Dyeing a Royal Dream

Rimple and Harpreet Narula, costume designers for Padmaavat, on their first cinematic outing, blending cultures and learning on the job

Written by Ektaa Malik | Published: February 15, 2018 12:24 am
Harpreet and Rimple Narula at their store in Delhi. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

It was the phone call from Sanjay Leela Bhansali in late 2015 that set the ball rolling for Delhi-based fashion designers Rimple and Harpreet Narula, of the label Rimple & Harpreet. “It was really out of the blue. Someone from Sanjay’s team called us and said that he would like to meet us. It was too good to be true,” says Harpreet, 43.

Despite its controversial start, Padmaavat finally released and has done tremendously well. We meet the husband-wife duo at their cavernous double-height store in Defence Colony, Delhi. It is as opulent as their couture creations for Padmaavat, which have been universally appreciated. Black-and-white photographs of various celebrities wearing their creations dot the walls of the store, taken by the rather shy and unassuming Harpreet; his wife Rimple is the vocal of the two. “I had always been fascinated by photos, design and the aesthetics of it all,” he says.

In their 10 years as designers, they have dressed a few celebrities, but this is their first 76mm scale outing. They had big shoes to fill, given that Bhansali has worked with designers such as Neeta Lulla (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas), Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla (Devdas), Anju Modi (Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani) and Sabyasachi (Black and Guzaarish) in his previous offerings. “I have always admired the cinematic vision, and the grandeur it manifests. As creative people, we wanted to push our boundaries, and what better than a Bhansali film,” says Harpreet, a graduate from Hindu College.

The duo spent a chunk of 2016 visiting museums and sourcing written texts or pictures for a frame of context for the clothes of Rani Padmavati, Maharawal Ratan Singh, Alauddin Khilji and Mehrunissa. “This was the Sultanate period, roughly around 13th century. And we had four distinct cultures to manifest — Sinhalese, Rajputana, Afghani, and Sultanate. Above all, we were working with these three very strong personalities, and the clothes had to reflect their socio-political context, and not to mention the climate,” says Harpreet.

“For Deepika, we had three distinct looks. One was the Sinhalese, second was her royal outfits, and the third, her simpler clothes for times when she is sleeping, or her lone time with Shahid. We used lots of mulmul, organic cotton. For embellishments there was brocade and hand embroidery and a double odhna was created. One was with the shorter pallu, while the other was the dedh patt one — which went from the head to the toes. We framed a sarong wrap saree for her time as a Sinhalese princess, which we fashioned with jute and added drama with mother of pearl, which was native to that region,” says Rimple, 40.

A lot of effort also went into making the clothes climate friendly, from the fabric to the colour pallete. “We designed a chandan colour achkan for Shahid. We even made him wear a pastel pink kurta for when he is sleeping. His embellished clothes are colourful, and not drab. Even Ranveer’s clothes change. When he is not the king yet, his outfits are simpler and straighter, but the moment he sits on the throne of Delhi, there is added flair and embellishment to his silhouettes,” says Rimple.

Harpreet, who hails from Ludhiana, had moved to Delhi in 1999 when he got married to Rimple, a Delhi girl and fellow DU student from Hansraj college. Working together was kind of organic for the couple. “I am not trained in it. We never really planned for it to be a brand. We used to collect old fabrics and textiles. And Rimple had an innate sense of design which blended with my own. We divide and conquer. I take care of the production and design, she handles marketing, sales, and the brand,” says Harpreet.

The film has been a labour of love, with a team of 40 people working on it for almost two years. Designs were created in Delhi, fabrics were dyed and block printed in Bagru and Sanganer, and karigars sourced from all over. “We learnt so much about gottas and textures. The costumes and the look are a big part of the film’s narrative. As for those times, the way you dressed was your calling card, the drape and tilt of a turban could give away your stature in society. There were three times when we had to find a karigar who knew this technique of working gota with silver,” says Harpreet.

For now, they are soaking in the appreciation before they start work on their next venture. No, it’s not a film. “We are invoking architecture of historical sites and the surrounding landscape – it could be by the sea, the mountains or the plains,” says the duo.

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