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In Conversation With Latha Puttanna, Fashion Designer

Nirmala Garimella

For those seeking traditional Indian trousseaux, festive wear and ethnic clothing, Label Latha Puttanna is a home full of adventures known for unusual saree and blouse pairings encored by lovers of drape, as well as anarkalis, lehenga cholis, kurtas and summer dresses in Banglaore.There will be a Trunk Show in Lexington on May 5th.

Please give us a background on your early interest in design, influences, childhood etc? A little perhaps of the evolution of Shriste Manne?

Designing started off as a hobby for me. As a child, I loved sketching and I would draw on every wall of the house. Luckily, my parents were very encouraging of my ‘art’ and were always proud of anything I created. In fact, my mother would buy me paints and crayons herself! But then I got married and hadn’t really taken up art in college, so I couldn’t pursue design at that point. A few years later however, I started designing and tailoring my own clothes. Tailoring your own clothes was a form of self expression back then. Soon, I started getting noticed and received compliments. After a few requests I did my first exhibition with 80 pieces and I’m happy to say I sold most of them.

This was back in 1992 when most of networking was just word-of-mouth. Today, it’s all about social media, which has taken marketing to the next level but we’ve actually grown as a brand thanks to word-of-mouth! I then opened my first store on Raj Bhavan Road and over time, developed my own style. I was able to put my art together with my own taste in embroidery and motifs. And I think what sets us apart is that I’m not afraid to say no to a client. While I design special pieces according to their sensibilities, at the end of the day I stick to my guns and instincts. I don’t want to just sell to the customer. I want to imprint my own unique touch to every piece that comes out of Shristi Mane. Because of this, they take you seriously.

India’s textiles and colors are so vibrant? When you design what are the most important elements in your mind?

The most important thing for me is to maintain the authencity of the textile. Its weave, color, and character is something that has been developed over centuries and I feel that there’s no need to lose it now. The innate qualities of the textile are the heroes of my designs. For example, I could never do cut work embroidery on a beautiful Kanchivaram saree and ruin its weave, or even ‘embellish’ it with crystals! I believe that the mindset of simply embellishing fabrics needs to change. When I design, I aim to preserve the integrity and heritage of the textile. I try to make it contemporary with modern colors - which is something people often come to me for. I don’t want to make something look expensive. There’s a subtely to each textile and we need to celebrate that. And if I do want to get experimental with say, cut work embroidery, I try it on simple cottons.   

At your workshop, do you start designing from the weave? What is the process?

There’s already so much heritage in the market, coming down from generations. What’s more, it’s almost overwhelming to see the vast range of textiles we have in India. This is how I started. I moved into weaves when I was reviving old borders into different shades and colors. With Brand Latha, we did our own motifs such as roses, flowers, gandaberunda, etc. And while I’ve done screen printing and block printing in the past, I now work with graphic designers to fine-tune my designs. This helps me gain clarity and weave a story around each piece! Back then, our clothes spoke for themselves but today, people need a story - which is great. Our next line of Latha Puttanna also has its own unique set of motifs and as a heritage designer, I find it’s important to create new motifs while also preserving a piece of history.

You have made a mark as a designer in India and showcased your collections on the global platform? Do you find any difference in how people perceive fashion?

When I did one of my earlier shows in the United States, back in 1994, it was tough to sell the quintessential Indian look there. In fact, Indians living in the US weren’t even exposed to heritage fashion. A lot of ‘fashion’ back then was about mix-n-match - most people just put things together according to their taste. It really wasn’t so global.

But so much has changed in the past two decades! Young girls who have been brought up abroad are more informed than ever, especially when it comes to fashion choices. They know exactly what they want and will leave no stone unturned to get the perfect look. Whether it is an Indian, cocktail or western look, style is now an uncompromising factor. I’ve noticed this change in girls here as well, and this change in mindset has made it easier for us to sell our ideas.

What drives you every single day as a designer?

I think the very reason my designs are accepted and appreciated is because people truly enjoy wearing these clothes. I don’t feel swayed by trends but rather what looks best on different body types. My inspiration is to get better every day. I don’t compete with anyone else except myself. What drives me most is the singular desire to walk into the workshop and execute my ideas. I work with talented masters and artisans who help make my imagination come to life. And when it all falls well together, I feel inspired to do more. This has become an intrinsic part of me now. What’s more, I treat my job like a hobby, and you don’t get bored of hobbies!  

Can you share a bit of your upcoming show here in the US? What will be on display?

We’re doing a focused show that will exhibit all kinds of designs I’ve worked on this past year. We will showcase everything from sarees and lehengas to jackets and jeggings with a colorful Indian touch. The show is a perfect occasion for those who haven’t been able to visit our store or discerning buyers who prefer to purchase with touch and feel. This collection is perfect for all ages and body types and talks about a lot more than just clothes. In fact, we’re also exhibiting arts and crafts from across the country and bringing it to the United States. The show will be held in early May in many cities including Chicago, Boston, Detroit, and more! 


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