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Fashion That Moves the World

The world of fashion is a scintillating mystery in its own right, it has the whimsical power to influence people, nations and even create and memorable moments. For instance, who would forget the famed ‘Marilyn Monroe Flying Skirt’ moment that probably revolutionized female sexuality in the 50s, followed by her cheeky remark “isn’t it delicious?”, which added luscious tinder to the existing prudish society at the time. Seventy years later and we still occasionally admire the beauty of the feminine figure at Lexinton Avenue. Then we have Suzanne Lenglen’s Patou tennis dress, in fact, people at the time felt that Lenglen would struggle horribly to restrain her dignity from being tarnished. However, it was a such a phenomenal and chic style that even today, we sometimes see it in vogue.

Suzanne Lenglen in 1926 (Photo: Everett); Alexander Wang Spring 2015 (Photo: Anthea Simms)

Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealism is another hue of the fashion world, which managed to leave an impression on society. Her contrasting and artisan styles have been commended and adorned by many a celebrity.

Schiaparelli fall 2014 couture; Thom Browne spring 2015 (Photos: Anthea Simms)

Chanika Jayathilaka (Photo: Esteem)

One such gifted artist of this decade is Chanika Jayathilaka, the founder of ‘Leila’ and ‘Raaya Clothing & Accessories’ in Colombo. An elegant boutique nestled beside BubbleMe, down Thimbirigasyaya road. The boutique, which is a focal point for ethnic designs carries a certain Bollywood style flair.

Reaching out to Chanika, I realized how passionate and motivated she was. Her creativity is displayed throughout the store and on her IG page. That’s not all! All the unique designs are displayed in such a magnificent and eye-catching manner.

Here’s an independent woman with strong business acumen is what first came across my mind.

An alumnus of Colombo International School in Sri Lanka, Chanika subsequently pursued her tertiary education in London, where she graduated with a degree in Business and Marketing. Her life doesn’t solely revolve around education as she relishes being engrossed in a good book along with other activities, such as “watching anything to do with Western and Indian fashion, Content creating, Baking, Arts and crafts” as she puts it.

A tall and beautiful lady, who is also quite entertaining is the youngest of a family of four, excluding the two cats, Edwards & Mary, whom Chanika claims occasionally visit the household. Her creativity perhaps comes from her father who is an architect and mother who is the “home boss”.

When did you decide that fashion designing was a passion you would want to pursue as a career?

“Actually, I always wanted to study fashion designing. I was very strongly keen towards learning more about this field however studied something completely different. Having said that I do use my higher education knowledge quite frequently in this field.”

Where would say your journey to becoming a designer actually started?

“I worked for an esteem conglomerate here in Sri Lanka, specializing in the retail sector which taught me how to handle all ends of the retail spectrum. Once I came of a certain age, I decided to be my own boss by channelling my passion for fashion! (As cliché as it sounds). Most of the garments at Raaya Clothing & Accessories are ready-made garments from India and Pakistan while my label Lëila, is designed by me. I learnt sketching and designing through YouTube and books from all over. My general liking towards sketching greatly supported me during this time.”

How has that exposure influenced you as a designer?

“It’s been great! I learn something new every now and then.”

What types of designs do you specialize in?

“Indo – western wear. Leila offers a range of Indo – Western contemporary wear that focuses on traditional and unconventional silhouettes that are high on style. This occasion wear consists of Skirts, modern-day saree drapes, crop tops, Kaftans, dresses and sarees. The aim of the brand is to approach tradition with a renewed perspective and to create maximum impact with minimum effort.”

What made you start All About Leila and Raaya Clothing & Accessories?

“I specialized in the apparel retail sector at my previous workplace. Coupled up with my strong sense of liking towards Cinema and Fashion I started Raaya four years ago as an online store and Leila last year.”

What are both brands about?

“Raaya Clothing & Accessories is a premier Ethnic wear brand that holds Indian fashion ensembles and accessories, where traditional meets contemporary. Representing the pinnacle of modern luxury, Raaya houses a tasteful collection of Evening and Casual Ethnic wear for women in coveted designs that personify a vibrant ethnic elegance. The label consists of chosen pieces exquisitely crafted with the incorporation of the most feminine fabrics, flattering silhouettes and quality tailoring. Leila, on the other hand, is an Indo – Western contemporary wear brand that focuses on traditional and unconventional silhouettes that are high on style. It aims to approach tradition with a renewed perspective and create maximum impact with minimum effort.”

Chanika, who isn’t afraid to mix themes when conceptualizing acknowledges the industry experience she’s acquired over the years “It has helped me a lot, operationally to manage a store, the marketing and sales aspect and also on developing customer relationships.” Says she.

The two brands have gradually become popular names in the country as well as globally, which has led Chanika to consider retailing at Department stores. She also plans on adding another feather to her cap, which will be divulged in time to come.

Here’s the best part, as busy as she is Chanika actually finds time to spend with friends and family, watch Netflix, and consume coffee. Somewhere down the line, she plans to tour to Istanbul.

H&M or Victoria Beckham?

“Love how VB always champions femininity through a modern lens, however, I would say H&M as their collections are versatile, more high street like and easily available.”

Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford?

“Tom ford hands down.”

“I focus on what is most flattering on each body type and then I focus on the colour story.” Says Chanika when catering to the local market.

If any of you out there have a jewellery collection you’re in luck, Chanika plans to collaborate with an accessory line. This might be a wonderful collaborative opportunity at creating the perfect Bollywood lookalike diva. Chanika’s love for Bollywood never ceases to amaze me as she prefers Indian and Pakistani brands on the lines of Anita Dongre, Ridhi Mehra, Annamika Khanna, Élan, Suffuse, Misha Lakhani, Jayanti Reddy, Sabyasachi over many western brands. Having said that

western wear isn’t completely out of the picture, she prefers Zara, Topshop, Ralph & Russo, Elie Saab and Needle & Thread.

“Sonam Kapoor, Olivia Palermo, Miranda Kerr for her street style, Aya Faisal- blogger and also Queen Rania of Jordon although she’s not from the world of fashion!” are some of the celebrities and trendsetters Chanika follows for inspiration.

What are your thoughts on the local fashion industry and where do you see Sri Lanka on the global fashion map in years to come?

“I think the local fashion industry is really climbing up the ladder. It is incredible to see that brands are focusing on sustainability and understanding the depth of all aspects when it comes to the topic. I think in the next five years local brands will certainly have a bigger global presence due to high scaled fashion shows, amazing pools of talent and great craftsmanship availability in Sri Lanka.”

In your opinion how have fashion shows like Colombo Fashion Week & Mercedes Fashion Week helped uplift the fashion industry and budding designers?

“CFW and MBFW have brought together a lot of untapped talented designers raising the platform of creativity as they have competitive grounds to work on thus this results in budding emerging new talent and the existing market to work harder and strive towards better creativity and design thereby enabling and uplifting a paradigm shift in the fashion industry in Sri Lanka.”

“The biggest risk of all is never taking a risk at all! Jot down your ideas wherever and don’t procrastinate – trust the process and work at it every single day!”

Chanika Jayathilaka

Chanika Jayathilaka is a fashion designer and Bollywood enthusiast who currently caters two brands both locally and globally. Her designs are exclusively available at the Raaya Clothing and Accessories store at No 110, Thimbirigasyaya Road, Colombo 5
Colombo, Sri Lanka 5

For updates check out her page

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