Arts & Entertainment

F.C. Designer Talks Fashion in ArtSpace ArtWorks Show

Nisha Thirumurthy is pictured with her husband, Gabriel, and her two boys at Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church. The fashion designer lives in the City of Falls Church. (Courtesy Photo)
Nisha Thirumurthy is pictured with her husband, Gabriel, and her two boys at Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church. The fashion designer lives in the City of Falls Church. (Courtesy Photo)

To be a couture designer and manufacturer, a sought-after international energy consultant, a mother of two young boys, a wife, and as of last December a new homeowner in Falls Church City, takes a prize for endurance, logistics, creativity, and boundless energy.

And Nisha Thirumurthy has myriad talents to manage it all.

Thirumurthy is a featured artist in the ArtWorks: Art in Fashion show now at ArtSpace Falls Church through Oct. 13.

The ArtWorks program, conducted annually in the fall by Falls Church Arts, highlights career artists who make their living in art.

Nisha Thirumurthy and another local designer, Nicole Alfieri, presented their stories to the many art students who make field trips to ArtSpace to learn about career paths in the arts. Two local students of fashion design have already begun working with each designer as interns to learn more about the fashion industry.

Their final couture fashion show will be at ArtSpace this Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Thirumurthy was raised in India until she was 12 years old, when her parents moved to Buffalo in 1989 so her father could get his PhD. It was culture shock for Thirumurthy, assimilating into a new high school in upstate New York.

“I had never been to the U.S., and had never seen snow – so moving to the snow capital of the U.S. was also an unexpected bonus,” says Thirumurthy.

Thirumurthy – who holds a master’s degree in business administration from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies – is pursuing her interest in sustainability, both economic and environmental, and international development through the arts and sciences.

In her day job she works as a senior energy analyst at a Department of Energy national laboratory to help deploy renewable energy projects domestically and internationally. It was while she was working as an energy consultant in Hong Kong and spending weekends in local boutiques that combined Chinese textiles with Western silhouettes that she got the idea for her company, named Kalaa.

As a child growing up in India, she remembered the touch and feel of colorfully woven artisanal silk textiles that were worn by women for special occasions. She wanted to bring these luxurious fabrics to the women in the U.S., whom she believed were looking to move away from in-and-out style trends and seeking more original and timeless pieces to fill their wardrobes. She spent the next four years visiting weaver cooperatives in India and learning about different qualities of textiles.

Thirumurthy and her New York City-based partner, Katherine Bates, have a company philosophy that emphasizes respect for fair trade practices for the fabrics, which because of their hand-crafted nature tend to command a higher premium. They also believe in paying economically competitive prices for garment construction to adequately compensate the garment factory for the attention to detail given to each piece by the tailors.

The result of Kalaa’s work with artisans is a collection of textiles that beautifully blends tradition with modernity – that they’ve termed Thari Couture (based on the Tamil word for loom pronounced “thurry,” to rhyme with “hurry) – and brings to the forefront less ubiquitous, artisan-made textiles that generally do not have a market beyond the local, indigenous one.

The textiles used in this first couture collection are exquisitely made and come in three varieties. Thari Couture Handloom and Handwork are handcrafted by artisans and will be one of the most exclusive creations and sold in limited quantities. This reflects the time it takes to weave and create detailing in the textiles. The second, Thari Couture Powerloom are distinct fabrics woven by artisans using powerlooms. In many instances they have chosen the same designs as the weaver, who have attempted to adapt their techniques to appeal to modern times.

Since starting her couture fashion business, Thirumurthy has had an exciting new adventure of seeing the response to her idea of mixing fabric and cultures – the appreciation that her customers have for the unique combination of colors, textiles, and beautiful fit and designs that are especially unique and classically styled.

Thirumurthy and her husband, Gabriel, were drawn to Falls Church because of its fine community. They were familiar with Falls Church when her husband worked for Raytheon before they were married.

Thirumurthy says she and Gabriel purposely wanted to return to the City.

“We enjoy the lifestyle here, the sense of community, the schools and especially the ethnic restaurants and the beautiful trees,” Thirumurthy said. “We like the ‘green’ feel of the City of Falls Church.”