"I'm living in the Northeast (New York City) where gray is the color," she said. "It's a fantastic, different sensibility (in Houston). It's softer, but they're still a little whimsical."
Ahluwalia knows a lot about clothes. She and her husband, Sachin Ahulwalia, are quickly earning a reputation for their hip women's line, Sachin + Babi, that has the quality of designer collections at a lower price. Dresses made of high-quality, textured fabric go for under $600; slacks under $250 and tops under $300; a pair of fleece-lined, body-hugging faux leather leggings at $175 are a steal for the fashion-conscious dresser.
"We want to be a little more democratic in our price point so our reach is much wider. But it is still for the customer who appreciates high design. She likes draping, color and texture. She wants to embrace it for her everyday living. We are just two designers trying to offer something different because there are a lot of designers in the market," Babi said during an interview at Tootsies.
The couple, both from India, met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1994, fell in love and married. After graduation, they each took a loan from their parents to launch a successful business featuring beaded, textured and embroidered fabrics that such high-end designers as Oscar de Renta, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent and Carolina Herrera gobble up.
"We learned the craft from the finest — the cut of a dress, the drape of a gown," she said. "You learn enough, you want to have your point of view."
Six years ago, the couple launched a high-end home furnishings business called Ankasa after being unable to find decorative pillows for their new condo. The followed up with their namesake clothing line two-and-a-half years ago. It shares boutique space with the design business on New York's Upper East Side. "The love of design you can apply anywhere, whether it's clothes or even pottery for that matter," Babi said.
While their spring collection is romantic and girly, with soft florals and terracotta colors, they went in a totally different direction for fall with a biker girl aesthetic. "It's a little tough for fall, but we have fun with it," Babi said. "My husband just got a Harley."
The play of texture that marks the line is apparent throughout both collections. A gown is made of pink tulle and beige trench coat canvas; a one-piece cocktail dress is marked by a white blouse and black sequined skirt; another dress has a leather bodice and a skirt of shredded georgette strips.
The couple also creates a jewelry line to accompany each collection. To complement the boho-influenced spring collection, they featured prayer beads necklaces and onyx jewelry. For the edgier fall collection, they created earrings, amulet collars and cuffs based on Indian fighting daggers. "Every season is different," Babi said. "It enhances the identity of the clothes."
Each collection is a collaboration. Babi serves as Sachin's muse and buys the fabrics. Sachin, who did not make the Houston trip, sketches the ideas; Babi tweaks them based on a woman's wardrobe needs. "We play off each other's strengths," she said.
Working together in business while being married has its moments, she admits. But with two young children (8 and 5), Babi says it's nice to have a co-worker who realizes the importance of having a life outside of work. "Because we're in it together, he understands my needs," she said.