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Looking at Sri Lankan history for high fashion inspiration

By Archana Heenpella

Drawing sartorial inspiration from the tomes of Sri Lankan history, Ridma Samaranayake is a designer who made quite the impression at this year’s Colombo Fashion Week (CFW).

Entirely feminine, modern, and traditional, the collection from her eponymous brand – Ridma Samaranayake – tied together many of the qualities women want to see in their clothes. Specialising in sculpted pieces truly reminiscent of old world fashion, Ridma’s collection at CFW featured a clearly popular element that night – beeralu lace.

This week, we spoke to the designer about her brand, her experience presenting her collection at CFW, and her plans for the future.

Describe your label, and what made you pursue fashion design?

My brand specialises in high-end luxury wear, providing women with elegant, trendy, and high-quality clothing.

Since my childhood, I’ve loved painting and art. Fashion has its own language and it’s something that can be translated between different people, cultures, and countries. I always like to experiment with my ideas and bring them out in my own way. I believe that I have a natural drive and talent to experiment with colours, shapes, and fabrics.

I feel most fulfilled when I work with my ideas in the field of fashion.

What made you look to Sri Lankan history for fashion inspiration?

I’ve always been fascinated by culture and history.

Sri Lanka has a very rich history. I was inspired by the local arts, traditional patterns, and clothing styles. I was especially attracted to Kandyan costumes, stylings, and details.

When I did my research, I noticed the similarity and the influences present in today’s clothing such as silhouettes like frills, capes, and sleeves. I wanted to create a collection that fused traditional style with current trends. I also wanted to incorporate traditional patterns and beeralu lace with my garments.

How much research went into your collection? What was your process?

I always collect my information or any interesting facts and keep them in files for the longest time!

For my collection, I also visited museums and a few other places in Kandy to get a better idea and to figure out the details of my inspiration.

As for the beeralu lace, I went to Galle and worked with a few local craftsmen. As always, this was a process if trial and error. I was trying different things with pattern techniques, fabrics, and finishing methods.

What was it like presenting your collection at CFW? What did you learn from your experience?

CFW is the biggest and the most prestigious fashion event in Sri Lanka, so it’s always exciting to showcase there. While I’ve showcased my collections a few times before, the show just gets better and better every year because they create an international platform for local designers.

My biggest learning experience came down to creating a high-quality collection that came up to the standards that were set. This spans from the detailing, branding, and ultimately, making your own statement in the industry. For this, I’d like to thank Ajai, Fazeena, and the CFW team for their tremendous support towards the designers.

Who are your fashion muses/inspirations?

I would say all the fearless, strong, and independent women, as well as designers like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld.

Was beeralu lace a part of ancient fashion? Or was there another reason you made it such a central part of your designs?

Yes, indeed. It was a huge part of traditional clothing and styling details. Beeralu lace was the result of various influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, and English cultures and was a prestigious detail of garments in ancient times.

Unfortunately, beeralu is one of the many dying crafts in Sri Lanka. There are so many patterns and techniques which are known by only a few artisans because it’s so time-consuming, and isn’t appreciated in a proper manner. The value of beeralu lace declines every day. With my collection, I wanted to add some value to the craft and appreciate the workmanship that goes into it.

What are your plans for your label, going forward?

I’m planning to create a defusion collection, which is simple and is more of a ready-to-wear line, along with the CFW collection. I also plan to start retailing with a few upcoming opportunities.