India is hot right now, and not just because the country is reaching record temperatures. Western creative types are eagerly sampling South Asian culture for bold contemporary fusions. And what director Mira Nair has done for movies and Kid Koala has done for music, single-monikered Jeeti is now doing for fashion.
The Vancouver designer, who's cracked the U.S. market and made luxe silk wraps for the likes of Halle Barry and Sharon Stone, draws from the rich fabrics of her Punjabi heritage. But her looks are more at home in her funky, orange-walled new Yaletown studio/boutique than they would be in the more traditional surroundings of, say, South Main Street.
"I'm not just doing 'Indian' clothes; that's what we're here to prove," stresses Jeeti, surrounded by the stacks of glistening fabrics in her showroom. "It's a blurring of styles; it's fusion. But I face stereotypes: even at Toronto Fashion Week some people said, 'Why don't you sell on Gerard Street?'?" she adds, referring to Hogtown's Indian district.
Raised in Canada by traditional Punjabi parents, Jeeti is just as likely to find inspiration in the historical dress of Victorian England as the latest celluloid musical out of Mumbai. "Movies were a big thing when we were growing up, because we weren't allowed to date or go out," she says. "I think because of those movies, I'm all about glamour."
Jeeti isn't kidding. Among the dazzling eye candy in her fall ready-to-wear collection: spaghetti-strap tank tops that sparkle with rhinestone appliqués over one shoulder; faux-fur wraps that reveal a luminous silk-brocade lining; and chocolate taffeta skirts that are bedecked with dangling orange beads around the hips. It comes as little surprise to learn wedding and grad dresses that involve several fittings and use exquisitely embroidered, made-to-order fabrics. (They can run anywhere from about $2,000 up as high as $10,000.) But it's her 'chí¤-huth ready-to-wear collection that's drawing wider attention: she's now selling in boutiques south of the border.
As Jeeti says, these runway-ready clothes are not at all identifiably "Indian"; you have to speak to the designer to find out the ways her heritage has found its way into her outfits. One long black skirt, which looks like an opaque mini with a sheer pleated panel attached to the bottom, draws on the roomy, body-concealing skirts her grandmother used to wear-except in Jeeti's hands, this look sexily flashes the legs. The tinkling crystal beads that hang from skirts and shawls echo the bells South Asian women wear on their ankles and outfits. "I'm always thinking of the music and the sensuality of the dance, the way our hips move and the jingling of those bells and the ornaments in the hair-the tassels flying through the air," says Jeeti. One of those tassels, a gigantic orange version, finds its way onto a bright-blue sash. Other pieces seem to have sprung as much from her imagination as anywhere else: consider a faux-fur-trimmed brocade cuff that laces up the forearm. (Prices range from about $65 for tanks up to $150-plus for skirts and $198 for wraps; to view, call 604-408-4700.)
Although she's happy to talk about her heritage, Jeeti awaits the day when no one will ask about the Indian elements in her clothing. "Fashion is becoming more and more global, and soon it won't be 'This is an Indian outfit' or 'This is a Chinese outfit.' It'll just be a great outfit."