In 1953 two young designers were selected winners of the first International Woolmark Prize, the new award celebrated two men who they believed would go on to reshape the course of the fashion industry. Those two discoveries were, of course, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, and their legacy continues to speak for itself. BA (Hons) Fashion Design Technology: Womenswear alumna Ruchika Sachdeva is the latest winner of the award for her brand Bodice.
Since graduating from London College of Fashion in 2010, Ruchika has taken her experiences and what she learnt in London to home to her native-India. Staying true to her heritage, she sources materials and fabrics from artisans all over India, which includes a community of weavers in the Himalayas.
Her sustainable approach combined with age-old techniques championed by Indians is what caught the eye of Australian sheep grower organisation Woolmark. They awarded her AUS $200,000 for her womenswear collection to help bolster the brand. Other winners of the award include British designer Matthew Miller and American-tech brand Dyne.
Ruchika has helped raise Indian fashion to new levels in recent years, her work was acknowledged by Vogue India who awarded her with a fashion fund to help grow the brand. In light of this recognition, we talked to her about the brand, future of India and what happens next for Bodice.
Can you remember the moment you knew you wanted to be a designer? Was moving to London and studying at LCF always part of the plan?
I was the first woman in my family to study outside of India, and my trip to London to begin studying at LCF was my first time abroad. I wanted to study in London because I always felt that it would inspire a sense of creative freedom and expression like no other place.
How did Bodice start and what was your motivation?
After graduating from LCF I was lucky enough to intern and work in London, including at Vivienne Westwood. This was an incredible experience, a real insight into their creative process and how this works when anchored around a commercially successful business. I love Vivienne Westwood’s rebellious spirit and her constant social commitment. She really questions what impacts fashion should have on society and the environment. I think I took some of that ‘Punk Spirit’ back with me to India! I didn’t feel satisfied with the idea of creating more things just to sell and make a profit, I wanted my design to contribute to a new language for traditional Indian crafts and textiles. I also wanted to challenge prevailing ideas of what Indian fashion is, or has the potential to be.
What is the Bodice Studio style and aesthetic?
The Bodice Studio aesthetic revolves around transitional wardrobe staples that are thoughtfully designed. I like to introduce subtle details where form follows function. For example, sharp knife pleats that allow for movement and for play with the dynamics of geometry and colour. I believe in incorporating pockets for practicality when on the move, and adjustable fastenings, which extend the life of the garment according to the way the body can change over the course of time. I’m very inspired by mid-twentieth century Indian-modernism. I’m also interested in the visceral power of colour.
You have a unique sourcing approach from artisans all over India. How did you get to this point?
It is one of the greatest joys of working in India to have such an incredible diversity of textiles and some pockets of highly skilled artisans. At Bodice we respect provenance and believe in incorporating traditional craft skills into Bodice’s clean, sharp silhouettes in order to say something authentic. It hasn’t always been easy to work with craft, there are so many infrastructural barriers and artisans may be used to working in a way that does not allow them to express their individual creativity. I am constantly trying to find ways to work with them in a way that is collaborative and gives the craft a creative expression.
For example, when working on my collection for Woolmark, I worked with weavers in the Himalayas on a highly skilled technique called extra-weft. Usually the weavers are told to replicate a pattern from a graph. Instead, I asked them to place the extra-wefts using a personal method of choice and aesthetic judgment. I’ve never seen the point in trying to replicate machine-made perfection with traditional hand-weaving.
Congratulations on being recognised by Woolmark, what does this mean for you and the brand?
Thank you! It’s still sinking in. It’s an incredible honour and opportunity to have been chosen to represent India and to have won the International Woolmark Prize for womenswear. It’s incredible to have international exposure for the brand and I’m now working hard on realising the next phase of growth and development for Bodice.
What happens next?
We’ve secured distribution in some of the world’s leading stores and boutiques. We’re also working on a new website, and lots more to come! As I’m an alumna of LCF, I would love current and future generations of students to stay connected with Bodice. There will be regular updates and exclusive insights on Bodice’s Instagram.
How is India style reshaping fashion?
That’s a complex question but I’ll try to answer it from the perspective of what we are doing at Bodice. Since I founded the brand, running and growing a brand in India has given me the chance to really develop my design signature. In a market context where highly decorative bridal and ethnic formal wear is so commercially dominant, it isn’t always easy to take a different path. A big milestone was winning the Vogue India Fashion Fund in 2014.
In India there are rich traditions of hand weaving and craft as well as local styles of draping and dress that are unique to regional cultures and which have adapted over centuries to the climate and lifestyles of the local people. At the same time globalisation is creating the sense of a much smaller world and much more awareness of global fashion in India. Bringing these currents together as an Indian designer I feel brings a unique point of view to international fashion.
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