A LOVE AFFAIR WITH TORONTO & A STRONG SENSE OF SELF HELP THIS UP-AND-COMING DESIGNER ALONG
Story by Mariam Magsi
Photos by Mike Lewis
Can clothes depict emotion? Anu Raina’s designs surely do. Filled with nostalgia (while still falling into the urban chic category), she is creating clothes that are artistically inspired and experimental. Not shy to express how she feels, this boldness is visible in her colouful, high contrast pieces, and her design progression can be seen through the various textures and materials she works with.
Born in Srinagar, India and now living and working in Canada, Raina’s journey in finding a home away from home is a recurring theme in her work. Her love affair with Toronto is evident in the use of its distinctive skyline in the fabric of her designs. Plaid had the opportunity to chat with the multicultural and insightful fashion designer about her work and what inspires her.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Srinagar, the capital city of Jammu, and Kashmir in India.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
As a child I always lived in a world of imagination. While I did an undergraduate degree in biology, my strong urge to express myself pulled me into the fashion world.
How has your sense of fashion evolved over the years?
Being fairly new in the industry, I feel I’m still in a process of evolution. I’m trying to strike a balance between art and fashion. Sometimes my thought process gets a bit complicated. Editing my work is something I am trying to work on. So far it’s been a great learning curve and I can already see that it’s only getting better.
Do you have formal education in fashion design?
I graduated in fashion design from London College of Fashion in [the] U.K. in 1997. I got married and took a break to raise my kids. In 2010, I graduated from textile program at Sheridan College and started my label in the same year right after graduation.
It’s a competitive industry. How does your work stand out?
It’s a tough industry, but I’m not here to compete with anyone or prove myself a better designer. I’m a storyteller and with each collection I try to tell a new story about things that deeply touch me. My expressions tend to be more autobiographical than trendy. I am grateful that people are able to relate with my simple yet original thoughts.
What are your views on fashion in Toronto?
As a newcomer to the city, one may feel that Torontonians are not very trendy, but as you get more acquainted with the city, you start finding inspiration in the creative mix of street styles that comes from being in the cultural hot pot the city of Toronto is. Just living in this city is an inspiration in itself.
Who are your biggest influences?
I was very influenced by the famous Canadian textile designer Virginia Johnson. I interned with her as a part of my program at Sheridan College. I learned a lot from her, especially how important it is to be yourself and not get overwhelmed by what other people are doing. Rachel MacHenry, former Textile Studio Head at Sheridan College, taught me how to be an explorer, and the famous textile artist Dorothy Caldwell showed me the importance of taking one step at a time. I am deeply thankful to all of them for their guidance and encouragement.
When we see an original Anu Raina, what are we looking at?
A piece of personal memory….
What fashion eras entice your aesthetic appetite the most?
My work is a bit emotional, vulnerable with a hint of nostalgia and vintage chic, so my influences tend to be pretty retro.
What materials do you prefer working with?
Most of the time I stick to natural fabrics, but the explorer within compels me to try other materials. Different weights and contents of fabric can result in an interesting silhouette many a time.
Name some models you would like to work with and why?
I like to work with new faces that do not have an image attached to them. They look fresh and can imbibe my expression for that particular collection completely.
Is there a relationship between art and fashion?
Yes, there is a very strong relationship between art and fashion, [with] art being always the original source. We have seen the influences of Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol – to name a few – in the work of many designers. Fashion always explores art, architecture, cultures or social movements for inspiration – Coco Chanel and Mary Quant being the classical examples.
What colors do you enjoy working with the most? Do various seasons in the year affect your choice in designs and colours?
I am beginning to explore colour now; my work used to be pretty monochromatic and heavy before. Colour palette to me has a very strong relationship with how settled you are with your own being. I am beginning to embrace more colour now.
Different seasons do affect my colour palette. Spring/Summer tends to throw caution to wind and be more light and flirty, where as Fall/Winter somehow always call for heavier themes and darker shades.
Describe your personal style?
Simple, artsy, original, chic. My work is an extension of my own personality.
Would you like to discuss some upcoming projects?
I am currently designing a silk scarf for the Princess Margaret Hospital Charitable event in collaboration with George C boutique in Yorkville. I am also preparing for an art exhibition this coming November, titled Makes Sense on the Body, curated by Melanie Egan, Head of Craft at the Harbourfront Centre. I am also looking forward to the 2012 Ontario Premiers Award Gala night on November 26th; I am one of the nominees from Sheridan College.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring fashion designers?
Be yourself and be at it. It’s tough but you’ll be there for sure. I would love to take this opportunity to thank all the lovely people of this beautiful city for all the love and support they have given me. I hope I can give back someday soon. I love Toronto.