By Vidya Pradhan
Stepping into Swati Couture’s tiny studio in Milpitas is like entering a fairy tale world, shimmering and sparkling with color. All around you are gorgeous dresses embroidered intricately and embedded with gems and sequins. Even at first glance it is evident that this is not one of your run of the mill desi outfit store, but a place for the princess in you.The creator of this magical queendom is Swati Kapoor, designer and style entrepreneur. She gives me a mini tour of the studio and I am captivated. The first stop is the hand painted sari line, developed specially for a fashion exhibition at the Pleasanton library. Each sari is like a painting, with detailed images of temples and other Indian icons. The work is astonishing, unique. “What about repeat value?” I ask her. “These are pieces that people wouldn’t forget.” “If you want repeat value, buy a t-shirt from Gap!” is her acerbic reply.
There are other sari collections, all paired with jazzy corsets that stand alone as tops. Indeed, many of her customers end up pairing them with jeans to make a striking statement.
Her intuitive sense of the Indian female form is best exploited in her prêt line. This has a lot of basic blacks, from trousers to skirts to tops. For petite sizes, she emphasizes the back whereas larger sizes are cut to conceal. All the tops are hip-friendly, making them very comfortable and versatile. Her jamawar and batik jackets are perfect for the ever changing Bay Area climate. The shawls and stoles starting at around $60 offer a reasonably priced entry into the SWATI line. A line of luxury bed linen features exquisite embroidery and painting on silk fabrics.
Swati Couture’s bridal line is the showpiece of the studio and she has custom designed bridal wear for both Indians and Americans. Neeraja Narayanan found Swati when she was planning to get married in a simple ceremony in San Francisco. She was looking for an Indian outfit but was unhappy with the quality of the clothes in the various Indian shops around Berkeley. Swati wrote her a creative brief and Neeraja agreed on the design of the most important dress of her life, sight unseen. “I was just blown away!” she fondly remembers, “She completely got what I was looking for – a traditional Indian lehenga which was also tasteful and classic.” The teal outfit with matching jewellery from Swati Couture was a wonderful foil to her husband’s tuxedo.
About 50% of Swati Couture’s customers are non-Indian. Beth Johnson is a loyal and frequent client. She is impressed with the studio’s workmanship and attention to detail. “American women tend to shy away from color,” she says, “so when I show up at black tie events wearing vivid outfits with cut-away shoulders, embroidery and beading, I look fabulous. And when people tell me I look good, I know the dress is working.” Swati Couture’s clothes are pieces of art to her.
The prices reflect the meticulous attention that goes into each design but are not unaffordable. “Wearing nice clothes has little to do with money. My best customers are not my wealthiest ones,” says Swati. “‘Shaukeen hain bas’. They want the best when it comes to clothes.”
She prefers the term “Indian origin fashion” to describe her style. Some of the very avant garde outfits with embroidered and sequined bodysuits have an MTV look that is sure to appeal to Indian teenagers here. “I am a little ahead of the fashion curve,” she admits ruefully. “It takes about 8 months for the designs to catch on. Sometimes people see a particular outfit in a TV serial that they come to me about and I have to remind them that I carried it in the previous season!” She worries about imitators but is confident that no one can replicate the cut of her clothing. “Swati Couture is the little secret of my customers. What sets us apart is not just the fabric and the workmanship but the way the clothes fit.”
With Mother’s Day coming up, take a few moments to pamper yourself with one of Swati’s creations. As she says, “There is so much regular stuff in your life that once in a while you need to feel like a celestial being.” Her newest collection, inspired by temple jewelry from South India, is sure to take your breath away.
Swati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.