Shop Talk: Grazia India’s Ekta Rajani
Shopping is an art. While some love the process, it can be a real chore for others. For a lot of women it’s a social experience, and for some, it’s a very personal one. Regardless of how one shops, though, personal style can never be identical for two people. The way they shop, the way they style their purchases, how they decide what they need, how they store them… these are the kind of questions we often have when we think about some of the most fashionable people in the industry.
And that’s why we’ve launched the column SHOP TALK, where we identify industry influencers with a unique sense of style and ask them to spill the beans on how they think about their personal style, where they shop, what they splurge on, and their fashion weaknesses and confessions!
If you follow Indian fashion closely, then Ekta Rajani’s name will not be unknown to you. The uber stylish Fashion Director of Grazia India is responsible for some of our favourite magazine covers, as well as campaigns for brands like Bungalow 8 and several others. Her fashion nous and knowledge is deep and her sense of aesthetics leaves us in awe. A minimalist when it comes to fashion, Ekta’s style is all about quality and comfort.
Read on to know more about what makes her tick — and click! — when it comes to all things shopping and style.
How would you describe your personal style?
To me, style is an extension of a person’s lifestyle and state of mind. What you do, how you travel, hobbies, activities, the pace of life, tastes, and more so, what you believe in. Over the years, my lifestyle has changed. If you’d known me 10 years ago, I was very hyperactive and trend-driven. Today, I live easy and with some thought to things hence I give preference to cuts that flatter me, fabrics with a soft hand feel, and comfortable clothing. For me, comfort is above everything else, along with style, of course!
Tell us about your earliest memory of fashion and shopping. Who was your style inspiration growing up?
I remember being drawn to attractive things when I was young. For most women, it begins with their mother’s wardrobe. And it was the same for me — my first experience of style started there. She’s always been detailed, understated, and elegant — be it her perfumes or her shoes. Back in the day, women always carried handkerchiefs. And my mother had these handcrafted lace and crochet-trimmed kerchiefs that I was fascinated with. She would also take my brother and I to a children’s tailor for our clothes — this lovely Parsi lady called Komi — who was very craft-oriented and would make me some lovely birthday frocks. Mom sought this lady out, and she did very delicate hand-stitch work on my frocks. I remember how special those dresses always felt. Frankly, even though we didn’t have all the money in the world to indulge too much, there was always this interest in craft. There was always a sense of appreciation and awareness for detail.
How did your choice of work inform and influence your style in the early years?
I graduated in design from SNDT College and was designing for a good eight to nine years. Running a workshop and taking care of design, manufacturing, accounts and everything else by myself was quite hard, so I was looking for a change. A classmate from college was a stylist at Elle India back then, and she approached me to help out with a freelance assignment as she had to travel suddenly. That’s how styling found me. Though it started out as fun, before I knew it I was doing it seriously. Also, I worked with Be: by Raymond — one of India’s first multi-designer prêt stores. We’d commission the work for the annual lookbook to Elle, and I used to be the liaison between the media house and my company. From doing those shoots and seeing Mohan (Neelakantan, Elle’s former fashion director) at work, it seemed like a lot of fun. When I quit Be: I started freelancing as a stylist immediately.
Thrifting and vintage shopping – is this something you do a lot of?
I am very spontaneous with my shopping and tend to pick up things when I am travelling. It could be from a thrift shop or a men’s store, or even a non-descript label. I usually pick up one or two things, not more. Nice cuts and fabrics interest me a lot, along with good design and comfort. In Paris, Marais has a lot of vintage/thrift shops. It is a nice place to go if that’s the mood. My haunt in Delhi is Sarojini Nagar — all of us have gone there at one point or another. Some of the best thrift shopping I’ve done is in Paris though.
Do you like shopping to be a social thing with friends, or is it something you prefer to do on your own?
I like shopping alone; since it is a professional habit. I know what I want, I go there and finish it off. Having said that, once in a while it is nice to do it with friends because they might nudge you towards something that you may not otherwise try, and you may just surprise yourself.
What about your favourite online shopping stores? How do you go about shopping online?
I’m one of those oddballs who is not an online shopper. Like at all. I am a very tactile person and prefer to touch and feel clothes before I buy them. Also, my size hasn’t changed for a long time and I don’t manhandle my clothes, so I generally recycle and mix and match my old pieces. I actually have some pieces from 10 years ago! There are these bell bottoms I picked up way back and I still wear them now that they are back in favour. I have a wardrobe filled with separates that allows me to experiment. Plus, it’s not a large wardrobe as I like keeping it manageable.
When I was younger, I confess I was part of the trend treadmill, but it’s a great way to try many things and ultimately learn what works for you. Over the last few years, however, I’ve recycled so many of my old styles. Not that I don’t buy new stuff, but since I’m always styling new things at work I get the thrill of experiencing them anyway. As far as online stores are concerned, Koovs does a good job in India. ASOS is on everyone’s list because it gives you great trends at affordable prices. Another website I love checking out is Not Just A Label. They make an effort to find interesting labels from all over the world. Then there’s Net-a-Porter; their magazine is fantastic and it is also curated brilliantly.
Your favourite high street brands? Do you shop in-store or online?
I often shop from & Other Stories, but I find myself wearing more and more Indian designers than high street brands now. Of course, I visit brands like Zara and H&M from time to time for basics and that odd fun piece, but I’m loving the experience of what the new generation of Indian designers is doing with prêt. The stories behind Made In India clothes today is truly fascinating. The touch, the feel, the construction — the fabrics and details are traditional but the cuts complement our contemporary lifestyle and weather so well. It’s so glocal and that’s what I am more inclined to now.
What are the items of clothing you prefer to invest in?
Everything I buy has to have quality. I enjoy aging with my clothes! I’d rather have fewer pieces that are nicely made than many pieces that are not-so-nicely made. What matters to me is fabric, design, and finish. I just picked up a Chloé winter coat — it is expensive, interestingly-designed, feels good on the skin, and fits amazingly. I also got a striped tunic set from Akaaro in handloom cotton that is super to wear from work to evening. Easy, soulful and stylish — these things matters to me.
If you look inside your closet, what are the items you have the most of?
White shirts! I have a lot of them in cotton, actually. I even wear cotton and linen to formal occasions; I don’t stick to the notion of silks and shine for evening wear. You can dress up a simple look by adding a dash of lipstick or statement earrings. If you feel good and comfortable, you generally look good too.
How often do you shop?
I am a travel shopper. I shop when I am out and about. When you’re in this profession, it may seem like the need to shop increases as you see clothes every day. But for me, it’s exactly the opposite. I’m sure I have more clothes than most people, but definitely not as much as people assume I do because I am from the industry! I try keeping it manageable.
The thrill of the hunt – is that something you enjoy? Or are you the sort of person who knows exactly what you want?
I used to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. A few years ago, I would get very excited to find something new and rare. I loved flea market shopping, the idea of rummaging around to find something unique was a big draw. But now, I still check out many stores (it’s a professional hazard!) but am not necessarily shopping. I might just pick up one piece.
Do you set a budget for shopping each month?
I usually weigh the pros and cons while shopping. I understand quality and price. For instance, coats, like the one I picked up from Chloe. It has a price tag but is worth it for the quality, design and the fact that it will last a long time. At the same time, I am not an exorbitant shopper. Every year, I will make a couple of big ticket indulgences but the rest of my shopping is very moderate. I am always willing to pay for quality. And also, with growing awareness in terms of labels paying a fair wage, having better quality controls for their supply chain, and creating the right kind of work environment for them, I am actually willing to pay that extra price for a well-made product. I can’t dissociate myself with such things; I find myself for looking for products that are ethical and sustainable.
Do you have any default outfits — pieces you keep going back to over and over again?
A white shirt has got to be it. One particular one would be this Tommy Hilfiger white shirt I took from my brother’s wardrobe. It’s clean and well-constructed; I can glam it up or wear it with jeans. Also, I have a lot of jackets that I keep going back to, like this chikankari georgette Tarun Tahiliani one I have from a few seasons ago. There’s also an Anamika Khanna shawl. Then these three dupatta-waist coats from 11.11 that I wear a lot of — their arm holes have been cut strategically from a tie-dye marble dupatta; it’s an easy-to-wear layer on anything. Also, this green jacquard shimmer dress from a brand called Ahilya. There are actually many pieces.
Are you a high heels or flats kinda woman?
I am a flats kind of woman. I am tall, so I don’t really need heels. But sometimes it feels nice to tower above everybody! But I look for the more comfortable elements of height than the painful ones. No favourites from anywhere, I am more partial to a style than a brand. I’ve worn everything from Birkenstocks to Jimmy Chooß. I have a lot of flats from Minelli — a high-street brand from Paris. And sneakers — the best footwear trend ever. From Bata to Gucci, it’s the best thing to wear on anything.
Pants or skirts?
Pants, any day! I have a lot of trousers from & Other Stories, flea markets, even Dolce & Gabbana. I have this amazing pair from a brand called Rue du Mail that I picked up from Joseph during one of my shopping trips in London. The construction is brilliantly engineered. It’s poetic.
What is the size of your closet? How do you store expensive items like couture saris, evening dresses, etc?
I have a fair amount of stuff — two cupboards of clothes, a small cabinet with bags, and one with shoes. And I separate things based on category; I like maintaining it that way. Over the years, I’ve collected a few expensive Indian ensembles — saris from Sanjay Garg and Anavila, Rashmi Varma, Pankaj & Nidhi, Tarun Tahiliani, Rajesh Pratap Singh, and more. That said, I also have saris picked up from my trips to Bangalore and Chennai.
Do you plan your fashion week wardrobe? What is your thought process when selecting outfits?
I make rough mental notes; you know, every six months you have these new pieces and I know those will form a big part of what I am wearing. But no, I won’t do a fashion show in front of the mirror days before Fashion Week.
Do you get things tailored to fit or prefer to buy off the racks?
When it comes to Indian wear, I have my pieces altered because I am lean and so I need some fitting. But for my Western wear, I like things slightly oversized.
How do you plan your daily outfits? Is there a method to the madness?
I wear a lot of shirts and trousers. I also wear kurtas and loose pants to work. If I have a couple of meetings, I do plan my outfits a little; maybe just accessorise it. I like my accessories to be comfortable — I’m more inclined to statement pieces that are minimal.
What was your most recent purchase?
I’ve recently bought yet another white shirt, from Lovebirds!