|Kanch's business card|
Kanchan Panjabi has a story to tell. As she proudly opens a ribbon-tied case and a leather book which exudes history, I am her captivated audience. Unveiling images from her Couture and recently released Kanch by KC (RTW) collection, it's impossible not to be mesmerized by the vibrancy, detail and individuality of her eponymous label, Kanchan Couture. "Kanch" (as she prefers to be known) is both talented fashion designer and award-winning entrepreneur who, until three months ago, was dong "everything", but has since employed sales/marketing expert Annie Das, my friendly contact prior to our meeting. For those new to Kanch, it's her combination of classic shapes from a romantic bygone era, opulent Indian textiles (often silk) and modern edge, which capture both the attention and imagination of her fans. But, to fully understand Kanchan Couture, is to first understand Kanch's story.
Kanch dreamed of a career in jewellery as a child, longing to design pieces which her father (a jewellery manufacturer) could then create. It was his job that led the family to Hong Kong from India, when Kanch was 5 years old. Growing up in a culture "very much into fabrics and colours and the way people wear things", Kanch and fashion were interlinked from the start. But, as ever, the girl "from a traditional family" contemplated her future sensibly, studying French and Economics in New York, despite a flirtation with fashion for one semester. Perhaps it was this brief window which led Kanch from a place of uncertainty to a pivotal internship, then full-time role at Amanda Wakeley in London. Yielding to what "really was [her] path" and the adventurous side now so evident in her designs, Kanch soon returned to Hong Kong to open her own shop. Situated in Hong Kong's central Wellington Street, Kanchan Couture's popular HQ is now 'by appointment only'. This, Kanch's journey, is central to the label and to her infectious determination and desire to succeed. Now, Kanch (with Annie's help) is cementing her reputation on home soil, via high-profile collaborations, celebrity endorsements, in-shop events and a tiring recent schedule of one fashion show per month.
|A fashion show with Belvedere, Hong Kong 2009|
And now, the next chapter? Kanch hungers for international recognition. After all, "the whole idea behind [the label] is, eventually, to go to Paris." With equal measures of worldly ambition and personal history, creativity and business acumen, Kanch surely won't be waiting for long. Although, 'waiting' doesn't seem a word rightly associated with Kanch, who playfully calls herself "fashion's femme fatale". Kanch is merely awaiting the most logical time (working ferociously in the background) when Kanchan Couture is "ready" for the fashion shows and trade fairs. This suggests that the label has not quite caught up with Kanch's ambition. However, that's no bad thing for a designer who has the world set in her sights and a label that's only been around for 2 1/2 years, yet has already achieved so much.
|Kanchan Couture Bridal|
Kanchan Couture comprises three ongoing collections, not including the sumptuous Kanchan Couture Bridal, with its own website (above). Smiling knowingly, Kanch explains how busy life gets and I feel both in awe of, and bewildered by her ability to build her brand in such a multi-faceted, speedy and successful way. For Kanch, powerful branding is the key to success; she believes "somebody amazing" has made Lady Gaga the "marketing machine" that she is and exclaims excitedly: "Oh, Prada. I think their branding is incredible". As I'm telling Kanch that I find her branding beautifully unique (below), I realise how much I'm enjoying her company; despite such an astute business mind, she is relaxed, warm and animated.
Alongside business activities already mentioned (including collaborations with Mini Cooper, Tatler and HSBC), Kanch is present in-store as much as possible, meets every couture and bridal client several times, mentors upcoming designers and is the sole designer for Kanchan Couture. Good thing then, that "the idea behind [each] collection and the collection itself being drawn up, usually takes a day." More difficult is the longer process thereafter: narrowing down designs from 100-200 pieces, sampling in China and fabric-sourcing in India. It's the fabric that takes Kanch (and us) back to her family, "the key root which starts the designs". Throughout her three non-bridal collections (Couture, Demi Couture and Ready-to-Wear), Kanch injects personal history via photographs of her parents/grandparents/family heirlooms. Turned into prints, such images appear dramatic and enchanting on a RTW t-shirt, impressive on a wrap-around Demi Couture collar and lavishly luxurious on one of the many "secret" layers beneath a Couture skirt. The story of Kanchan Couture lies in these images, particularly in that of Kanch's mother on a bicycle during the 1960''s: "It portrays who I really am; my Indian roots, yet a child of the hybrid world." The initial inspiration for Kanch's brand, this image now adorns the back of her business card (top image).
|Untitled Stories (Demi Couture)|
|Distant Pasts (Demi Couture)|
|Nostalgic Beauty (Couture)|
While traditional feminine silhouettes of full-skirts, defined waists and regal-like collars are alluring and elegant, so too are garments given a modern twist: low-backs, shorter skirts and funky t-shirts. Does Kanch have a typical client? "Definitely. There's the young banking executive who's fun and goes out a lot... there's the woman who's maybe older but who can't wear some of the Demi Couture as it's too short or too fitting, so she'll get something made. And then you've got the younger audience, who like the Ready-to-Wear."
|Kanch by KC (Ready-to-Wear)|
|Distant Pasts (Demi Couture)|
|Traditional Legacy (Demi Couture)|
And where does Kanch herself fit in? Today wearing an outfit that's comfortable and warm (Kanch left London for Hong Kong, because it was "too cold"), she's pleased her "skin can go with a lot of colours. I definitely take advantage of that." After all, you can't imagine that someone would design or style with such vibrant colours (Kanch styles all photo-shoots herself) and not yearn to wear them. I suggested we meet at London's BFI, amongst colourful sofas and film posters, partly because I was struck by the cinematic quality of Kanchan Couture: in the drama and history behind the clothes, expressive make-up (à la Lagerfeld) and a Tarantino-inspired video recently posted on the website. Each collection's name also references a history that Kanch is eager to incorporate, such as Unforgettable Maharanis and Nostalgic Beauty.
|Unforgettable Maharanis (Demi Couture)|
History aside, what inspires Kanch? "My inspiration is from everywhere. I like the theatrical pieces because for me, if I'm going to an event, I want everyone to go 'Wow, look at that dress'". Significantly, prints of the past are intertwined with an additional influence each season; these have included Bauhaus and Chinese pottery. Kanch also looks to Christian Dior, traditional Indian garments like the sari, Jill Sander, Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen. And has the rise of designers like Jason Wu, Alexander Wang and Richard Chai helped increase Asia's presence on the fashion map? "I think it's great, but a lot of these designers didn't start out in Asia. They started in New York or London. Sure, they're Asian designers, but if you start a brand in Hong Kong or China, it's a little harder to go the other way." However, in a Chinese "bubble" where "people are spending more and going out more", Kanch could be in the perfect place from a financial perspective. Which, as the business-minded Kanch explains, is what success is all about: "It's great if you can design things but if no one's wearing them, then why are you designing them?" As Kanch states pragmatically, "the actuality is that you have to sell, you have to survive and you have to have a cashflow." Constantly seeking new opportunities, Kanch also designs accessories, including these cuffs which she brought along:
Believing that "educating the consumer is the most important," Kanch regularly teaches young people how a collection is made and how a price is formulated. She admits: "When I was a consumer, I was like 'Ok, what's the big deal? It's a t-shirt, why does it cost me £80?'" On the subject of money, Kanchan Couture spans various price points, according to the collection and target customer. Couture is one-off and subject to individual specifications, bridal dresses are approximately the equivalent of £2-£3,000, Demi-couture: £100 - £1,000 and Kanch by KC: £10 - £200. Fans worldwide can now purchase a selection of items online. With expansion evident via stockists in Brussels and Antwerp, here's hoping we'll see Kanchan Couture in British boutiques soon. Then, if the journey of "fashion's femme fatale" unfolds as planned, Paris better watch out.
Enter the Kanchan Couture world:
Images) Thank you to "Kanch" Panjabi, designer and founder of Kanchan Couture.