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Culture

Beri Sexy

Celebrated as the "creator of a revolution" in the Indian fashion industry, Ritu Beri is the first Indian fashion designer to show on the Paris runways.

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All the raj - fashion á la Ritu Beri

She looks like the Bollywood stars she dresses. Her long, black hair tucked behind a delicate ear, Ritu Beri gazes seductively into the camera, her perfectly formed lips slightly pursed. "Essence of Feminity", it says in large, bold print, next to the photo.

Both Ritu Beri and the clothes she designs incorporate in their own way, to form "the essence of feminity". First, there's Ritu Beri, 33, an Indian fashion designer with ravishing looks. Then there are the many saris, salwar kameez and wedding dresses she has created, with their rich colours, glossy materials and decorative embroideries.

Both are now so popular that even the likes of Madonna, Gywneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman wear Ritu Beri’s colourful creations, and Beri is the first Indian designer to have made it to the Paris runways.

Bringing traditions alive

But what Ritu Beri may best be known for is her talent to combine new trends with traditional Indian culture.

At first glance, Beri’s fashion looks very – well, Indian. Saris, and salwar kameez, elegant wedding dresses with intricate embroidery make up a large part of her collections. But a second, closer look reveals the famous "Beri" touch: Scarfs (part of the traditional, formal dress) tied in unusual ways, or the traditional short blouses, cholis, made from "western" patterned material.

"I strive to bring alive the traditional Indian motives with a contemporary appeal to suit the taste of today’s women both in India and abroad" she says. But is there a difference between the clothes she designs for the "western" and those for the Indian world of fashion?

Film stars like Kidman, who commissioned Beri with dresses for the premieres of her films Eyes Wide Shut and Moulin Rouge, prefer a touch of India to full-blown Indian garments. But in India, Beri "does Indian clothes", glamorous wedding dresses and colourful outfits for Bollywood films.

Bollywood provided a major boost for Beri's fashions. The moment Bollywood diva Madhuri Dixit was pictured in a magazine wearing one of Beri’s tops in a film, it was quick to find itself within tailor shop walls for copying. What TopShop is for Britain, tailor shops are for India – with the difference that the millions of tailors will make you look the way you want at a fraction of the price.

Indian fashion in its infancy

The fashion industry is just beginning to flower in India. Its roots lie in the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which set up a sister college in New Delhi in 1990. Beri first heard people talking about it over lunch one day, and was intrigued. Beri applied – and was one of the chosen 25 from thousands of applicants. The makeshift school was set up in a shopping mall in a former five-star hotel in New Delhi.

"I soon realized that there is a vast chasm between designing on paper and successfully producing a "creation". But within several months, Beri had already launched her own labal, Lavanya. Her first clients were her friends, who wanted to have the same clothes as those which Beri wore. Nine years later she launched her label again – this time at the haute couture fashion shows in Paris.

Today, Ritu Beri is the first Indian designer to show on the Paris runways. In 2000, Beri moved from haute couture to pret-a-porter, and is now showing her collection for the Paris fashion house Jean Louis Scherrer.

International recognition as an ethnic designer

Reflecting back on the days when her first dresses were hung in a shop for sale outside India, namely at the renowed store Libertys, of London, Beri says "further collections followed, and in a strange way I began to believe that some day I would indeed achieve my goal, to find international recognition not merely as an ethnic designer, but as a cosmopolitan mainstream creator".

With the parade of luminaries -- from Chelsea Clinton to Gwyneth Paltrow -- wearing Ritu Beri, along with many other women all over the world, it appears Beri may be one of the few Indian fashion designers to have gained global acclaim.

"Today, the world is still my oyster, and I appear to have succeeded in prizing it open just a little", she says.