Aneeth Arora: Flowers of Textile County

Aneeth Arora: Flowers of Textile County

Complicated process and fun-filled story telling tango in péro county. Here’s how the brand built bridges between textile and fashion on the Google map of Indian design

The same soft but insistent request floats in péro founder and designer Aneeth Arora’s sentences from our first conversation for this story to the last. “Don’t use my photograph. Help me promote the cause of a faceless brand,” she says.

péro, (‘to wear’ in Marwari), Arora’s textile brand that flourished in a lovingly watered garden of flowers in dozens of materials, fabrics, forms, sizes and colours, alongside buttons (more than 2000 varieties in the last ten years), trims (hundreds of…), fabric hearts and dolls is ten years old.

At 36, Arora, petite, soft-spoken but fierce about everything, in a white top and dark denims with long, dark hair, tattooed (only a backless blouse would reveal a column of tattoo dots like the tribal markings of a pastoral community from Kutch that sneaks down her spine), is resolutely low-key. She doesn’t want to be photographed, answers all questions on politics, competition, theatrics and plagiarism with such slow-mo philosophy that you need extra coffee powder so that at least the coffee becomes dark.


Photo: Madhav Mathur

péro East Delhi studio.

Arora’s studio in East Delhi is a Heart Station that opens through a lush garden. The red heart, a brand staple that comes with every garment, is your cue. All stories from péro—then and now—ping each other here. All arterial lines to péro-positive destinations of business, design development, textile experimentation, weaving interventions, dyeing processes, refining tools like printing blocks, fashionising fabrics from the Indian crafts vocabulary start here. This is where fashion week shows are conceptualised with their musical magic as are pyjama parties, kediyas, coats in wool, cotton, Chanderi or other blends, short and long dresses, whimsical pants, pretty saris, stoles, scarves, fabric shoes and jhola (cloth) bags. This is where the péro tribe descends for the annual sale. Around this are the production units which supply péro garments to 350 odd stores in 25-30 countries across the world and 25 in India. This is where Arora brings back the trophies she lifts at different platforms—the most recent being a Threads of Excellence Award from the Indian Ministry of Textiles earlier this year. It is at Heart Station where péro’s in-house staff of 250 people has chai (tea) and where Jugmug Thela, a tea-coffee brand sets up shop when there is an event.

Textiles, hearts, flowers, dolls, embroideries, buttons, brooches, books, trims. Now mind takes over heart as all these are thrown into the boiler pot of Arora’s mind where a script is written. A pink 3D flower may bloom on a stark blue tunic or red poppies may light up a monochrome woolen jacket. Scarves carry buttons, gossamer mulmul shirts have hand-beaded collars, dresses dance with embroidered bodices or drip with lace. The landscape is handwoven textiles—checked or striped, plain or with contrasting selvedge borders. Silks, saturated prints, Indigo dyed fabrics, wool blends—it is complex and formidable considering that Arora has worked with textiles across regions of India—from Assam’s gamcha, West Bengal’s Jamdani, to Kutch’s Bandhini and Ajrakh. At her studio currently sit samples of freshly woven Banarasi brocade, the kadua work so delicate, that it looks embroidered instead of woven.

Born and raised in Udaipur (Rajasthan), Arora, a curious girl who didn’t want to stitch buttons on her father’s shirt and instead pursue architecture, would go on to study at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi (NIFT) and then at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad (Gurjarat). The latter warmed her design spirit giving direction to her love for textiles and “mixing” them. Love is a recurrent word in her expressions—the love for work and the work of love.

After her debut at Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) as a GenNext designer in 2008, she partnered with Chinar Farooqui for Gaba, a textile focused label that lasted only a year. péro was launched in 2009. It grew fast. From 2010 to 2015, the business grew by 229 per cent, from 2015-2017 by 193 per cent and in the last two years from 2017-2019, at 77 per cent. More than 1500 odd karigars (artisans) and craftspeople are involved with the brand at any given point of time in making textiles, embroideries, buttons, printing, dyeing.

péro put out 20 collections in ten years all in a design sensibility that requires more than love letters, doll houses, blooms and buttons to describe. Today it is an unusually expensive brand with the pricing across all sub brands, Lazy péro, Chhota péro (kidswear) and menswear, ranging between 8,800-1,80,000 in India and 1,60,000-2,50,000 abroad.

Here Arora talks about her passion for textiles, the importance of creating an archival library and why it has been a “decade of flowers”. Edited excerpts.


Photo: Madhav Mathur

Hearts and tassels attached with a péro price tag.

Your studio is littered with elements—potlis (pouches), dolls, tags, trims, brooches, hearts, swatches…almost everything you use has a representation here. What are the other péro tangibles that can’t be seen?

When we first started, I coincidentally had a platform ticket in my pocket with the date stamped on it—I thought of making it a part of the brand. The date of inception of our brand, June 13, 2009 is debossed on our tags. The same is used for our visiting cards: it also looks like a weighing machine ticket. But now we are in the process of rebranding. I want to eliminate all paper though we never used paper bags anyway. This heart and wing cloth bag you see here is from my Pyjama Party collection (Spring Summer 2016), it will now become the signature “péro bag”. The idea is to make something people can reuse. Beaded strings that become bracelets, cloth potlis to hold buttons that can store earrings, tags that can be reused, visiting cards that can become greeting notes. The type of katran (residue) will keep changing, the kora red from our first collection will remain, but the heart that hangs on our clothes now has wings. We are trying to tell people that it is their love that has given us wings.

There is a giant heart installation in your studio and tiny hearts everywhere. What is your fixation with love?

We didn’t attach hearts on our clothes till our fourth season. But I wanted one thing that could go on each garment irrespective of the season. We put so much love and passion in our work.? The heart stands for that. But we also understood that some people wouldn’t like it and sure enough we got orders for clothes without the heart sewn on. Then we started adding it as a latkan, a tassel. We realised people were using it more, by detaching it and using it as a brooch, a pendant, or a pin.

What do you love most?

Textiles. All kinds of textiles.

Did your split with Chinar Farooqui and the end of Gaba affect you?

My mother remembers that I was deeply disturbed but it didn’t stop me from going ahead. As two designers we had different priorities. In practical terms, it was a change of name for the brand. But I never took a break from the flow of work sent to stores. There was a joke that Aneeth will come back to fashion week every time with a different brand. I debuted as Aneeth Arora at LFW GenNext, then I showed with my former partner and then it became péro.

Do you and Chinar speak to each other now?

No we don’t.

Flowers and hearts are juxtaposed with stark stripes and checks. There are intricate laces, beads and embroidery and then there are baggy pants, chogas, anti-fit shapes. Feminine prettiness is underlined with androgyny. Are these imprints from your childhood?

The idea of mixing things started at NID where we were taught to mix geometry with plain textures. Our teacher Romani Jaitley—taught us to use some floral, some checked, some plain fabrics. It also resonated with the idea of layering. I wasn’t aware of that aesthetic till I started making clothes. But it stayed with me. I like the idea of having a lot and then mixing it. Also, Professor Aditi Ranjan who taught at NID greatly influenced me—she taught us not to restrict ourselves or our ideas as designers.


Photo: Madhav Mathur

Hearts sent by customers displayed at the reception area of péro studio.

So you layer not just garments for the péro look but disparate elements?

It gives me the liberty to make every garment in a unique way. I build resources like buttons, tassels including getting textiles woven in a certain way. Checks have never left us. I spent a lot of time looking at the work of Wazir bhai (“brother” used as a courteous honorific), a master craftsman in Kutch, the Ajrakh he collected among other things. If you look at Sindhi-Kutchi-Pakistani textiles, you see how each garment, each textile has numerous aspects to it. In class we were told to study just one garment a week—never deviate from it.

Are those impressions from Kutch also why you continue to make Kediyas?

Yes, in fact, my first illustration at NID was an elaborate Kediyu. The pastoral garments of Rajasthan have a similar language. After we did menswear in our first season, Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) told me that when they first start making menswear, most designers end up making it feminine but I had managed to keep the look masculine.

Did you have a ten-year vision for yourself or you went with the flow?

I was always keen to build archives. Now as we turn ten, we are sifting, recording, cataloguing and documenting every single textile, fabric, button, trim, tassel, pattern, weave that we have used in the last ten years. It tells me what I need to redo, what we have learnt and what we have lost. So some of the key elements like buttons, brooches or let’s say the Dolls of péro—elements that people identify with us—we may present them through exhibitions this year or in a retrospective. We now have a team focusing only on archives. The more we discuss it, the more it becomes streamlined. For instance, my next collection is called Mille Fiori. It means a thousand flowers in Italian. For me, it is a million flowers. It has been a decade of flowers.


Photo: Madhav Mathur

Artisans making tassels at the studio’s production unit.


The persistence of florals in your work is a submission to prettiness. Do you do that consciously?

We are catering to women and we see how women react to these things.

How do you respond to flowers at a personal level? Would you wear them?

I find them very pretty but I don’t like wearing them. I am a simple dresser, I like simple Japanese dresses and cuts. I would like to wear a masculine jacket with a lacy thing inside. It may appear contradictory as I love gardening for instance but I don’t see myself wearing flowers.

Is that also your response to floral perfumes, cushion covers, home linen patterned in flowers?

Yes. I don’t like floral perfumes either.


A design showcased by péro at Lotus Make-up India Fashion Week SS’19.

What influenced you as a child?

I would be intrigued by the communities of people I would see at the bus stand who came from different places to Udaipur. My mother would point out too and draw my attention. She would stitch for my grandpa and with the leftover fabric she would make dresses for me. In the colony, people would say Aneeth wears a new dress every day because her mother makes so many clothes. It was a strong influence.

Does she wear péro now?

Yes, it has come full circle. Her wardrobe has been completely taken over by péro and the way she dresses has changed. She enjoys it. I am very poorly dressed most of the time but she goes all out. Every season she wants new things from us.

So how would you define what you have brought to Indian fashion?

At NID, I used to say that I wanted to bridge the gap between fashion and textiles. When I showed my first collection, it had plain textiles with contrast stitching and metal buttons. Someone from Browns (the well-known London store) commented that it was “very Japanese”—he probably meant it as not being original but I felt happy that someone had recognised it for what it was. My initial feedback came from Sabyasachi who also understood me and told me to stick to my guns. That was when every store I initially approached said my clothes were too simple, who will buy a piece of textile? But Sabyasachi was an Aza mentor in those days and he may have told them that our brand has potential. Aza sent me a cheque of  50,000. In 2007, that was a big amount. I did a small line of 12 garments for Aza with Sabyasachi’s advice to “reduce the hand stitching, the costs will fall”. Formerly my garments were 100 per cent hand-stitched. It was any way not feasible as the Jaipur artisan making them used to work for the royal family. So I shifted to 50 per cent hand-stitched and 50 per cent machine-stitched clothes, a ratio that I continue to work with till today.

After that, Melange the Mumbai store called me and soon I was in 12 other stores, with limited clothes. Perhaps my kind of aesthetic was missing then. That’s when I felt there was indeed a void.

What you call the void—or working with Indian textiles was subsequently explored by many other designers. What makes péro unique?

Seriousness in approach but fun in storytelling. We tell our stories with themes that are playful, light and include music—hip-hop, freestyle, street and other genres. For instance, in our last collection in collaboration with The Woolmark Company (global authority on wool) and Bhuttico – Weavers Co-operative Society  of Kullu (Himachal Pradesh) at LFW, people learnt about wool in a fun way with the music. That’s what differentiates us from others.


péro’s collection in collabration with The Woolmark Company and Bhuttico at Lakmé Fashion Week.

Your look has been plagiarised since very early days? Does it bother you?

It bothers me but doesn’t scare me. In the early days, friends who worked in export houses would send me photographs of copies. These were not Indian brands but global brands trying to rip off. We have always catered to the West and worked ahead sometimes by a year but it did worry me that an Indian brand or designer would copy my designs and show it before me in India. Now we have made our work too complicated and layered within our aesthetic for it to be easily copied.

Do you think if you hadn’t started selling to the Western market, you may have not commercially survived?

That’s true. I would be using textiles and techniques such as Ajrakh and people would say we buy this from Dastkar, what’s the big deal. Few would notice that I was using metal blocks instead of wooden to bring refinement and finesse to the existing craft. The West on the other hand was not looking at something as a “block print”. Funnily Indians get influenced by what they see abroad; so when péro was seen on a rack alongside Comme des Garçons (Japanese fashion label) for instance, it may have created some aspiration.

Yet now that you have admirers in India, it has become so expensive that you have almost outpriced yourself in the Indian market.

This is not a conscious decision. This is because of the complications that have been introduced. We are converting our work into luxury. That has added to the cost. At the same time, we introduced Lazy péro and other sub brands with a conscious effort to bring people back to us as well as new, aspiring customers. Lazy péro revisits our old seasons with the same textile that was first used. It also talks about slow fashion. We want to change the notion that fashion is current. Initially, our customers were 80 per cent from abroad and 20 from India. Now we are 50:50.

How has the industry treated you?

We have been loved immensely. For senior designers to have accepted a newcomer and say this is something different is very encouraging. Even I have difficulty doing that. But if Sabyasachi mentions our work in his interviews, if veterans like A&T (Abraham & Thakore) say they feel proud that I interned with them, it is huge encouragement.

Does it have something to do with you not being threatening by nature or the fact that you don’t promote yourself?

I know myself. If I limit myself to a few things, then I can focus better. Distractions won’t help me. I have always had the fear of performing in the next season. It was the same when I was in college. My competition is with me.

Will you have a new flagship store now that this is the 10th year?

We have thought of it. If we get the right place and pull one in this year, yes.

Are you proud of yourself?

I am proud of the fact that we are loved by people. I take pride in the team we have built in these ten years. It’s a ten years’ realisation that support from those who wear us is as important as the dream team we have built inside péro.