Anita Vincent, Kanakavalli’s July Vignette, radiates warmth and positivity. A firm believer in the idea that what you wear is an expression of who you are, Anita’s very distinct sense of style reflects her joyful nature. In this conversation with Aneesha Bangera of The Kanakavalli Journal, Anita traces the evolution of her personality and her aesthetic, from an introverted child who wore what her mother picked for her, to the outgoing and vivacious person she is now, with a great love for dressing up. With an eye for beauty and detail, Anita channels her creativity into playing with colour, and pairing saris with unexpected contrast fabrics. For her, friends are like family, while her husband and two daughters are her best friends. Her tight-knit support system is testament to her welcoming and open personality, as well as her deep sensitivity to those around her, drawing people from all walks of life into her inner circle. Anita believes that tradition is a guiding light in difficult times, and that beauty lies in a genuine life of truth. Browsing through the Kanakavalli repertoire, Anita curates a selection of kanjivarams that epitomise her abiding love for the sari.
Home & Heart
Could you trace the evolution of your personal taste and aesthetic? How would you define your style now?
My grandmother was a very stylish woman, and she influenced me a great deal. She was convent-educated, which was rare at the time, and she looked very traditionally Indian—with a nose ring and her hair in a bun—but spoke English like an Englishwoman! As a child, I was always by her side, and I imbibed a great deal from her.
Mine was a very simple and sheltered upbringing, and I was a shy and quiet child. Ever since I was very young I had my own distinct tastes and preferences, and in this I was quite different from the rest of my family. However, I rarely got to choose my own clothes, as my mother picked them all out for me. It was only in college that I had more freedom, and when I got married I transformed into a completely different person. My husband Leo encouraged me to discover myself, to explore my personality and my style, so a lot of the credit for who I am today goes to him.
I believe that what you wear is an expression of who you are. Everything I wear and do now is a reflection of what I am and what I would like to be. My personal style is a coming together of the traditional and the modern. I love to wear traditional clothes, and if I could, I’d wear a sari with a bindi and jewellery all the time! However, I do wear a lot of Western clothes to suit the places I go to and the things I do. When I do wear saris, I only wear silks. I find myself drawn to vibrant hues, and I love to mix and match blouses and jewellery. Whatever I wear, though, I choose with a lot of care.
Above (left to right): A photo taken at a studio on Anita's birthday when she was in the eleventh grade; Anita with her cousin who taught her how to ride a bike - her aunts were all shocked at how confidently she learnt to ride; Wearing a Kanakavalli sari with a contrast blouse for a friend's daughter's wedding.
If you could go back to your early life and change something, what would that be?
I think my only regret is not pushing myself to overcome the self-doubt and fear I struggled with when I was younger. I wish I’d had more confidence to stand up for myself and discover who I really was. Yet, I’m also grateful for everything I have learnt from my experiences. I now have deep faith in the power of positivity and happiness.
Even in the midst of this lockdown, and in other crises I have faced, my friends and family tell me that I handle difficulty with a smile. I truly believe that no matter how bad things are, if you can stay positive, bring joy to other people, and always do the right thing, you will be able to face every situation with strength.
I grew up in an environment that did not really give me the tools to go out and explore the world. I doubted myself and my many insecurities always held me back—I simply believed that I was incapable. After college I worked briefly, but when I got married six months later I quit my job. Fortunately for me, my husband truly gave me wings. He has never stopped me from doing exactly as I want, and I feel completely liberated. I now know that women can do anything they set their minds to, and have tried to instil this confidence in our daughters. I’ve done my best to create a loving, supportive and joyful environment for the children and I’ve always let them be who and what they wanted to be.
Above: Anita with her husband Leo at their older daughter Roshni's wedding in 2018. Anita is wearing a Kanakavalli kanjivaram.
I still struggle with some deeply rooted insecurities, and as a result I have never pursued a career even when I had opportunities to do so. I occasionally still feel anxious about meeting new people or doing things on my own, but the life and support system I’ve created have helped me gradually evolve into the person I am today. I have found a deep sense of contentment, and I try to spread joy and positivity wherever I go.
Above (left to right): Anita with some of her closest friends from college, all dressed up for her birthday in 1986; With Susan, one of her dearest friends at an event at Kingsley.
What does friendship mean to you? Tell us about the ways in which your friends inspire and support you.
Friendship means everything to me, and I’ve spent plenty of quality time with my friends. I have lots of very different groups in my close circle, and even as an adult I have made new connections with people. I’m lucky to have a dear friend who really pushed me to step outside my comfort zone, encouraging me to challenge myself constantly and to grow comfortable in my own skin. She, along with my husband, have helped me overcome many of my insecurities. She is like an older sister to me, and the first person I go to for advice. Another close friend is the vice-principal of a college in Chennai, one is a flight attendant, and another is a school teacher. These friends are truly like family to me. They have all shared their personal stories with me, which has made it easy for me to open up to them. Our friendship is based on mutual trust and love.
I also have a group of friends I went to college with at Stella Maris, who I’ve now known for over 36 years. My husband calls us The Three Musketeers, because when we get together we really are a crazy bunch. Every year we plan a weekend getaway, and I look forward to this because we are so comfortable around each other, and can say absolutely anything without any filter!
Among those I consider my friends are the street vendors and people who live around our apartment. I have everyone’s phone numbers, and they have mine, and we are always in touch. I’ve been told that I am easy to relate to, and this might be true, because even my daughters’ friends seem to feel very comfortable with me, insisting I join them at their get-togethers.
My parents live nearby and my father was unwell for most of the last year. Despite the fact that my brother lives in Japan and my husband in Muscat, I never felt alone, or experienced the strain of managing through this difficult time. I had the support of everyone around me—I just had to make one call and someone would be there for me instantly. My husband has travelled a lot and lived away from us for a long time, but he encourages me in everything I do, and is always there for me when I need him. I am so grateful for this incredible support system I have around me.
What does travel mean to you?
I often say that I love to travel, but my daughter Maryan pointed something out. She said that I like the thought of travelling, but in reality, I like being at home more. This might be true! I haven’t had many opportunities to travel beyond a few family trips to Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Oman. I love the fact that travelling with my family means we get uninterrupted time together—we don’t have a choice because we’re literally stuck with each other. It has always been such a lovely, bonding experience. This is what I find most valuable and interesting about travel, more so perhaps than sightseeing! But I do love being at home. While I love going out with my friends, at the end of the day I long to return to the comfort and familiarity of home. I draw a certain energy from returning to my house, where my sweet dachshunds Wheezy and Jalebi are always waiting for me.
Above (Clockwise from bottom left): Christmas 2019 with her husband Leo, daughters Roshni and Maryan, son-in-law Anuj, and two dachshunds Wheezy and Jalebi; Anita with her husband and daughters in 1993; Her daughters Roshni and Maryan as children; Anita with her husband, brother, daughters and son-in-law; Four generations - Anita, her daughter Roshni, her mother and her grandmother, in 1991.
Is creativity important to you? Tell us about how your daughters both ended up following their passion for the arts.
My husband really helped me see the value of creativity and the arts. I was brought up to believe that education was solely about academics, and I was keen for my children to pursue more traditional career paths. However, my husband encouraged them to follow their passions and I’m so thrilled to see how my children have grown into the people they are today. My older daughter Roshni is a musician and singer, and my younger one Maryan is a graphic designer and dancer. Both of them have successful careers and it makes me proud to see the work they do. I truly believe that creativity is important and makes us all better human beings. For me personally, creativity is reflected in the way I dress. I’ve always loved to pick my own blouse fabrics and create contrasts with the saris I wear. I think this might be a skill I’ve honed, because I can now pick the perfect blouse even without having the sari with me! I love to play with colour and material. When I go shopping, instead of pulling everything off the racks, I usually just look around quietly until something beautiful catches my eye. And this usually means that I’ve found the perfect sari or piece of jewellery.
Above (left to right): All dressed up with her daughters and son-in-law; Anita wearing one of her favourite Kanakavalli saris and posing with her daughters.
Tell us about your relationship with your daughters.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about my relationship with my daughters is fun. We have such a good time together. Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs—especially when they were younger and I felt they needed a little more discipline or direction. Now they’re adults, and know right from wrong, and we can just enjoy the time we spend together. They are very, very special to me, and I learn so much from them—they’re incredibly mature and responsible. My daughters and I are very open with one another, and we all know each other so well. My girls have never been able to keep anything from me. Even now, I can instantly sense when something is not right with them.
Maryan, my younger daughter, and I have a little ritual, which involves going to the mall when we’re both at a loose end. We don’t usual do any actual shopping; we just wander around and then have a hot chocolate together.
My older daughter Roshni is married, and during the lockdown we can’t see as much of each other as we usually do, so we have long video calls instead. My son-in-law Anuj is like the son I never had, and he’s very quickly become a part of the family. He’s kind and thoughtful, and, in fact, is usually the first one to compliment me on a new sari. I think he was even more excited than my daughters were about the Vignettes feature!
When it comes to shopping for saris and jewellery, my daughters leave it to me, and trust my taste completely. I love to choose colours and styles that I think will suit their personalities.
How do you define tradition and beauty?
Tradition is what keeps you bound to home and family; to everything that is essential and good in life. I see many young people growing up without any traditions, and I think it leaves them without a sense of their roots. We’re all exposed to so much negativity in this world, but having traditions to carry forward, to keep as your guiding light, helps you stay grounded and on the right track. There is beauty in a genuine life, in truthfulness. When somebody looks beautiful, I believe that it comes from the inside, because the truth from within radiates on the face. And this internal beauty can be complemented with external beauty, in the way you dress or carry yourself or speak.
What does the sari, and the kanjivaram in particular, mean to you?
Despite the fact that I was never very comfortable wearing the clothes my mother picked for me as a child, she is the one I have to thank for introducing me to the sari. When I was in college, while my friends wore very fashionable, modern saris, my mother only bought me silks. Till today, I love silk saris and they are the only kind I wear. There is something very majestic about the grandeur of a silk sari. I always pick traditional saris that will never go out of fashion. I think the saris I wore even thirty years ago are still very beautiful. When it comes to jewellery or Western clothes, too, I don’t keep up with modern trends, but choose things that are timeless. For this, the kanjivaram is perfect, as it always elegant and always beautiful.
Tell us the story behind the Kanakavalli sari you chose to wear for the Vignettes feature.
I’m usually seen wearing saris in shades of pink, so I thought I’d choose something different this time. The palette of this kanjivaram reminds me of the colour of the sea. It instantly caught my eye when I saw it at the Kanakavalli store, and I thought it would be perfect for the Vignettes shoot.
Anita is wearing a striking blue Kanakavalli kanjivaram adorned with a green paisley jacquard pattern in green. Gold stripes and orange bands adorn the blue border shot with parrot green, while the pallu features a geometric pattern in rich gold zari.
- Anita Vincent, in conversation with Aneesha Bangera, photography by Raghuram Vedant.
View Anita's accompanying guest curation here.