresses.