From playing dress up as a child to designing clothes for friends, Noureen Dhanani’s path as a designer has been long, but it is far from over. The up-and-coming South Asian fashion designer will be showcasing her unique line of saris from the Noureen Dhanani Collection from Aura Design Studio at the International Fashion Festival in Toronto in May.
Dhanani began designing for herself and friends because she was unhappy with the selection of saris in the market.
“When I started to buy stuff for occasions locally, I could never find anything (I liked),” she said. “And that’s when I had to start designing my own pieces because everything was just too overwhelming and there was nothing classy about it.”
And “classy” is exactly how Dhanani describes her collection.
Dhanani launched Aura Design studio in 2008 with what she says was an “overwhelming response.” When people see her saris, they see a simplistic demonstration of design that is a reflection of her own tastes, she said.
“I’m not one that likes too much bling; I don’t like too much drama,” Dhanani said. “I like stuff to be classic, yet modern and simple; understated, yet elegant.”
She has made this aspect of her design her primary focus. Every piece has a different look, but her concept of a classic sari with a contemporary touch is a constant throughout the line.
Dhanani’s role in creating her collection is very hands-on. She oversees production and also travels to India to visit textiles mills in various regions to hand select the fabrics. She makes it a point to refrain from placing bulk orders.
“I don’t believe in mass production, and I don’t believe in repeating designs,” she said. “I don’t believe in everybody wearing the same stuff.”
Dhanani said these beliefs are what inform her job, which means she takes it upon herself to individually pick out raw materials for each piece — from the fabric, to the borders, to the embroidery, to the tassels, to every little detail that goes into (a sari) before it goes into the production stage.
Her designs are not lifted from any film or television series nor are they copies of famous Indian designer saris. Dhanani said she has rejected numerous requests to replicate designs from Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi and the likes.
Dhanani finds inspiration in art and everyday life, but doesn’t believe in following trends — she prefers to create her own.
“When I see something and it appeals to me, I may find ways to incorporate that into my own design. And, it’s not necessarily another designer’s sari — it could be any random thing,” she said. “I’ve seen paintings and said, ‘Hey, that could make a nice sari.’
“I think (fashion) is a form of art. Any kind of art is a form of inspiration.”
Dhanani’s saris are designed with every age and body type in mind, which is why she has chosen to be the face behind her brand for many years.
“One of the reasons I model for my own brand is because my product is not designed specifically for a size 0 model. It is designed to make the average woman look good in a sari,” she said. “20-year-olds can carry my sari just as well as a 60-year-old.”
Since launching Aura Design Studio in Houston five years ago, Dhanani has showcased her brand through trunk shows throughout the United States. The International Fashion Festival in Toronto will catapult her into the international fashion spotlight, where she intends to capture the attention of prospective buyers who may eventually carry her line in their retail stores around the world.
In the meantime, Dhanani will continue to exhibit her designs with a trunk shows in Houston, and tours to Virginia, Atlanta, Orlando and Los Angeles scheduled in the coming months.