NEW DELHI: Mrinalini Kumari, a dynamic design professional, a couture producer, a fiercely proud Indian-American and one with a sharp eye for finesse in fashion, spoke to The Daily Guardian all the way from New York in a freewheeling chat, where she insisted that ‘vocal for local’ is not just dressing up the Indian milieu, but also adding great gravitas to global fashion. “The world of global couture would be poorer if it were not for the Indian craftsman, embroiderer, weaver or beader. They are the backbone of global fashion. The silent geniuses who, with their Midas touch, turn everything they craft into priceless gold. Their design ingenuity is inimitable and understanding of fit and form unparalleled. Yet their contribution remains unacknowledged, forgotten, pushed under the carpet. My mission in life is to give ‘Made in India’ an honest place in the global world of design,” said Mrinalini.
A self-made entrepreneur who works with ove r 2 6 5 A m e r i c a n brands, besides the finest of European couture, Mrinalini lives between the US and India, sampling in her design atelier in downtown Manhattan and producing in the heart of Mumbai, where she employs over 6,000 kaarigars, in a factory that is “world-class and steadfastly craftsman-centric”. “Gone are the days when you created couture in dark and dingy sweatshops, tucked away in slums or notorious ghettos. I have set up a fashion production unit in India where my workers can design in pristine peace, assured that they will get proper wages, healthcare and other benefits that must be ensured to anyone who is capable of creating magic with their two hands,” said Mrinalini.
With her transcontinental design enterprise, Mrinalini has not just produced fashion but also dressed iconic music stars like Michael Jackson and Beyonce Knowles. I also started my own label called Renzo and Kai in 2011, which was sold in Saks, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf, etc. Unfortunately, I had to shut that up because being a single mother became very time consuming,” she shared. Raised between India and the US, Mrinalini grew up travelling the world with her family and experiencing the cultural diversities that would come to inspire her life.
A graduate of St Stephen’s College, where she went after her schooling at Welham, she went to New York for college, met her husband, fell in love and stayed there forever. A typical jet setting New Yorker, she has been busy showcasing the craft of leading Indian couturiers and raising funds for noble causes through high-nosed events. She outlined, “I was always proud of Indian design and was lucky to present the contemporary Indian couture journey through fundraisers. I hosted an event for ‘50 Years of India’ with the Indian government and top fashion designers like Mary McFadden and Suneet Varma. Vera Wang and Badgley Mishka also showed their collections.
The event, held at the Metropolitan Club was attended by the who’s who of the town. Then, on the legendary USS Intrepid, I presented the couture of three designers I admire, Meera-Muzaffar Ali, Mary McFadden and Suneet Varma.” It was at one such event that she accidentally bumped into Ralph Lauren and, as they say in fairy tales, “there was no looking back”. “I asked for his time which she agreed on. I had a bag full of samples which he was open-minded enough to view. We met, he placed my first order and there I was ready to embark on a very exciting journey with design,” she shared.
A small production unit was set up, craftsmen handpicked, and an environment for excellence created. “Each one of these craftsmen was a master of his craft, but needed someone like me with an eye for fashion and a sense of design to bring out the best,” she said. Paying attention to the details and guiding their craft in the right direction, she was able to go from ten workers to a hundred, then to a thousand, and is now working with 6,000 craftsmen. Working closely for many years with couturiers and contemporary brands worldwide, Mrinalini’s designs can be found both on the rack and in the archives of celebrated couture houses like Fendi, Oscar De La Renta, Giorgio Armani and Valentino, among many others. She said, “I work with each one on a one-on-one basis, sampling for their next season’s look, working my way to construct the entire collection and then feeling satisfied to see it do well.” Besides couture, Mrinalini is also known to have dressed many music legends. Her designs for Michael Jackson’s ill fated Thriller tour are now archived at a museum. She also dressed Beyonce, which she admits was also by chance. “I met her mother Tina and we instantly hit it off. She felt I understood stage dressing and then, there I was, dressing Beyonce.” Mrinalini is known for her understanding of the gravitas of stage presence and has costumed for many shows on Broadway.
Each of her creations, whether hanging in LA or Milan, is a testimony to the treasure trove of Indian handcrafted design. About the strength of such design, she says, “By combining traditional techniques with modern interpretations, India based couture producers are able to construct distinctive pieces that have only been in our client’s imagination. Handwork and our attention to detail set us apart and allow us to create designs ranging from haute couture to ready to wear, that are both edgy and timeless.”