LONDON — Varana, a new ready-to-wear and accessories label, is going directly to the consumer with the opening of its first London flagship on Mayfair’s Dover Street.
The brand, which spans rtw, bags and jewelry, is aiming to revitalize traditional Indian craft by working with craftsmen from across the country to produce contemporary designs and introduce them to the Western world.
“A lot of people keep talking about the idea of East meets West, but that’s genuinely at the heart of what we make. We’re trying to showcase a range of interesting techniques and textiles from South Asia,” said Sujata Keshavan, Varana’s founder and creative director, whose background is in graphic design. “We think there is an opportunity in showcasing such amazing craft and bringing modern design to it, to make it relevant to new markets.”
Keshavan said she felt it was important for the brand to have its own physical space from the beginning in order for customers to have the opportunity to feel the different fabrics and learn about the stories behind each piece.
She pointed to a pair of wooden stamps used to hand-stamp prints on silk dresses, which are showcased in-store alongside the clothing and a loom, featured in the space to make customers understand the intricate process of handweaving.
“If you put those pieces on a web site, you won’t be able to see the details,” said Keshavan. “I think that even if we go into wholesale, which we are looking at because we want more and more people to experience the brand, we will need to have people in-store to explain the different techniques to customers.”
The brand has partnered with Harvey Nichols on a small capsule that will be stocked in the Knightsbridge department store, but plans to mainly focus on speaking to the customer through its own channels, with the aim of opening additional stores in markets including Paris and Hong Kong.
Brick-and-mortar stores also allow the brand to showcase the breadth of its collection and the lifestyle it represents.
The offer ranges from cashmere knits, produced in the Himalayas, to casualwear and more elaborate printed and embroidered evening pieces, as well as jewelry and leather bags. Keshavan said footwear and leather goods are other categories they are looking to tap into in the future.
Among the highlights in the collection are A-line dresses made of crushed silk and light muslin kaftans with wave patterns woven by hand.
“We’ve been using the weaving techniques for years. We needed to apply them on garments that can be worn anywhere in the world. Why should they only be on saris?” added Keshavan.
In addition, the company has created an organic skin, hair and body-care brand to accompany its rtw and accessories collections and is selling the furniture on display, from the looms to a one-off red lacquered lounge chair and hand-carved stones.
“A brand is about a concept and as part of the concept, you have different elements that come into play. It is very organically grown and consumers wearing the clothes will think of the furniture, jewelry and beauty products as one lifestyle,” said Marc Forestier, the brand’s chief executive officer, who previously held management roles at Joseph and Eskandar. He was drawn to the project as he saw a growing interest toward handmade, natural products. “People want to know more about the product they are buying. Everyone can now buy a luxury item, people are looking for items with more meaning,” he said.
Forestier stressed that the brand aims to be inclusive and consciously offers a wide price range, with pieces starting at 200 pounds, or $258, and going up to 2,000 pounds, or $2,581.
“Some of the techniques we are using have partially been used by the couture world. Our aim is to utilize these techniques and the best fabrics, but maintain a price that people can afford,” he added. “This is part of the challenge we are working with because we want people to enjoy the brand and rediscover these traditional techniques without feeling that this is a museum or the clothes are only for special occasions.”
Forestier identified the customer as someone who could shop from the label’s neighbor Acne and pair one of its linen pieces with a pair of jeans by the hip Swedish label, or alternatively as a woman who shops at Jimmy Choo or Victoria Beckham — also located a few blocks away — and would be drawn to the more sophisticated elements of the collection.
“The idea was to embrace a full collection and meet the lifestyle of everybody,” he added.