There is an earnestness about Abhishek Ray that is quite endearing. He has burst upon the fashion scene in Kolkata barely two decades ago but his distinct style, inspired by a keen ethnic sensibility, has found him a loyal list of clientele. Today, Abhishek is climbing the fashion ladder with aplomb. And his success drives him constantly to explore the vast hinterland of his imagination that any discerning eye would immediately label as original and sophisticated. Over a quick working lunch at the newly opened restaurant, Chapter Two, in Mani Square, the designer lets us take a peek at his world of creativity.

“My inspiration comes from various indigenous sources,” Abhishek reveals with a shy smile. “I get inspired by architecture, obelisks, hieroglyphs and stray motifs as much as by old and traditional textile. In fact, anything that has an essence of beauty inspires me. It could be an old table or a vase or an inlay motif in a Mughal mausoleum. I carry the image in my mind and later it returns to motivate me and translates into design.”

Coming from a family where his fatherʼs side sports hardcore academicians, chartered accountants and barristers who believed in frugality and his motherʼs side who, contrarily, are quintessential North Kolkata zamindars used to opulence and glamour, young Abhishekʼs response to creative impulses were amalgamated by disparate sensibilities. He was always academically bright as a student at South Point School but his concern for all things aesthetic from early childhood ultimately led him to enter the world of fashion. There may have been an initial sense of disappointment from some of the family elders but it was his father who encouraged him to do what his heart had longed for. Ironically, Abhishek as initially unable to get into Design School and, thoroughly disillusioned, went on, instead, to read a B A (Hons) in English from St Xavierʼs College. But when he finally did secure admission into NIFT, his ambition, so long dormant, found fresh wings.

“Today I am happy that I have an academic degree in English as well as a degree in fashion design. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at St Xavierʼs that prepared me to actually deal with my initial setback of not getting into NIFT. However, my interest in fashion was, perhaps, always in my blood. From a very early age I used to accompany my mother to her tailor and often suggest designs for her blouses or whether the fit was correct. I used to make clothes for my sisterʼs dolls and take a keen interest in the world of glamour as I stepped into my teens. The vamps of Indian cinema like Helen, Bindu and Aruna Irani enthralled me as much as the bouffant-decked Sharmila Tagore who oozed a certain urbanity and chic. Suchitra Sen was another classy actress who knew how to carry what she wore. I used to even help my school friends design their ethnic attire. Thus, from as long as I can remember, style and elegance were very much my secret alibies!”  

Beginning his career with Ekru as a Junior Designer, going on to become its Creative Head and happily sailing the brand through the Lakme and Wills Fashion Weeks, currently Abhishek has opened his independent studio in South Kolkata and strongly feels that even as new influences should be embraced in fashion, our rich and ethnic heritage should never be forgotten. He recommends wearing traditional attire for weddings and other indigenous festivities. Internationally, he may be inspired by Alexander McQueen and John Galliano but he still has a soft spot for Kolkataʼs Sabyasachi. 

As Oscar de la Renta, the Dominican couturier, said, “Fashion is about dressing according to whatʼs fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.” A belief that Abhishek also strongly recommends.