‘I would have been nobody if I didn’t do what I did’

Kirthi reflects on 80 years in fashion

By Rukshana Rizwie
Kirthi Sri Karunaratne, a celebrated and legendary couturier turned 80 last week. Nevertheless, age doesn’t mean much to him. He enjoys being active and doesn’t even fancy the notion of retiring.

“I just finished a bridal last week,” he says whimsically and brings to me a laced sari blouse. He wants to re-do the lining for the sari by himself. “See the fabric is too thick,” he points to me as if it were a matter of fact. At 80 years of age, this man shows no signs of stopping.

Always presentable, witty and soft-spoken, Kirthi is a pleasure to talk with. We met him at his place to uncover a treasure trove of pictures from yesteryear brides. From Padmini Pilapitiya he dressed 54 years ago to the ones he did last week.

Q. Everyone knows about your illustrious career in fashion, so tell us something about your childhood, siblings and your parents.
We are five boys in the family, I am the second and only one left. My brothers were Rangiv, Chitral, Mahanil and Shamthi. I was studious while my brothers were mostly into sports. We all went to Ananda College. My father worked for the municipality and my mother a housewife. I lost one brother when he was very young, he must have been about 23 at the time. My sister-in-law was pregnant at the time and to the date I look after them and consider them as my own. My niece and nephew are very close to me.

Q. Growing up, did you ever have a penchant for fashion or beauty?
You can say that (laughs). I would always go up to my mother and give unsolicited fashion advice, which I must say she was very open to. She was my biggest fan and the very first client who took my advice.

Q. What did you do after leaving school?
I wanted to be a doctor, so did my parents. Since I was studying well, I had made it to med school. But on and off, I found myself sketching on bits and pieces of paper. Of course my father was not happy with what I was doing, but I realised it was inherent in me to follow this path too, or even consider it.
Daily News Editor saw some of these sketches and expressed that they were gorgeous, He carried an article on me, something along the lines of Schoolboy designer. Just after this exposure, House of Dior had sent Geoffrey de Seyness to scout for a designer. Daily News editor had mentioned about me. When she asked me I told her my parents would freak out. Seyness however had been impressed with some of my sketches and wanted to know if I’d like to come and work for them. I agreed.

Q. How did your parents react?
They weren’t entirely happy. I was a pre-med student who was ready to give up something that everyone considered prestigious to do something completely unheard of.

Q. How long were you in the UK and what did you do there?
I was in the UK for about two years. I wanted to study designing so I turned to the Royal School of Dress Designing. I was dismayed to find out that I’d have to study five years to be a designer and I was not willing or prepared to do. The last thing I wanted to do was study the history of costume (laughs). I met Mangala Samaraweera there, we became friends and still keep in touch. I left the school and started working for John Cavanaugh - one of the 12 best designers in England at the time.

Q. What did you do after your arrival here?
I started work immediately. I took part in shows and hosted some. I even designed attire for a competition for Air Ceylon. I won and had the attire adopted. So I kept myself busy and it made my parents happy as well.

Q. When you dress a bride, what do you keep in mind?
To make her appear as beautiful as possible without turning her to someone else. Even if the makeup is minimal, she can still look her best.

Q. How many brides you’ve dressed?
Unfortunately, I can’t remember because I haven’t kept proper record. This is probably the only shortfall. I have pictures of most of them. Only thing is I can’t remember their names. The ones that I can remember names, I can’t remember details.

Q. Has Ramani Fernando worked with you?
No, not worked. I actually dressed her as a bride. Thereafter, she went to the UK. After returning, she approached me and asked if she can be my assistant, I happily agreed. (See picture)

Q. What advice do you have for young aspiring designers?
Don’t push yourself. If you are really good at what you do, you will make a name.

Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture
One of the world’s leading experts on nurturing local level innovation will deliver the inaugural Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture in Colombo on 13 December 2011.
Dr Anil Kumar Gupta, a Professor at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad, India, and founder of the acclaimed Honey Bee Network, will speak on “Grassroots Innovation for Inclusive Development: From Rhetoric to Reality”.
The lecture, organised jointly by the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL) and the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust (RWCT), will be held at 5.15 pm on 13 December at the IESL Auditorium, 120/15, Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7. It is open to the public, and admission is free on a first come, first served basis.
The memorial lecture is a key activity by RWCT that seeks to nurture innovation in Sri Lanka. Established in early 2011, the Trust continues the vision of the late Dr Ray Wijewardene, eminent Lankan engineer who innovated in the areas of agriculture, aviation, engineering design, renewable energy and transport.
“It is a privilege for me and the Honey Bee Network to be invited for a lecture in honour of such an illustrious innovator, social change activist and thought leader of our sub-continent, and indeed the entire developing world,” says Professor Gupta.
Gupta and Wijewardene were in contact over the years, with the latter taking a keen interest in activities of the Honey Bee Network.
The memorial lecture is hosted by the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka through its section on agricultural and plantation engineering. Dr Wijewardene was a Fellow of the Institution. At one time, he also headed the Inventors Commission of Sri Lanka, a statutory body.
The speaker, Anil K Gupta, is an unusual professor who walks the talk -- and walks through the villages and slums of India in search of innovation. His mission is to ensure that grassroots innovators receive due recognition, respect and reward for their bright ideas. He also seeks to embed an innovative ethic in educational policy and institutions.
He founded the Honey Bee Network in 1986-87 “to promote a fair and responsible knowledge ecosystem”, where innovators can benefit by sharing their ideas. In the 1990s, he set up the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) and Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) both of which support the Honey Bee Network to scale up and convert grassroots innovations into viable products.
All three entities are partners of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF India), an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology in India. Since 2000, NIF has mobilised more than 160,000 innovations and traditional knowledge practices from all over India, and now holds the largest database of its kind in the world. Professor Gupta is Executive Vice Chair of the NIF, and is also a member of the National Innovation Council of India.
Professor Gupta has received a large number of awards and honours, including Padma Shri Award from the President of India (2004), Science-in-Society Award from the Indian Science Congress Association (2004) and the Asian Innovation Gold Award presented by the Far Eastern Economic Review (2000).
During his brief Colombo visit, Professor Gupta will also interact with office bearers of IESL and RWCT, as well as of the Inventors Commission of Sri Lanka. He would also be happy to meet Lankan innovators at the venue of the lecture.


ODEL unveils ‘Luv SL’
A love for Sri Lanka and things uniquely Sri Lankan has inspired top fashion and lifestyle retailer ODEL to launch a sub brand for a range of home-grown products in the fashion, accessories, souvenirs and household items categories that are to be retailed in a new format of stores.
The new brand ‘Luv SL’ made its debut at ‘The Courtyard’ the shopping precinct at the former Dutch Hospital complex at Echelon Square, which has been renovated as part of the government’s programme to give Colombo a face-lift and with the view of converting the destination into a tourist attraction while retaining its original Dutch architecture.
Comprising of 1,200 square feet of space, this new concept store is to be followed by a second Luv SL store at Queen’s Hotel, Kandy, the company said. The Souvenir departments at the flagship ODEL store at Alexandra Place will also ultimately be rebranded with the same name.
The colourful, distinctly tropical materials and motifs imbued in traditional Sri Lankan objets d’art have been utilised to produce a wide spectrum of products ranging from casual clothing and accessories to stationery, mugs, picture frames, toys, cosmetics and toiletries, curios and even confectionery that will be retailed under the Luv SL brand.


Civil Security Department pre-school variety show
The civil Security Department attached to the Morawewa Gomarankadawala District Regiment Headquarters, operates around 15 pre schools deploying experienced educators.
The year end variety show was held recently at the Gomarankadawala Maha Vidyalaya. The Chairperson of the civil Security Department Seva Vanitha Unit Mrs. Kumudini Peiris graced the occasion as the Chief Guest together with senior members to witness the talents of the gifted youngsters. The Chairperson of the Seva Vanitha Unit gifted a pack of essential educational items to each of the pre schools being run under the civil Security Department. She also embarked on an inspection tour of the other pre schools in the area to ascertain their progress and facilities.
Furthermore the chairperson also inspected the construction of the two houses being built for the two Civil Security personnel who are in desperate need of assistance.


Foster parent scheme by Lions
Under Foster Parents Scheme II, children were benefited at Salvation Army, Borella. A bank account opened each child by Lion K. Ganeshamoorthy, RMJF President of Lions Club of Mutwal South, District 306BI. The District Governor 306BI Lion Priyantha Fernando, Lion Thirukeswaram, Chanaka Pathirana and Mrs Dilimi Ranasinghe were present at this occasion.


Sheran Corea the NBQSA 2011 Gold medalist from IIT
Sheran Corera has followed the full time four year degree programme at IIT and graduated at the recently concluded 17th IIT convocation ceremony where he was presented with the special award for best all-round performance by the University of Westminster