Anamika Khanna and sons for HELLO! March 2024 cover© HelloIndia

A Creative Inheritance: Anamika Khanna And Her Sons

HELLO India Logo
Nayare Ali

In the enchanting old-world neighbourhood of Alipore, nestled within a quiet corner of Raja Santoshi Road in Kolkata, resides a quaint bungalow. This is the home of India’s iconic designer Anamika Khanna, where she lives with her husband Vijay, and their twin sons Viraj and Vishesh.

Operating out of her studio in Kolkata, Anamika is one of India’s top trousseau designers and a revered figure in the world of fashion. She was among the first Indians to showcase at Paris Fashion Week and secured an exclusive contract with Harrods in 2002, establishing herself as a name to reckon with both in India and abroad. Recently, as part of the ongoing global textiles expo, Bharat Tex 2024, Anamika showcased the artistry of zardozi with intricate handmade lace and pearls. Among the six A-list designers to showcase their work, she was praised by Union Ministry of Textiles Piyush Goyal, alongside Darshana Vikram Jardosh, for her contribution to preserving and promoting Indian craftsmanship on the global stage.

However, when you watch her at home, she could easily pass off as just another society homemaker issuing multiple instructions to her retinue of staffers as she walks around in her chic AK robe with her make-up half done. Anamika is a bundle of nerves, anxious about the ‘looks for the shoot’ one moment and gently reprimanding the twins for not having planned their outfits.

The three share an effortless dynamic, given Viraj and Vishesh are now collaborating with their mom to take the legacy forward. A few years back, when Anamika was hospitalised, the duo pitched her a pret line. Since then, they have taken on active roles, with Viraj overseeing finance and management while Vishesh handles design and spearheads the menswear department, which he initiated. While the boys perhaps feel the pressure of expectation, given how venerated their mother is, Anamika dismisses this notion.

“I never thought they would come back and get into the business,” says Anamika of their return from college in the US. Neither has studied fashion, but then again, Anamika is not fashion trained either, yet she has built this vast fashion empire. “I did not go to a fashion school. I also belonged to a city, Kolkata, which was considered a fashion village,” she recollects. Having celebrated 25 years of her eponymous label in 2023, she says, “When I look back at the journey that I began many years ago in 1998, I didn’t even know what a metre of fabric was. You did things on your own and figured it out on your own. I was taking it one step at a time and learning from my mistakes.”

The HELLO! photoshoot is happening in the living room at the Khanna residence, which exudes a modern artsy vibe. A beautiful gold sculpture by Viraj, who is also pursuing his passion as a visual artist, jostles for attention alongside a large Paresh Maity painting. Deep sunken grey sofas that instantly lull you into siesta land complement the colourful cushions and throwaways. A funky bar stool at the further end of the room adds the right touch of drama. The cosy lived-in feel accentuates the deep bond the family shares.

Multi-Tasking Mom

Viraj and Vishesh, who are fraternal twins, are double trouble as they wickedly confuse the crew by claiming to be the other person. “Our close friends can easily identify us as they insist we have several differences,” claims Viraj.

The boys, or rather young men (they are 28), naturally seek Anamika’s approval for every look. While the world may see her as this celebrity designer, Viraj says, “In Kolkata it doesn’t feel like it since everyone knows her socially and everyone is her friend. I think only recently I’ve started to understand how significant she has been for the Indian fashion industry. The way people speak about her…”

Vishesh agrees, adding, “When I step out of the house for a party or event, that’s when the celebrity energy hits me. It never felt like she was a celebrity. I think you take for granted what you see every single day. She is just my mother, always concerned if we have eaten and finished our tasks.”

Anamika is clearly a classic multi-tasking mom who grapples with the daily challenges of managing a home, a hugely successful career and adult children all at once. She candidly discusses the pressures of being a working mother.

“In my life, everything happened around the same time. I finished college, got married, started designing, and soon after, the kids happened,” she reveals, confessing, “I never wanted kids, and then suddenly I realised I was having twins. It’s one of those crazy things. I was overwhelmed and crying during the ultrasound scan, and then the doctor tells me, ‘Wait, I see one more baby.’” She laughs in recollection, adding, “but it was the most special thing.”The focus shifts to the next shot, in the sprawling garden, where mother and sons engage in playful banter. The palpable connection between them is evident, as they appear to be buddies having a blast together.

Bonding With The Boys

While we interacted with all three separately for this interview, it’s amazing to see how much they are in sync with each other. Anamika has a simple theory for it. “I have never been a paranoid mom,” she states. “I have never chased after them with food when they were younger or taken them to 10 other classes.” She taught them herself until they were in Class 10 or 11 as a way to spend quality time with the kids since she was working a lot. The boys rarely argue with each other or with her. “Vishesh is very clever. He intuitively senses if something is wrong and apologises, saying, ‘Yeah, you are right mama, sorry, it will never happen again.’ And obviously, you melt at that confession. I trust them completely; they are my best critics 100%.”

Vishesh echoes his mother and shares that the environment at home was always encouraging and free. “We could do whatever we wanted as long as you didn’t go overboard with anything. Actually, my mother was more about ‘all in or nothing’, and my dad was about just enjoying and taking it easy. So it was a good balance for sure.”

And the trust factor that Anamika talked about is the fulcrum on this basis of which this family thrives. “Even in business, my dad and mom don’t stop us from making any financial decisions or big structural change. I think this trust has led us to become quite obedient as individuals,” says Vishesh. While both parents are perceived as caring and relaxed, Vishesh acknowledges that his mother’s discipline and hard work have left a lasting impression on him. “There is an expectation for us to do the same,” he states.

Dad Holds The Financial Reins

Anamika’s husband Vijay is a businessman and the backbone of the Khanna family who holds the financial reins, letting his wife and sons run the creative show. “My husband, bechara, is fed up with us. He manages the finances and makes my life easier,” Anamika says, with a laugh. “It is not easy for a man to have a partner who is all over the place, gets too much attention and travels a lot. Sometimes, I come home and tell everyone not to talk to me for three days as maybe a collection is coming up and I need space. He understands all of this and is non-demanding,” she expresses gratitude and you can see where she gets her emotional strength.

The boys value their father’s business acumen and have deep respect for his value additions to their brand. As Viraj points out, “Something that people may not know is his involvement in helping us double our profits and turnovers. His sharp people management and problem-solving skills have contributed to our rapid growth. He oversees the embroidery section, and I’ve learned a lot under him.” It is also evident that Viraj has inherited his father’s business sense as both Anamika and Vishesh readily admit that he is the most business savvy between the three of them.

All Is AK-OK

All transformative stories have that one defining moment. For Anamika and her boys, AK-OK’s brand journey began in a hospital room prior to COVID when the designer fell seriously ill and was diagnosed with multiple strokes.

“I was often asked by my clients to design clothes similar to what I wore, which were loungy and simple. The idea to start this venture began after I fell ill,” she says, reflecting on the events that led up to that personal crisis.

“From the time I started out till today, I have rarely taken a break or sat down. Constantly on the job, I took on a lot and the stress of delivering or the stress of perfection led to me falling very sick,” she says. In the year she took to recover, Anamika says, “I felt I could not design anymore.”

The boys, who were back from college, were at the hospital with her. “They reassured me by saying, in typical American lingo, ‘It’s AK-OK mumma, everything will be AK-OK,’. That is how our initial conversations started in the hospital,” she says, adding, “The boys realised that I needed help and took on responsibilities automatically.”

When you grow up surrounded by so much fashion, it is inevitable that you will be attracted to the process. Which is what happened with the boys. “We have always wanted to do different things. At one point we both were into cricket, then golf. It was only a year before graduating that we realised fashion and the family business is what seems most practical,” says Vishesh while Viraj adds, “I remember there was a time when Vishesh was planning to quit school [to pursue golf]. He actually had a serious meeting with our parents and coach,” says Viraj. “But inherently I was always supposed to take care of the business side of the family and Vishesh was going to look after the fashion side. We always accepted and wanted to do this.”

Anamika was pleasantly surprised at their interest. “The boys went to business school at the University of Southern California as we looked for a college where they could play golf and study,” she says, adding, “I was okay if they wanted to play golf. I have never defined any aspirations for my boys.”

The doting mother is delighted to see them making the space their own and exploring interests beyond. “I am thrilled that Viraj has found his passion in art while Vishesh is eager to pursue further studies,” she remarks warmly.

In office, their roles aren’t categorically divided, but each has their own areas of focus. “Contracts from lawyers and opening new stores and hiring teams is something I do,” says Viraj, while Vishesh says, “Besides menswear, my interests started moving towards ready-to-wear for women and designing for AK-OK.”

Vishesh launched the much needed menswear collection to reduce his mother’s workload. “Mumma had too much on her plate and post graduating, I studied and learnt from tailors and cutters from Savile Row. Slowly my interests started moving towards designing for AK-OK.”

Future Is In Right Hands

In the Khannas beautiful living dining room, the pride of place is occupied by a wooden 10-seater dining table set, with a commissioned Jayasri Burman painting adorning a large part of the wall. The room’s roof features a lovely tapestry that gently sets the mood for meals. While Anamika may not be the conventional mom, she is keen on seeing her sons get married. “Find them nice girls,” she jokingly says to us.

Getting back to the AK-OK saga, the brand was finally launched in 2019. “It’s been fun, hectic and a great learning experience,” says Vishesh. “It has opened up so many more avenues and opportunities to grow.” Viraj highlights the learning process for the brothers. “The way a corporation functions and the processes followed is something that we are trying to imbibe into AK. Things have also been quite fast so we’ve been getting used to that too. But our goals have been sped up!”

Legacy Lies At The Mother’s Feet

As the sun gradually sets in Kolkata, Anamika shares her professional dreams for 2024. “Our brand AK-OK is going international, with plans to open two stores in Hyderabad and Mumbai, and I am launching my own jewellery line,” she lists.

We ask the boys what their greatest learning has been from their mother. Vishesh says he admires her ability to remain unaffected by fame or success and stay true to herself. “No matter what happens at work, she always comes home to her family without any baggage. Over time I have realised how much she puts into each look, and how much she is thinking about every single outfit she makes. That’s what makes something special, the secret is in the work ethic.” Viraj admires her work ethos. “My mother has always been hard working and respectful. She is a very genuine person and would never do something that isn’t in line with her fundamental beliefs.”

Before you assume that this is a family of compulsive workaholics, they do know how to spend their downtime together. The boys gym together, play golf and hang out with their friends. “We also [go to the] gym with our dad. At any rate, we all work together so we see each other a lot everyday anyways,” says Viraj.

As we prepare to make our exit from the Khanna home, we carry back memories of warm bonds and a certain joie de vivre which comes when families are wholesomely connected to one another. This encapsulates how legacies are passed down from one generation to the next. Where there is deep trust, lots of love and great communication, the road to success is inevitable.

Photos: Vidushi Gupta; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari; Hair & Make-Up: Karim Ali Laskar

This article has been adapted for the website from the March 2024 cover story. Grab your copies here.