From dreaming in movie theatres to designing colourful jackets for Salman Khan and restarauteur A.D. Singh, fashion designer Ajay Kumar's life is the stuff of well... cinema! His style - body-skimming shirts and jackets imprinted with lotuses, tigers and prancing peacocks, white shoes that feature coconut palms - is a bold declaration of his colourful personality. But naturally, he made a splash when he was feted as ‘the find’, at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2015-16. This homegrown, explosive city talent talks to Aksheev Thakur about his journey from a small town in Jharkhand to the sets of Sultan.
The flamboyant menwear line that paraded down the ramp at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2015-16, were a perfect reflection of the larger-than-life personality of their designer. Ajay Kumar, whose store Aqurator Designs pops out of the dusty bylanes of HSR Layout, adorned in brightly coloured printed fabrics. Kumar welcomes you in. As he slips into his favourite jacket which has 'bold' written all over it - prancing peacocks, roaring tigers and delicate lotuses, his is the story of a small town boy with big dreams – from the steel town of Bokaro, Jharkhand, that does not offer its children a range of aspirations outside engineering and medicine to Bengaluru, where he's now a byword for fashion!
Growing up, the young Ajay lost himself in the movie theatres. It's where cinema opened his eyes to a bright new world. “After I finished school, I went to IHM Ahmedabad to study hotel management. My heart was always in fashion, though,” he says.
He decided to leave behind his career in hotel management, with the support of his parents, which in itself was unusual back then in Bihar. He spent 13 years working with men’s retail brands like Blackberry’s, Indigo Nation, Reid & Taylor and Peter England. His journey grew in the corporate world and continued to inspire his collections through the years.
“It was the revamp of Peter England’s casual wear that started it,” he says. To corporate style he brought his own flair, splashing out in colours that men had hitherto shunned - oranges, bright pinks and turquoise that hadn’t been seen before but which caught everyone's attention with his ability to take the traditional and make it contemporary.
Through it all, his wife, Lavanya Venkataraman, also a designer, stood unwaveringly by his side. “She put her faith in me when I decided to start my own studio,” he recalls. “She’s also one of my most vocal critics.”
When he decided to create a collection based on the lotus, she told him Rohit Bal had many great creations on the same theme. “I told her that I could neither compare myself to nor replicate his genius.” As it turned out, the 15-member jury that voted unanimously in his favour at the Lakme Fashion Week included Rohit Bal, who shook hands with the young man who cut a dash like no other at the event, and applauded his work.
Ajay's label, is strongly rooted in its Indianness and the designer has strong views on the government’s plans to promote Khadi. “I don’t think that khadi needs to be limited to kurtas and pyjamas, which cannot be presented on a global platform. We need to try something new and innovative, or we will not give it the recognition it deserves.”
The conversation veers back to movies and Kumar’s face lights up at once. This was where it all began – which actor would he like to dress today? “Saif Ali Khan,” he smiles, “he has the look of royalty.”
His major breakthrough in Bollywood happened through designer Ashley Rebello, who worked with actor Salman Khan. He was asked to design a white, printed jacket for a song in the movie Sultan. “Ashley believed in me and Salman loved it too,” he said. “I believe I what I do. That’s why people appreciate my work.”
Studying fashion trends is a full time job and staying ahead is tough. Women’s trends are constantly changing while with men, trends go back and forth. “The young lot of fashion enthusiasts are knowledgeable and their exposure brings a lot to the table,” he says. “Flared pants are back in demand for men, like the 70s!”
Ajay stays close to his Indian-ness, despite the growing spotlight on fusion wear. “I want to take India to global platforms,” he remarks. “Five years ago, we had to travel abroad to see emerging trends, but today, they come to us. The brands and designers are evolving.”
"Negativity makes my personality" – he says surprisingly. “It’s an essential part of all our lives. If I had nothing but positivity, I would be dead!”
The ballistic fashion trends colours all his future plans, Ajay considers his wife to be his life support and their four-year-old son, it seems, is already showing a keen eye for style!