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  • Nov 26, 2014
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Fashion designer Saloni Lodha returns to Hong Kong

Globetrotting designer Saloni Lodha returns with a label that mixes cultures and lifestyles, writes Jing Zhang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 9:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 9:32am
 

Whether she's traversing the busy streets of Mumbai, sipping cocktails in a chic bar in Hong Kong or taking high tea at a traditional restaurant in London's Mayfair, designer Saloni Lodha is the type who fits in almost anywhere.

Some Hongkongers might not be familiar with her name, but many international jet-setters are fans of the Saloni clothing label. Naomi Watts, Jennifer Hudson and even state figures such as Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron have been seen in her outfits.

"Our clothes are easy to wear and can take a woman from a wedding to the office," Lodha says. "I design for a woman with a multifaceted lifestyle. She is a working woman and a mother juggling many things but still wanting to look her best."

The Indian designer and mother of one recently relocated from London (where she will keep her studio) to a home on The Peak because of her husband's job. Her eponymous brand, launched in 2007, now counts Harrods, Selfridges, Barneys and netaporter.com among major stockists, and she sells as far afield as Miami, Dubai, Moscow and Japan.

"I feel I live this global, nomadic life between countries as my home and office are in different countries. This definitely comes through in my brand."

Having lived in India, Seoul, Hong Kong (this is her second stint in the city) and London, Lodha knows about traversing different cultures, time zones and lifestyles. That global outlook is a key part of the brand.

Featuring bright prints, clever draping and flattering silhouettes, the brand is more than just another take on modern boho. It is much more spontaneous, punchier and more contemporary.

Spring-summer's graphic floral prints, easy shift dresses and striking, on-point two-pieces are playful, yet super confident. Pre-autumn gets loose and languid, with plenty of maxis and elegant wide leg pants, while her latest autumn-winter 2014 collection is more film noir, with dramatic volumes featuring deep reds, blacks and cosmic looking prints.

"I will be travelling between the three cities now," says the glamorous new mother. Hong Kong is home, but she'll visit London four times a year to design the collections and to attend fashion weeks, and Bombay to see family and visit factories.

Her aesthetic is built on being boldly feminine and carefree. But her prices are key, with statement dresses going for HK$3,000 to HK$6,000.

"I think we offer a great price point for the quality of product we offer. We also combine the sense of Indian craftsmanship to our products with a cosmopolitan London sensibility that differentiates us from other brands."

What has been appealing for clients is that her designs are also full of infectious positivity, much like her personality and cracking smile. And like the designer herself, the clothes come with a certain amount of attitude and whimsy. She mines her Indian heritage but avoids literal translations, instead utilising bold colours and cool patterns.

"I grew up in a small town in India with no access to Western fashion," she says. "My love affair with textiles began at a very young age. The women in my community only wore sarees and my grandfather owned a fabric shop."

It was her first move to Hong Kong in 2001 that properly started the fashion bug.

"It was dominated exclusively by luxury brands, so I saw a gap in the market for something more personal. I decided to set up pop-up boutiques and sell one-off pieces made in collaboration with artisans back home."

Lodha trained in fashion only after her return to London in 2004, taking a short course at Central Saint Martins, then doing work experience, before setting up her label in 2007.

"Inspiration can be from anywhere, really - photographs, books, films, everyday life," she says. Energetic colour palettes, modern silhouettes that incorporate classic femininity are her starting points each time. Each season Saloni and her team set out to define a muse and create a story around her.

"There were two seasons, in particular, where I explored the idea to the very last detail - the Jodhpur Jackie collection and spring-summer 2013 when we shot a coffee table book with David Dunan and did a film with Ruth Hogben in Marrakech. The book was a glimpse into the rhythm and rituals of a day in the life of our fictional muse."

Collaborations with artists and artisans remain at the core of the brand, giving it an edge over competitors. One season, instead of a fashion show, Saloni opted for a film project, with the help of noted photographer Ellen von Unwerth.

"I happened to be at a dinner with Ellen when I told her about my idea about doing a short film based on photographs I had seen of Jacqueline Kennedy's 1962 tour to India - in particular, those of the celebrations on her arrival in Rajasthan with the Maharani Gayatri Devi."

Von Unwerth was hooked on the idea of reimagining this whirlwind journey, and the Jodhpur Jackie project was under way. It was a fitting expression of the "inquisitive and free-spirited" woman Saloni designs for.

Living in and moving around different countries constantly for past 10 years, "has certainly been beneficial for her design process", she says. It has provided a perspective on what different women around the world look for, which she hopes will help the clothes appeal to a broader cross-section of women.

Her inspiration often relates to a blending of cultures and exploration. This attitude, along with the competitive pricing, will likely appeal to Hong Kong and mainland customers. The middle classes here have increasing fashion clout, and the Saloni brand is a welcome and eclectic addition to the local scene. "I would love to build our penetration in this market now that I am living here again," Lodha says. "There's great appreciation of fashion here, so it will be exciting for us to explore."

jing.zhang@scmp.com

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