Few in India’s fast-evolving fashion industry have achieved as much global fame as she has. Her stylistic expressions go beyond mere fashion statements, and have helped make India’s fashion reach global. As fashion designer Ritu Beri strode in the room wearing casual attire and a ravishing smile, I realized that her sense of style extends to her personality, too. But she says she is inspired by life: ”Every new day comes with new ideas, inspirations and dreams.”
Inspiration and Training
Beri was drawn to fashion after watching how immaculately her parents dressed.
“I remember as a child, my mother used to light up the army evenings with not just her looks, but also her impeccable style,” Beri said. “She has always had a lovely collection of chiffon saris, which she wore with her trademark pearls. My father, a former army man, was fastidious about his appearance and would always wear his clothes with great elan.”
Beri, who graduated from Delhi University in 1987, first designed clothes for herself and her close friends before joining the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in 1988.
“My experience at [NIFT] was amazing. What caught my fancy was that there was a strict selection procedure in the first batch of NIFT,” she said. “Only 25 students would be chosen from the entire country. How could I resist that challenge?” She added: “NIFT really made me who I am today.”
Tailoring Her Dream
After graduating from NIFT, instead of looking for jobs like most students, she set up Lavanya, her own fashion studio in 1990 on the first floor of her residence in Greater Kailash, in New Delhi.
“I was quite clear that I wanted to launch my own fashion label. I wanted to be my own boss,” said Beri.
According to her, Lavanya set out to enhance the inner beauty of women.
Beri said, “The challenge was to reach and develop my own niche market, to be known among the classes and as well as the masses. The problem of distribution, promotion, and the huge cost of building a brand was there. I did a lot of shows – domestically and internationally – to achieve my desired position.”
Soon Beri was making an impact on the big bad world of fashion. She drew global attention after setting up Liberty, a successful venture in London in 1992. Her first international show was held at the Festival of India in 1994 in Beijing. Since then, the Ritu Beri label has gained fame nationally and internationally.
“In 1995, I presented a collection in India inspired by France after spending three months in Paris and working with Francois Lesage’s atelier during the haute couture week in Paris,” said Beri, who trained under Lesage in 1994. She considers herself as a protégé of Lesage.
She is also a big fan of Jean Paul Gaultier.
“I love his style and how he creates fashion using India as an inspiration,” she said.
In July 1998, Beri launched her maiden luxe collection in Paris, soon after showcasing her work across the globe — in cities like Beijing, New York, Washington D.C., and Cairo, and in countries like Mauritius, Morocco, and Russia, to critical acclaim.
RBBF and India Fashion Week
Beri considers the launching of her ‘Ritu Beri Fashion Fraternity’ in 1997 among her more significant projects. RBFF was conceived as a platform for young aspiring designers, which eventually snowballed into India’s first Fashion Week.
“In 2000, I flagged off the first Fashion Week in India (Lakme India Fashion Week). Also, I collaborated and associated with L’OREAL Paris and FTV and then later helped it to be launched it in India,” elaborated the fashion guru while talking about the high points of her career.
Success with Scherrer
Heading the Ready-to-Wear section of Jean Louis Scherrer in 2002 was a major achievement. Beri held the position for a little more than a year. This was the first time an Asian designer had headed a globally renowned French fashion house, and designed their prêt-a-porter collections.
“It was a dream come true and an ultimate break for me,” Beri said. “I was supposed to direct the vision for the brand and would often had to travel to promote it. My appointment facilitated the entry of India into the top echelons of international fashion.
The Style Ambassador
Discussing her creations, Beri said, “I strive to bring alive traditional Indian motifs with a modern appeal to suit the taste of today’s women. Intricate embroidery, applique work and embellishments are essential characteristics of my designs.”
Beri believes in classics.
“I have had people say they love wearing what they bought several years ago and it still feels like new,” she said.
Beri also founded The Luxury League, a not-for-profit foundation that promotes the concept of luxury and creative thinking, and aims to strengthen India’s influence in the global luxury market.
Evolution of the Industry
Beri feels India’s fashion industry has undergone a metamorphosis since 1990.
“Back then, fashion had an elitist connotation,” she said. “It was not considered serious business. Fashion was more to do with ritual dressing, like dressing for weddings, festivals, etc. But now it is more about being well dressed and trendy all the time. Today, the Indian fashion scene is seeing interesting times with the economy opening up.”
She acknowledges that the Indian fashion design industry is still a fringe player in an arena dominated by branded, ready-to-wear clothing.
Exploring the Unlikely
Even after more than three decades, Beri refuses to rest on her laurels. She has a wide range of clothing, for every strata of society.
As Beri describes herself, she explains that she wishes to “work in an inspired mode with what fires my passion. To carve a road where there is none,”
Awards for Ritu
Some of the many awards and accolades Ritu Beri has earned:
- Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government for contributing to the enrichment of Indo-French cultural relationship.
- The Lady of the Order of Civil Merit by the Spanish government.
- The Kalpana Chawla Excellence award.
- The Mahila Shiromani Award.
- In 1999, she became the first Indian fashion designer to present a collection at the Paris Fashion Week.
- In 2016, the Indian government made her an advisor to the Khadi & Village Industries Commission.
- In 2019, she was appointed as a chief design consultant for TRIFED, under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- The Uzbekistan Ministry of Tourism appointed her their cultural and tourism ambassador in India.
Designed by Ritu
Beri has designed for a galaxy of celebrities, including Bollywood stars like Vidya Balan, Madhuri Dixit, Akshay Kumar, Sushmita Sen, Rani Mukherjee, Neha Dhupia, Katrina Kaif, and Aishwarya Rai. Mumbai’s late socialite Parmeshwar Godrej and the reigning empress of India’s herbal beauty business, Shahnaz Hussain were/are only a few other celebs in Ritu’s long list of clients.She has also designed for former US president Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, and Hollywood celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Elizabeth Jagger, Ivana Trump, Cher, Katie Holmes, and Ursula Andress.