Fashion

Shwetambari Mody is Bringing Indian Craftsmanship to New York

This rising designer just dropped her first eponymous collection of fine silk garments and cashmere scarves.
Reading time 6 minutes
Shwetambari Mody in her design studio.

The clothes on the rack in Shwetambari Mody’s Upper West Side apartment are a mix of fine silks and cashmere, foil embroidery, and hand-crafted tassels. The designer sifts through them like she’s done it a thousand times before, stopping to show me a printed blouse or thin belt. She has, in fact, done this many times. Since launching Shwetambari last August, she says this rack has served as her primary wardrobe. 

“I have so many clothes sitting here and if I buy one more thing, I think my husband will kill me 'cause we have no more closet space,” she laughs. 

The garments are undoubtedly flexible, made to be dressed up or dressed down as we all make the transition from lockdown back into the outdoors. Mody’s silk, printed jumpsuit would look just as luxurious on your couch as it would running to work in an office building. 

“It's like that very versatile concept behind it, because again, this happened during the pandemic and I was sick and tired of seeing myself in sweatpants,” explains Mody. “I was like, ‘Okay, how am I going to zhuzh that up?’ And you know, I would like to sit in silk at home.”

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Left: Kashmir Lounge Pant and Jaipur Robe Short, Right: Solid Malabar Cape

The Fine Print Collection, Mody’s first official offering, is a rotation of silk tops, bottoms, jumpsuits, dresses, kaftans, and capes. The simple silhouettes are, upon closer examination, carefully accentuated with bits of detailing, courtesy of Indian garment-makers. 

Mody herself grew up in Mumbai, later moving to New York City for college at the Fashion Institute of Technology, then to Paris for an MBA in luxury brand management at ESSEC Business School. After paying her dues working in fashion business, Mody took a chance a few years back and started designing her own collection. At first, she offered up a line of scarves printed with her original artwork.

“When I got married, that's when I decided to quit my job with GBG, Global Brands Group. But instead of just jumping into it, I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to dip my feet into the pool,' and I did a collection for my wedding. I just enjoyed working with the artists in India. I enjoyed working with my manufacturer and he's been a part of my journey ever since.”

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Top Left: Printed Goa Kaftan, Top Right: Arga Skirt Long, Bottom: Delhi Night Shirt

For her new collection, the swirling, multi-colored prints are taken from Mody’s resin pours, a method that creates a marbled effect on canvas. The garments themselves are loose fitting, complimenting the motion of the pattern with a movement all their own. Silk belts finished off with lines of tassels give the wearer some shape. Embroidered on every piece is an S-shaped bird, the logo of the brand. 

When I inquire about it’s origin, Mody asks, “Are you a Harry Potter fan?” 

The bird is revealed to be a cross between Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawks, and a peacock, the national bird of India. There’s a multiculturalism that runs through Mody’s designs, inspired by her numerous travels and, mostly, her mother.

“She's got the best sense of style and this personality that goes with it. It wasn't literally about what she wears, it's kind of how she wears it,” explains Mody. “The whole thing about not following trends or whatever, that all comes from my mother. She's got a very, very cool sense of style. Even my home, it kind of reflects my home in India. We grew up around this mix between yes, you can do the traditional stuff, but then you throw in something crazy and wild and make it all your own.”

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Bottom Left: Solid Malabar Cape, Bottom Right: Taj Jumpsuit

So in her clothing, Mody aims to capture a whole host of influences: the Parisians’ easy sensibilities, New Yorkers’ penchant for the avant-garde, and the elaborate craftsmanship of Indian garment-makers. Though the first two are often lauded worldwide, the latter is rarely included in international conversation. Mody noticed this discrepancy in her years of working in fabric R&D. 

“There are some fabrics that actually do come out of India. But if you're going to nickel and dime your manufacturer, you're not going to get the right quality no matter where you go. So, there's this connotation that India is just cheap and fast, but that's not the case, which is what I wanted to show.”

The detailing Mody includes in her garments is impressive. Foil snakes coil around the neck of a cape—a contemporary take on the Indian practice of mirrored clothing—while multicolored tassels cascade off another. These trades, Mody says, are taught by father to son, passed down through generations of workers. The tradition is also, unfortunately, slowly dying out.

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Top Left: Solid Kutch Kaftan Dress Midi, Bottom: Madras Sarong Skirt

At the height of the pandemic, Mody spent her early mornings on Zoom with her head of production on the other side of the globe. They would design together, arrange samples, and attempt to work cohesively through a laptop screen. Still, Mody stuck with New York through it all. 

“I thought it was going to be super challenging," she says. "There were times that it was, but I think at the end of the day what I realized, having family across the world, is that we were all in it together. What they're going through, I'm going through the same thing, even though it's on totally separate ends of the world, and I think that that's kind of made me feel somehow warm and fuzzy inside.”

Some say that the real New Yorkers are the ones who didn’t leave, who remained in their apartments and town houses through every grueling month, only going outside to take long walks or pick up their takeout. Mody’s done that now. As she stands in front of her wrap-around windows, revealing a majestic view of the Hudson river, she says that her next collection is going to be inspired by water. 

“Is it because of all this?” I ask, gesturing through the window. 

It seems this idea hadn’t occurred to her except, perhaps, subconsciously as she laughs and turns to look out across the city.

“It's the element that binds us all together,” she replies.

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