American artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was one of the most prominent minimalists of our times. For Kelly, the white canvas was his playground to freely engage with solid, bright colours, geometric shapes, stacks and lines that run in no particular direction. Pure colour forms, abstract paintings and pop art have become Kelly’s signature.
It is now inspiring a new crop of creative minds. One such creator is Kshitij Jalori, a New Delhi-based textile designer who recently unveiled a colourful, elegant fashion collection titled Kellee, influenced by a few works of Kelly.
Every outfit in Kellee stands out for its distinct prints, textures and colours that are as much fun to wear in the AM as in the PM. “I’ve tried to make Kellee into an Indian womenswear version of athleisure. It’s for those women who don’t necessarily want to wear typical, western athleisure but still want comfortable and cool loungewear,” says Jalori, 28, who launched his eponymous label in 2018. The collection has a variety of silks, silk twill, cotton satin Lycra, cotton, silk satin, silk satin crepes and silk satin organza.
Long kurtas, pants, kurta-pant sets, dupattas, sarees and trench jackets make this edit. The outfits, color with generous splashes of red, blue, yellow, green, orange, pink and white.
Jalori started sketching the collection as early as 2019, when he imagined Kelly sitting in a Mexican garden, deep in thought and surrounded by lush trees, flowers, chirping birds. “We’ve designed the dresses the way Kelly would’ve treated these nature’s elements in his artworks.”
The theme that runs throughout Kellee is an enchanting fusion of the American artist’s colour-block techniques and motifs of hydrangeas, anthuriums, toucan birds, roosters and long hornbills from the lands of Mexico.
Embodying Ellsworth Kelly’s art Originally from Ajmer, Jalori’s connection with art goes back to his teenage days, when he studied in Mayo College’s Arts department (circa 2006). His head professor, Ashok Hazra, was a Bengali artist who trained him in various forms of art. Jalori believes that before being a textile or fashion designer, he’s an artist and art is an intrinsic part of his label. “Many artworks on our outfits are hand-painted or drawn by me first and then rendered digitally or embroidered by karigars.”
Jalori first discovered Ellsworth in 2018. The two of his paintings reimagined on the outfits are – Blue, Yellow and Red (1964-65) depicting three different coloured ovals stacked on one another and Ailanthus Leaves I, a colour pencil drawing of the outlines of leaves.
You’ll see these paintings in Arco Kurta K001 (a zipped kurta that can be worn as a dress) and in colour-filled dupattas. “The florals I’ve created this time are more contemporary and flat-toned compared to the past florals that were more painterly and had more depth,” says Jalori.
Kellee also includes two long kurtas inspired by Kelly’s artworks that illustrated shadows cast by buildings and structures. Jalori likes to call it ‘Arco’. “Arco is a short form of architectural clothing as well as art deco. It has plenty of architectural references like geometry, straight arches, lines and bold outlines.” Arco was first conceived as an art-deco inspired collection called Moulin Rouge in 2019 Lakme Fashion Week. He did another architecture-themed line in 2020 – Cinnamon Hill. It depicted Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa’s iconic works in black and white.
What’s in a name? When one peruses Kellee collection on the label’s website, all the outfit names read RGB Natural, HSB Grey, CMYK Mint and so on. Jalori explains, “Kelly’s works were always named simply and directly. If his frame had red, green and blue colours, then he named the artwork exactly that (Red, Green and Blue).” Initially, the designer brainstormed a lot about the titles but eventually decided to follow the late artist’s nomenclature style.
“Compared to the 1960s, today’s photoshop age has a wider colour terminology. So, we used the RGBCMYK palette to naming our pieces. It is a direct reference from Kelly yet is very relevant to modern times.”
Among Indian artists, Jalori love the works of Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil and Jamini Roy.
What was Jalori doing before 2018? Graduated from NIFT Delhi (in 2012), Jalori built a strong, eclectic portfolio before launching his own brand. In 2011, he interned with Aneeth Arora of Pero, where he also worked with a handloom khadi cluster in Ponduru, near Vishakhapatnam. He went on to work with Shades of India, Fab India, Ṛta Kapur Chishti, a sari historian and a textile scholar, Philosophy by Good Earth and Sabyasachi Mukherjee for two years.
Future plans Halfway through 2021, Jalori is ready to expand into newer categories of menswear, resort wear and jewellery in the coming months. “I don’t want to limit myself and make a stereotypical brand,” says Jalori. “I’m planning to launch a bridal line soon, something I had stayed away from until now. I’ve had consistent demands from clients for it.”
A big fan of brocades and Banarasi textiles, Jalori is known to create outfits that can be worn many times. “In the pandemic, the sentiment towards fashion has changed. It is now about outfits that are timeless and ageless. People want to reuse pieces, even after ten years. And as a brand, we’re working on exactly that, giving our local textiles a slightly more global makeover.”