India's Top New Fashion Designer
Ahead of us is a list of must-see sights on our rapid tour: The Chamundeshwari Temple at the top of the hill, where holy cows are painted for the just-passed Dasara festival. In the daylight, another peek at Mysore Palace, with its monumental Durbar hall and vast grounds, which was once the home to Prince Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, the first governor of Karnataka. My favorite stop is a small local palace not far from the university—Sudha sold a block of her Infosys stock to turn it into a craft museum. Among its treasures is the sandalwood soap Gandhi used when he came to Mysore, which is known for its sandalwood forests.
Then, the best for last. It was Sudha who first met the artist Gurupad, who inspired Akshata’s fall 2011 collection. “You must come back to Mysore immediately,” Sudha told her daughter the day the painter appeared at her office at the Infosys Foundation. He came to Sudha, who was the head of the Infosys Foundation, for a grant. His mission was nothing less than to resurrect the lost art of painting miniature Ganjifa cards, a game played by the Mysore court. Each card contains a miniature masterpiece: gods and goddesses, love scenes, all created in tiny, exquisite brushstrokes. The lucky visit became a catalyst: Akshata was soon in the planning stage.
In the late afternoon at Gurupad’s small house, which is also his studio, we watch him as he sits and paints meticulous gods and goddesses, spending hours on each card. In front of us, a fish and an elephant come alive on the cards. One can see those designs in the pale silk of the Akshata line. “Working with artists is hard work,” Sudha told her daughter the first time she met Gurupad. “They do not think like MBAs.” Taking a break, Akshata shows Gurupad the designs of her new clothes, which will be sold in stores all over America and in India at Moon River, a fashionable design store owned by Columbia Journalism School graduate Radhika Gupta. Gurupad, who used to sell his cards for less than $5, will now earn a royalty on each Akshata dress sold bearing one of his designs. I ask again about the future of the sari. Akshata stops to consider the implications. “The sari is so entrenched in the history of India, it will endure. But to this day, I have never learned to tie one. Each time I wear it, my mother and aunt have to tie it for me.” A pause. “Maybe the time is right to come up with a new design.”
Akshata designs will be sold starting in February at Moon River (moonriverstore.com) in Delhi and Mumbai. A complete list of stores will be available on akshata.com. Part of the fall 2011 collection was inspired by traditional saris and ancient crafts from the city of Mysore. A Mysore silk dress begins at $360. For more information on Akshata Murty and to view her latest collection, go to akshata.com.