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As fashion embraces an uncertain future, it looks back on days gone by. Yet the industry has never been so dependent on cutting-edge digital solutions. The industry seems to be entering a new phase; “Nowstalagia” perhaps describes this new chapter in the most appropriate way. It also sums up the philosophy of Torani, a fashion brand created just two years ago by 26-year-old Karan Torani. His first full collection of menswear was launched just a few weeks ago as part of his Jamali Kamali collection which included handcrafted chanderis and silks with his chintz prints.

Son of a “wallah tent” in South Delhi, Torani has been in the wedding world since he can remember it. “A lot of my understanding of creative direction, set design or leadership skills comes from there. I saw my father handle thousands of Bengali tent kaarigars who would bring his vision to reality and to marriages of all possible scales.

As a teenager, it was obvious to him that fashion was his calling, but it was the one industry his parents didn’t approve of. Nonetheless, he was accepted both at Central Saint Martins in London and at Parsons School of Design in New York. He chose to attend Pearl Academy in Delhi because he received a full scholarship.

Karan Torani Chatt's Fall-Winter 2019 campaign draws inspiration from the neighboring terraces of Old Delhi

Karan Torani Chatt’s Fall-Winter 2019 campaign draws inspiration from the neighboring terraces of Old Delhi

Torani then assisted designers Manish Arora and Nida Mahmood before entering the world of digital media. “Around the time I finished high school, our family’s financial situation was really bad. I realized that in order to survive in Delhi, I would need a job that pays me well. Being an assistant designer didn’t help, ”he says.

To survive, he became social media manager for Snapchat’s fashion department, but the itch of being a designer never died down, so he found a way to do both. He became an independent digital consultant and created his eponymous label, Torani, with five kaarigars working out of his living room. It was his mother’s idea.

Back to the future

Torani wanted model Lakshmi Rana for her inaugural social media campaign, which went live in the summer of 2018. He knew Rana was the right face to tell her story: steeped in heritage but told on new media age. “We misunderstood young people: we think they all seek to be different and eccentric, when in reality all they are looking for is a sense of belonging, almost like finding their roots”, he said.

Its cove tells you the stories behind the traditions, mythology, monuments, rituals and crafts of India. It is truly a treasure trove of information for any cultural vulture. “My brand name, Torani, comes from my last name. The brand was inspired by my grandmother and the way we lived as a family, so it was natural to identify it with our last name, ”he says.

Gulabi Mela's Spring / Summer 2019 campaign was inspired by the bustling fairs of Sindh, Pakistan

Gulabi Mela’s Spring / Summer 2019 campaign was inspired by the bustling fairs of Sindh, Pakistan

Contemporary Indian brand, with its principles anchored in slow fashion, its first collection focused on a fabric that is now a constant in its collections: Chanderi. Torani’s grandmother was from Bhopal, known for its Chanderi weavings. He called it Airavata, inspired by Hindu scriptures as a tribute to his grandmother who told him stories about Krishna while she was asleep. Less than a week after posting its first image on Instagram, India’s first multi-brand design store, Ensemble has come knocking on the door (or giving it DM, as it is now).

Creative consultant Amit Hansraj, then a buyer at Ensemble, recalls: “I stumbled across Torani’s Instagram account almost the day he started it. The image of Lakshmi Rana caught my attention. No one has managed to capture her like this in nearly two decades of her career.

The handles Torani used had clear language and edited his own very well, almost in the style of a fashion magazine. “He finds a personal connection to the heritage he talks about, whether it is his Sindhi origin or his experience of watching his Nani on the terrace drying the papad. There is always a personal story and that’s what the audience likes, ”says Hansraj. (Torani’s second collection was called Sindhdi.)

Since that DM, the Torani label has been worn by celebrities, celebrated in major fashion publications and has over 111,000 social media followers.

The Dopahar collection was all about personal relationships and moments in a middle-class Indian house of the 90s;  (Right) The Jamali Kamali men's clothing line is inspired by the secret love story of a gay couple during the Mughal era

The Dopahar collection was all about personal relationships and moments in a middle-class Indian house of the 90s; (Right) The Jamali Kamali men’s clothing line is inspired by the secret love story of a gay couple during the Mughal era

An artist artist

“Many days I have the impression that I live vicariously the dream of being a director, a poet or even a writer thanks to my work. And why not? Weren’t all the great artists in the world multitasking? I believe that a true designer should take ownership of this property and direct their visual story with as much force as their craft, ”says Torani.

Well-known fashion designer Divyak D’Souza stylized one of Torani’s first campaigns and immediately realized that Torani was about to change the rules of the game: “We shot the campaign on the shores of la Yamuna in a freezing winter in Delhi, and he was impressively lucid and demanding about the story he wanted to tell, ”says D’Souza. It was a story steeped in tradition but shot for new-age media.

Torani hasn’t participated in any fashion week so far: the audience for them is limited, unlike content designed for digital platforms, he says. D’Souza recalls: “We had everything from a Ferris wheel and camels to an installation of 20,000 glass bracelets – all authentically executed – for her first large-scale campaign shoot. It is a real dedication to turning a story for your brand, which very few designers in India do. “

Of course, it takes more than social media acumen to make a brand successful. As Torani says, “Only the product speaks. If it has no quality or craftsmanship, it will not sell. So I’m a designer first, but I can tell my stories, and everyone around me has a job, because of the craft and the product. I don’t let anything take precedence over that in my studio.

The Seven Sacred Rivers of India, called Sapta Sindhu, Inspired the Shuddhi Festive Line

The Seven Sacred Rivers of India, called Sapta Sindhu, Inspired the Shuddhi Festive Line

He makes no compromises on textiles, embellishment or finishing and has traveled India to gain first-hand knowledge of India’s handcrafted heritage. From Bhujodi embroidery in Gujarat to Madhubani paintings in Bihar to Paithani weavers in Aurangabad, his quest is a design vocabulary that speaks fluently of this country’s handcrafted arts heritage. He truly believes his duty is to make clothes that can be cherished. “The real responsibility of every designer is knowing that we play a huge role in defining what’s cool for the next generation. I celebrate this responsibility, and what better country than India to be born for it, ”he said.

New age bride Sanjana Rishi turned to the Torani brand for a bespoke veil to wear with vintage powdered suit Gianfranco Ferré for her wedding and her look created a digital sensation. “I celebrate brides like her because they choose to wear their heritage as a crown and accept it as part of their individuality, which is all about the current generation. It’s about making that choice and being free and happy when you do that. Being modern doesn’t necessarily mean denying your heritage, ”says Torani.

Walking forward

At the start of the lockdown, Torani started a “pay-up” program for his craft label and was one of the first designers to admit he was in trouble. In December 2019, Torani made the brave and daring decision to open a brick and mortar space on India’s most expensive shopping street, Khan Market. The store has the feel of a wedding ceremony, with its floral decorations and ceremonial items. The millennial advocate of social media democracy says, “You can never ignore the retail experience. The feeling of touching the fabric and trying the garment on yourself – it’s unmatched. Although 70% of sales come from social media or e-commerce platforms, he hopes to open more stores.

Airavata is inspired by Karan's childhood in Bhopal with his nani

Airavata is inspired by Karan’s childhood in Bhopal with his nani

Fortunately, her situation improved, and as a result, the vision for her Instagram account became stronger and more relevant. Hansraj says: “She’s an honest voice that can look beyond the Instagram algorithm and that’s what Indian fashion needs now.”

Torani hopes to expand his brand to jewelry, shoes and home decor. But all of this attention has meant that there are now many copy-cat versions of the label. At first, he said, it bothered him. But now it amuses him.

From HT Brunch, October 18, 2020

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