You’d think that the lines designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice nervously uttered after accepting the 2017/18 International Woolmark Prize for womenswear on January 9 at the Stazione Leopolda in Florence would take away from her just-earned glory, but in fact, they had quite the opposite effect. “India,” she said, “is not known for fashion. It’s known for its textiles, its handicraft and tradition, but not fashion.” The blunt but insightful admission at once summed up the reality that is Indian fashion.
Since 1953, The Woolmark Company has invited designers like Sachdeva to create capsule collections using Australian Merino wool. It has been a little over 48 hours since New Delhi-based Sachdeva, 30, became the first Indian female designer to win the coveted title previously earned by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. And it’s not just the hefty AU$200,000 prize that will turn the tables for her. Standing before her and this year’s menswear and innovation prize winners, London-based Matthew Miller and New York brand Dyne, respectively, is the game-changing opportunity to be stocked in some of the world’s most prestigious stores and boutiques including Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford, and L’Eclaireur.
And yet, all she said when we spoke over the phone in a post-win interview was, “It is still sinking in. My mother [Sangeeta Sachdeva] is here with me, and I haven’t had any free time to spend with her.”
Sachdeva set up Bodice in 2011 after graduating from the London College of Fashion, which was around the same time she worked as a design intern with Dame Vivienne Westwood. That, and a solemn promise to create thoughtful design, set her off on the path to inspired success.
It took eight months to create the winning IWP artisanal range comprising six looks, with 70 percent of its weaving realized across small towns and villages of India. In a by-women-for-women effort, Sachdeva worked closely with five weavers from Kullu, a high-altitude Himalayan resort town, to highlight its leading star—Australian Merino wool. “They [weavers] belong to a cluster that still practices age-old techniques of hand weaving. It is highly skilled and hence painstakingly time consuming,” she said. Her otherwise timbre tone broke into a burst of excitement when she added, “They are bored of doing the same brand of traditional weaves, so when I approached them with intensive technique ideas like adding extra weft to the yarn in the warp and weft to make a pattern, they were very happy. They have been my collaborators in this journey.” That this year’s competition theme also focused on innovation along with fashion design meant that Sachdeva’s effort to revamp indigenous techniques for the global consumer would find favor.