There’s a curious resurgence of the early noughties currently sweeping through fashion: a collective yearning for a time which, through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, appears far more alluring than the one we currently inhabit. “It’s just fun, isn’t it?” grins Supriya Lele. “It’s kind of sassy, but it’s tongue-in-cheek.” In the age of Instagram irony, Paris Hilton, low-slung waistbands, and knowingly naff prints are clearly resonating with a generation, but through the lens of Lele’s latest collection the visual signposts of the era adopt an elevated yet lo-fi twist.
“I wanted it to feel colorful, sexy, confident—and quite ‘fashion,’” she explains of fall 2021, which draws on the pop culture tropes that the 33-year-old designer grew up surrounded by, refracted through the Helmut Lang-era minimalism that has long been her fixation. But unlike so much of Y2K’s original aesthetic (a wealth of Twitter commentary prompted by the Free Britney movement has clearly identified that era’s deeply troubling misogyny), the period is now seen through a distinctly female gaze. After all, “I’m a woman—and we know what feels good on our bodies,” she says. “Why would men know, and why would they get to decide? We get to decide what’s sexy for us.”
That empowered, independent perspective is intrinsic to Lele’s work, and has resonated with a client base ranging from Dua Lipa to the jeweler Gaia Repossi and hair stylist Cyndia Harvey. Rather than being writ large on her designs, it materializes through the form-fitting drapery she instinctively models on the mannequins at her studio and the bodies of her all-female team, and which draws on her Indian heritage and appears determinedly flattering for a wealth of women.
Last season, she opened up personal orders for her collection, and the response she has heard from her customers since has attested to the fact: “they say they can eat a roast dinner in the clothes and still feel good,” she beams (her flared trousers, two and a half years in development, have been a best-seller). “People say they didn’t realize how comfy they would be.”
This season, bubblegum pastels drawn from Indian color palettes, and a paisley devoré which reimagines Madhya Pradesh florals as an early-noughties tribal tattoo print, became the foundations for cool, elegant pieces which quietly evoked Y2K. “I want to dress the woman who’s been there, done that— she has grown up and moved on, but that sentiment is still there a little bit,” she explained. The introduction of knitwear—hand-crafted crochet (Lele’s assistant is a whiz, and taught her last year), or mohair knit turned into slinky dresses—indicated a gentle expansion of her offering, while the twisted keyhole halters, sheer jersey dresses, and ruched bralettes intrinsic to her brand aesthetic were regularly dressed down, or layered atop one another. “One of the girls on my team, she doesn’t dress so ‘sexy’—whatever that word means—so she’ll take something a little more revealing and wear it over a T-shirt,” Lele notes. “What’s most important to me is that I like these clothes, the girls in my team like these clothes, and my clients like these clothes.” They do, and this collection certainly won’t let them down.