House Of Urmi's Contemporary Silhouettes Invoke Kerala's Distinct Cultural Identity

House Of Urmi's Contemporary Silhouettes Invoke Kerala's Distinct Cultural Identity
House Of Urmi

“If there is anyone that I really wish to see wearing my art, it’s Mammootty," Anjali Ashok of House of Urmi tells me when we sit down to talk about her truly Malayali fashion label. This little off hand comment from Anjali is reflective of many aspects of her as a person, and of Urmi as a label. She calls her pieces her art, not her clothes or pieces and in talking to her and hearing of the forethought that goes into each collection brings out, it is easy to understand her stance. The fact that her dream is to see Mammooty wearing her pieces, despite them having already been noticed by other celebrities, is reflective of her personal identity. A true Malayali through and through, she loves the slow life, the quietness of living away from the rush of the main city of Kochi, to create her art. She grew up watching Mammooty and Mohanlal movies. She immerses herself in old Malayalam songs while creating her art and is inspired by the history, the culture, and the many diverse facets of Kerala. 

I first chanced upon Anjali as a portrait artist who had become renowned for capturing a moment that many could only dream of; recreating scenes with a loved one a person may have lost during a crucial time in their life like a wedding or graduation. Before House of Urmi came into the picture she was already doing work that was truly unique and touched many hearts. While she continues to create these portraits through her page 'Stories Untold By Anjali’, the authenticity and intention that she brought to her portraits carried through when she officially started her label in June of 2023. 

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While it is barely a year old, House of Urmi as a fashion label is the definition of bootstrapping. When we sat down to discuss the brand for this feature, she had pieces of fabric and tracing paper with designs for the collection that will be out by the time this article is published. The second time we meet at a Suta Bombay event, she is carrying a paper bag that is filled with orders that she has to drop off on her way back home. She dons many hats and is involved every step of the way; from creating the art to packing the pieces, and sometimes even being the model, while her best friend photographs her.

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There were many things that set House of Urmi and Anjali’s approach to her label that I could relate to as a Malayali, but what is undeniable is that her art speaks volumes. It is the effort that she puts into each facet of her creative practice that eventually translates into her finished works. She takes months to immerse herself in and learn about the theme of her next collection. “To create our Koothu line, we actually went and did a two day workshop and spent time with one of the last two families remaining in Kerala who are practising the dying craft of Tholpaavakoothu," she explains. "The effort that goes into making each piece and the intricacy of that is what inspired the art and the collection.”

But her latest collection is something that Anjali could barely contain her excitement about while talking. ‘The Artist’s Edit, Vol.1’ is an ode to the timeless artistry of Raja Ravi Varma. While she was inspired by his art, his approach and even the story behind them, Anjali reinterpreted his iconic works to make it her own. While some feature coquettish, modernised version of Raja Ravi Varma’s famous work 'Hamsa Damayanthi', a stand out piece from the collection is a charcoal portrait of a woman that draws from his art style. The features of the woman he has drawn and even the finer details, are offset by the word ‘vara’ which translates to ‘draw’. It's a contemporary yet culturally rooted ode by Anjaly for one of her personal favourite artists. Paired with simple bralettes or worn as shirts, these pieces have become favorites for those who covet House of Urmi's drops.

But it's not all art and collaborating with friends when it comes to creating these pieces, especially when going at it alone. There were aspects to the actual production were hard for Anjali. But despite all the challenges she rattled off when asked about, as an artist first, and a designer second with with only the support of her family and friends, there is one refrain that she repeated through the conversation in Malayalam. While I wish I could translate the beauty of those short words in English, I cannot, but it essentially translates to, "If it’s for Urmi, I’ll do it". She had to find printers in Punjab to get the material printed with her art, as there were a lack of local vendors providing service of such quality. She also had to turn down many creators and influencers who asked for free pieces as a new label, in exchange for ‘promotion’, because she felt they didn’t understand the nuances and intricacies of her work. But in doing all those things, she was setting up the ground to be noticed by the right people. Her pieces being discovered by Vicky Kaushal’s designer for Delhi almost seemed like a "scam", she confessed to me. But as the conversation progressed and she actually saw him wearing it at the height of his viral fame, she realised that holding off and staying resolute in the value she holds for her art was the right move. It wasn't a scam; it was serendipity. Her design was also in turn noticed by Vir Das' stylist and was worn by him, when he was fresh off his Emmy win.

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Today, Anjali is focused on slowly but surely growing House of Urmi and she speaks about how she is in no rush. Sure, she is constantly on the move and yes, the brand is essentially an extension of herself at this point, but she finds enough value in what she creates and knows what her intention for House of Urmi is. Most importantly, there is a small but loyal community that cheers her on. So for Anjali at this point, every piece from the label is her art and that is all that matters. They are not trendy pieces, but something she creates in the hope that people will cherish and appreciate them, for the refined pieces of art that they certainly are. 

Follow House of Urmi here.

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