The Legacy of a Modern Maharani

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Her down-to-earth approach, elegant poise and conduct, and flair for adventure will have you intrigued. As someone who wasn't comfortable using her royal family name for any advantage, till she had carved her own path, Archana Kumari Singh of Badnore and her eponymous brand are a refreshing delight. The brand stands to carry forward her regal lineage and proud heritage in a contemporary way.

Having been the Editor of a magazine and the President of a renowned British brand, Archana Kumari Singh has had an astounding career path and story before launching her own charming brand.

It is enthralling, as the quintessential royal takes a trip down memory lane.

How was your childhood in a royal family and what were your dreams growing up?

I grew up in a feudal background and we lived in a fort. I had a very traditional upbringing, and modern parents. I wanted to be an air hostess or a journalist, but that was something my parents would not hear of. I had a sheltered and privileged childhood with no pressure to pursue a career later. We were chaperoned everywhere we went. It is only when I went to study and lived in a hostel, that I tasted true freedom. We had a culturally rich upbringing with literature, fine cuisine and so many activities. Travel and books kept us very aware of fashion and trends. The entire family would come together for festivals like Holi, which is a beautiful memory for me.

I grew up with old world values that are relevant and keep me steady even today.

"Although we grew up with controls, we never wanted to rebel."
Archana Kumari Singh

What was a ritual for you growing up?

My father had refined taste in music, books, poetry and food. He was very well read, especially in history. I was fascinated with English and Urdu. Every evening, poetry and ghazals were a ritual, and my father would explain the couplets to us kids. It was part of our education. It was in sync with his taste and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was truly stimulating.

What are some of your early experiences that you think truly shaped you?

My father had a multilayered personality. Though he was always in the public eye, he was the rebel of the family and he knew how to satiate and balance his Sagittarian need for adventure, and politics. He had many sides to be comfortable with and did everything with such ease. I imbibed his effortless conduct and refined taste.

My mother was immaculate. She loved her jewellery and wore a beautiful saree everyday. Never overdone. I remember this certain modern Cartier snake bracelet that she would have on her arm. I would see her demeanour change from the private chambers to the public. The ability to adapt graciously is what I learnt from her.

"Being a true Sagittarian, like my father, I like getting to know people. What the person is about is exciting for me."

What are some of the fondest memories you have from living in the fort?

The Toshakhana or the treasure chamber had trunks of sarees and jewellery and us kids would be waiting to take a peek! Gorgeous silks and chiffon sarees folded in tissue, muslin and tobacco leaves. I still remember the rustle of the fabric, it was a beautiful sound that still plays in my ears when I revisit these memories.

Holi was a beautiful festival, it was a ritual every year. A troop of court singers would start the morning of Holi by singing in the main courtyard. My grandparents would be the first to be ready and get coloured. My mom would take her time to get ready and come down. After all the colour and fan fare which would last more than half the day, we would be sent for our beauty rituals.

"Time stood still in Badnore and it was a charmed life in Pratapgarh."

How did you come to have a long standing career as an Editor of a magazine and then the President at Frazer and Haws?

I got married into a royal family too, and moved to Delhi. I lucked out. Although I took to the change easily, I couldn't sit twiddling my thumbs for long. The way we grew up, men didn't get up and go to 'work', they had their enterprises and other things of their land that they took care of. It was a different life.

I started freelance writing and script writing as I had a deep love for literature. I still love the feel of paper and the smell of books.

"I just went with the wind, like a blade of grass."

After 7 years at G&J, I had to move onto something else and I joined Frazer & Haws (the design-led British silverware brand). For the first year I was miserable, but I went on to work with them for 10 years. I really learnt the grind of the business of luxury and retail, and was able to do a multitude of things with them.

I was careful not to flaunt or reveal my heritage because I didn't want to be treated any different. At the end of the day my blood is still red, not blue.

"Working kept me very grounded."

How did House of Badnore come to be?

I am passionate about creating and have a flair for design. After having created my own identity, I was comfortable using my family name and I was ready to venture out on my own.

I never wanted to get classified as a typical Rajput or royal.

"The understanding of elegance has been lost. People who splurge are not necessarily people with taste. I wanted to educate people about elegance."

House of Badnore is an attempt to bring back maximalism, not in the way that it is infamously known. But in a way, that is relevant and modern, accessible and affordable - redefining luxury.

I didn't want HoB to be just one particular genre or niche. Gifting is predominant in India, silverware is still important in homes, accessories are very important in one's wardrobe, and gift options for men are limited unless you're splurging to buy something meaningful. I wanted to bring back these elements from the regal past.

What is the concept of redefining luxury with maximalism, at HoB?

Personally, I have never completely identified with minimalism as a trend that became the buzzword at the turn of the millennium. I enjoy the Victorian intricacies, the rich Indian carvings and embroidery, the Art Nouveau and Rococo that celebrate the flair in details. That is what I grew up with and it is ingrained in my sensibilities. Yet, going forward the same has to be re-interpreted as homes are mostly modern now with limitations of space and people are global citizens and cannot be burdened with something that they can only use sparingly. Hence, at HoB I try to amalgamate elements and motifs from the past in more modern creations.

How does the past influence the brand today?

Growing up in a fort in Pratapgarh, we were exposed to so many ubiquitous sights that are beyond urban comprehension. Whatever was de rigueur then, is enchanting now! Owls were a regular sight, I put the owl motif on the cashmere wraps. I’m working on a bee and hive motif, as this was a usual sight in the old corners of the fort. Beehives were considered to be lucky, and hence, not disturbed until the bees abandoned it. Ducks, birds and other wildlife motifs are also from childhood memories of walking through fields and the repeated night drives in the forest or midnight picnics at the lake. Sometimes I pick a motif and then identify the craft or technique of product design and sometimes I work around a skill.

Right now, the infinity sign has going on in my head and I will end up creating around it.

What are you currently working on?

I working on developing digitally printed rugs with vintage Persian patterns as a fresh product line, using recycled plastic combined with jute and woven into a weather resistant flat rug.

"Once again I am looking at combining a hint of nostalgia with a very new and eco friendly technique."

Plans are afoot to add other layers of products like a range of delicately embroidered sarees using the rose motif. This range would be called “Come September.” Rose is considered to be a symbol of love and new beginnings and I am hopeful that this pandemic would end by August and bring about newness in the world where people would be more loving and caring.

Badnore had its own miniature school of art. We had renowned artists who gave the miniatures a distinct style. My younger daughter Krittika, who is an art historian, is in the process of identifying a whole range of subjects that can be incorporated into fresh artworks including the key elements of Badnore style. Another layer!

Of all the antiquities and collectibles you have, which is your most prized possession?

There are so many! As we speak, there is this silver box sitting in front of me – it was given to me by my mother in law and her mother apparently passed it down to her. It’s a gorgeous paan (betel leaf) box with several compartments that open out with concealed hinges. It is in the shape of a four-petal flower. Inside, the silver surface is finished with a strong gold wash, which is intact even today! It’s a beauty and was obviously custom made for some occasion because the detailing is so special and unique.

Archana Kumari Singh grew up in a culturally alive environment. Umrao Jaan remains her favourite movie, and Farida Khanum, her favourite singer till date.

She lives in Delhi and is currently reading History of Cartiers, a beguiling book that brings alive the world of jewellery, something that holds her fascination.

You can read more about the brand here:

And ofcourse check it out on IG

@House of Badnore

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