KANAKAVALLI VIGNETTES : Priyanka Prasad - Seeking Authenticity
Kanakavalli’s January Vignette, Priyanka Prasad, is the founder of one of the first Indian fashion blogs High Heel Confidential, and a design entrepreneur. Despite having moved to the US fifteen years ago, Priyanka manages to straddle two cultures and identities, staying closely connected to her roots yet finding a home wherever she goes. In an email conversation with Aneesha Bangera of The Kanakavalli Journal, Priyanka gives us a little glimpse into her life, her love for travel, and her unique sense of personal style. Tracing her journey as a writer to her childhood, she remembers never being without a book, in her hands, by her bed, and in her bag. For Priyanka, tradition is tied to memory, and the kanjivaram—which reminds her of her mother and grandmothers—always feels celebratory. On a recent visit to India, Priyanka took time out of the busy holiday season to curate a selection of saris from the Kanakavalli repertoire that resonate with her sense of aesthetics and love for beauty.
Excerpts of the conversation below…
As someone who has lived in many different cities, and then made the move from India to the US, what does the idea of home mean to you?
I often joke that no matter where I am, I am always homesick for another place. That said though, I put more stock in people than the place; to me they are what that ultimately make a place home. Give me cosy corners, books, company and I am sure I’ll find a spot to call home!
Could you tell us a little bit about how you straddle two cultures and countries, in your work and in your personal life? Do you find yourself weaving together elements of the traditional and the contemporary, the east and the west?
Work is easy, I don’t have a choice but to reach for a balance that works. Personal life is more interesting—while I want to fully embrace the place that I call home, it’s important not to lose touch with one’s roots. There’s no reason why a sari can’t find place in my closet or sushi on my table. An eclectic mix and staying true to oneself is the easiest homage to both the past and the present. I like to surround myself with things that remind me of places, people and stories that come with them.
Also, I love good design and am partial to mid-century modern. I like mixing contemporary furniture and art with an odd antique lithograph here or a vintage tchotchke there. I think embracing design that reflects both your taste and personality is a great way to straddle different places and times.
As a writer, what kinds of stories intrigue you and capture your imagination? Tell us a little about when you discovered your love for words and about your journey with writing.
It’s a cliché but I love angst-y, brooding, grey characters and their stories are what interest me the most. My entire family is really in to reading... From a very young age, neither me nor my sister were ever without a book by our bed, in our bags or in our hands. I think having grown up around books, it was inevitable that I would one day find my own story to tell.
Could you tell us a little about the evolution of the High Heel Confidential blog and Curiouser.in? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
The most valuable lesson is also perhaps the most oft repeated, but never quite as strictly followed: Being Authentic. Authenticity always shines through and even if it feels like your messaging isn’t resonating, being consistent will mean you will eventually find your audience.
When we first started HHC over 10 years ago, no one was covering the Indian celebrity fashion scene. We figured there must have been others seeking content like this and not finding it, and we knew we had found our niche! From that point on, the blog grew organically.
Curiouser is a design company I started with my sister, Sravanti, earlier this year. We wanted to work with small batch, sustainable products that cradled both art and functionality. We used to design spaces but often got requests for the art and accessories that we were dressing up these spaces with and that’s where the idea of our company was born. We decided to drop capsule collections in limited number every 5-6 weeks.
Your sense of aesthetics and love for beautiful places and objects are evident in @lattefiles, your Instagram account. How would you define your personal style?
I call myself a minimalist maximalist. I am not afraid of colour or prints or even an over-the-top aesthetic, but I like balance, clean lines and, for the most part, non-fussiness.
Images & Words : Priyanka's Insta feed is filled with beautiful images accompanied by elegantly framed text, at once ethereal and romantic with more than a hint of a promised getaway, steeped in visual wordplay.
What does travel mean to you? Could you share with us some of your favourite experiences and places?
It is that one indulgence that for as long as I am able to, I’d love to travel. Don’t they say the more you travel, the more you realise how little of the world you’ve seen?
No matter which city we are in, I always love to visit museums there, particularly modern art ones. I love the Bilbao Guggenheim, not particularly for the art it holds (which, truth be told, is quite limited) but for the building/architecture and the installations around it. There’s something truly magical about sunsets in Florence and one of the best things to do is walk on its streets for hours and then watch the sun go down over a glass of great Italian red. Udaipur was another special trip—I am still in awe of the Lake Palace.
Above (Left to right): A photo taken at a cafe in Saint Germaine, Paris; A quiet moment with a cappuccino (Photos by Priyanka Prasad)
Above (Clockwise from left): The stunning Duomo in Florence, Italy; Priyanka's desk with a page from a book featuring art by F N Souza; The Modern Art Museum in Bilbao; Jeff Koons' Tulips at the Guggenheim, Bilbao; A view of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, one of Priyanka's favourites (Photos by Priyanka Prasad)
Above (Left to right): Where time stands still - taken at the Old City in Hyderabad; A photo capturing the mood at a bar in London (Photos by Priyanka Prasad)
What are your thoughts on the current trends in Indian design? As a country, how do you think our approach to handloom has evolved over the years?
I think for the longest time handlooms were seen as a bastion of the activist, political or the “arty” crowd. It’s fantastic how much that has changed lately, particularly among the younger generation. There’s a move back to slow fashion, towards sustainability, favouring quality over quantity and handlooms fit in nicely with the checklist. It’s amazing how there’s space for both old school craft and textiles and the drive to marry that with more contemporary sensibilities.
How do you define tradition and beauty?
Tradition to me is often tied with memories and of that inherent need among us to make sense of lives and loves lived and lost, and to stay grounded to roots; of retaining that sense of ‘home’ regardless of time and place. And there is immeasurable beauty in that.
What is the role of the sari, and the kanjivaram in particular, in your life?
To me kanjivarams remind me of my mom, my grandmothers, aunts, all the other ladies I have seen around me over the years growing up. Glorious pattu saris always meant a special occasion was being celebrated and to this day, if I have to reach for one, even on a regular day, it feels celebratory.
Tell us the story behind the sari you chose to wear for the Vignettes feature.
My mother had a very similar sari which, during the course of multiple moves, she lost at some point. It used to be among her favourites. I have always thought how elegant and timeless this pattu was with its temple border, and at the back of my mind, always wanted to get one just like it. Funnily enough, this is the most recent sari that I bought, just a few weeks old. I saw it, and instantly fell in love. Funny how things loaded with memories and nostalgia can be extra special!
Priyanka's Top Picks
Chowringhee by Sankar, After Dark by Haruki Murakami, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
Leopold in Vienna, Guggenheim in Bilbao, Pompidou in Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas.
Barcelona, Bordeaux, San Francisco
Oh boy, there's way too many for me to even get started on that one. Mostly varies city to city
Top of my head- Rothko, Picasso, Raza, K. G. Subramanyan, Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Priyanka Prasad, in conversation with Aneesha Bangera, photography by Sravanti Prasad.
View Priyanka's guest curation here.