Acting Style

Five young designers update the Bollywood wardrobe with their quirky,individual styles. They talk about what an Aishwarya Rai or a Sonam Kapoor does for their brand,and their stories of discovery and success.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti | New Delhi | Published: April 7, 2013 10:14 pm

Five young designers update the Bollywood wardrobe with their quirky,individual styles. They talk about what an Aishwarya Rai or a Sonam Kapoor does for their brand,and their stories of discovery and success.

Shehla Khan

Her label is a little over a year old,but Shehla Khan’s glittering client list tells the story: it includes Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra,Sonam Kapoor and Kajol. At her debut show at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai a fortnight ago,the front row shone with faces you would recognise from the glossies — Rhea Kapoor with mother Sunita,director Karan Johar,newbie actor Varun Dhawan,socialites Natasha Poonawala,Madhoo Shah and a host of other celeb friends. But more importantly,the clothes were worth the hype. For spring-summer 2013,Khan worked with lace. In a series of cocktail dresses and evening gowns,she managed the right balance of sensuality and romance,marrying lace with embroidery and net,organza and other sheer fabrics.

Khan had a privileged start in the industry. Her aunt was among the first people in India to embroider and ship clothes to international designers,and her father,who assisted her,grew to be the proprietor of Saks India,which worked for international design houses of repute like Escada,Elie Saab and Valentino. A career in fashion was ordained for Khan. “I was born into fashion. It’s all I’ve ever known,” says the designer,who is in her late 20s.

Surprisingly,she got on to the design board only a couple of years ago when school friend and actor Sonam Kapoor asked her to design an outfit for an appearance at India’s Most Desirable with Simi Garewal in mid-2011. “This was way before I started my store or my brand officially. She saw talent in me and encouraged me to establish myself as a designer,” says Khan,who designed a honeycombed maxi dress for Kapoor for the show.

The family business cocooned her from a competitive industry and gave her a head start that most newcomers can only dream of. Khan did a foundation course in fashion from the London College of Fashion,and a Master’s in styling from the famed Instituto Marangoni in Milan. In between,she threw in a year’s training at the SNDT college in Mumbai,where she honed her design and entrepreneurial skills.

The exposure worked wonders. In between her formal training in design,she accompanied her father during his frequent meetings with international design house heads,assisted Italian designer Giuseppe Daegatano (one-time assistant to Gucci and Roberto Cavalli) and in India,worked with Manish Malhotra,every Bollywood star’s guide to mastering chiffon and bling. “Working with Manish helped me a lot. It gave me practical experience at a young age. He gave me the opportunity to explore all the spheres of his business,” she says.

Bolstered by these experiences,Khan started her label,Shehlaa by Shehla Khan,last year with a stand-alone store in Colaba and retail tie-ups with boutiques in the city. Her clothes are expensive; a plain top from her western wear range costs Rs 5,750 onwards,while an embroidered lehnga can cost up to Rs 2.5 lakh.

Khan knows her real test lies in sustaining her success. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of the fashion world abroad. I don’t feel I am even half way to my goal,” she says.

Tanya Sharma

With a brand named GaGa,one would imagine that Tanya Sharma had always aspired for rockstar chic,but the Mumbai-based designer laughs off the suggestion. “That’s my pet name. Tanya sounded too plain when I was thinking of launching my label in 2009,so I went with Gaga. Poker Face (from Lady Gaga’s debut album) became a huge hit the next year and it seemed serendipitous,” says the 33-year-old.

Sharma’s clothes certainly don’t lack in drama. A crisp white shirt is worn with a pair of pink hot pants,an electric blue printed lining peeps out from beneath and a pink cape is thrown in for good measure. A jumpsuit is Indianised into a sharara with a dupatta and Indian embroidery,a classic tuxedo and an achkan are fused to come up with an androgynous achkan kaftan or a tuxedo sari. They are touched by whimsy,perfect for those looking to do quirky. At pop music concerts,performances and music awards in India,GaGa has come to be a staple with a loyal clientele in musicians Anushka Manchanda,Sona Mahapatra,Mansi Scott and Shibani Dandekar. “I am not much of a person for tight clothes,so my silhouettes are loose. I like vibrant colours and the fact that there’s so much one can do with Indian prints and crafts,” she says.

As the daughter of an Army officer posted in Chandigarh,Sharma was pondering over career options when she wrote her entrance exams for the National Institute of Design (NID),Ahmedabad and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). She didn’t make it to NID,but NIFT offered her a seat at their Mumbai campus and Sharma moved cities hoping she had found her vocation. She enjoyed the course and design,but later,when she got offers for modelling and movies,she decided to dabble in the former before she could make up her mind. “I did a few commercials,but somehow,I didn’t enjoy modelling. I had far too many suggestions to make about the clothes,” she says.

Styling for commercials,however,piqued her curiosity. Her portfolio in the last few months has included styling ad films. She is now preparing to do the costumes for her first feature film Mastaan,a retro-gangster movie produced by Sunil Vohra that stars Zoya Morani and Vivaan Shah,Naseeruddin Shah’s younger son. The offers to act though haven’t stopped. “Recently,I got a call to play second lead in a film that has Sonam Kapoor in the lead. Right now,I’d rather design for her than act with her,” she says.

Sailex Ngairangbam

At one point during his training at NIFT,Delhi,Sailex Ngairangbam wasn’t sure he would complete it. He was a perpetual drifter,and as his teachers often told him,too given to shirk work than exercise his obvious talent at design. Ngairangbam didn’t give up. He graduated in 2005,but the Manipur-born,Delhi-based designer knew he was not cut out for a corporate set-up — he gave up his first job at denimwear brand Lee in Bangalore much before the probation period ended. So while his batchmates vied to work with established designers and planned their label launches,Ngairangbam decided to train further. He opted for the Domus Academy in Milan,soaking in the fashion on the streets,learning new techniques to cut,construct and tailor as he worked for brands like Rafael Lopez and Costume National. By the time he graduated in 2007,he had grown up enough to create his own label. His brand Sailex was born a year later when he debuted at the Lakme Fashion Week.

Known mostly for his separates — pea coats and asymmetrical jackets,saris with one-shouldered blouses and evening dresses in sheer fabrics,Sailex,Ngairangbam’s brand is popular with the younger crop of actors that include Neha Dhupia,Sonakshi Sinha and Evelyn Sharma. His shapes are clean,classic and non-fussy,tweaked just enough to suit both the petite and the curvaceous,the adventurous and the conservative. “I like style lines – the princess line,the waist joint,the shoulder span,the hem girth,the trouser crease — the right points for all these lines can miraculously transform a simple shape into an engineering marvel,” he says. His clothes are in the price range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

While his interest in fashion developed because of his mother,an entrepreneur who worked with indigenous fabrics on projects with the Ministry of Textiles,Ngairangbam,who was selected as one of best finds in the FiveYears of Gen Next show in 2010,steers clear of all regional references,concentrating wholly on western silhouettes and an occasional sari. In his clothes,invisible technical aspects like balance,proportion and interlinings play an important role,and the fabrics used are almost always sheers and silks. “I like to base my designs on classic styles,but I keep things contemporary,without going too retro-vintage or costume-y. I like balancing crisp lines with soft fabrics. There are always elements of tailoring or engineered construction in my pieces,” says the 31-year-old.

Having celebs wear his label is fabulous marketing for a young label,and Ngairangbam acknowledges the boost to his career. “Setting up and sustaining a business unit in a city like Delhi,a far cry from my hometown Imphal,has been a difficult but learning process. Stabilising my business has been the biggest highlight. I think I am almost ready for a formal launch now,” he says.

Nupur Kanoi

Nupur Kanoi might never have bridged the distance between Kolkata and Mumbai had it not been for a rebellious decision to dump a course in chartered accountancy for three years at NIFT,Kolkata. Her mother’s elegant Indian wardrobe and grandfather’s eclectic sartorial style and his Saville Row suits had aroused her interest in fashion quite early,but it took her a while to realise that it was her calling.

Kanoi’s design philosophy — she calls it artistic disarray — pays great attention to detail. Whether it is matching stripes in fabrics,or handcrafting toggle buttons,or a labour-intensive cording process,or even a pocket,“the micro components of design are my heroes,” she says. “They almost create a personal communication between the designer and the wearer.”

Structured jackets with painstaking hand embroidery,flowing asymmetrical kurtas with zardosi embroidery,shirtdresses with geometric paneling on the sleeves and back find willing admirers in celebrities that include Aishwarya Rai Bachchan,Sonam Kapoor,Asin,Chitrangada Singh,Neha Dhupia,Avantika Malik (wife of actor Imraan Khan) and others. At red-carpet events,a maxi dress from Kanoi or boleros with crisp cuts have become a familiar sight.

Before she launched her label in 2006,Kanoi worked as a stylist with a fashion magazine in Mumbai,which gave her greater exposure to global brands. It also introduced her to the celebs who would go on to become her clients. But working with client briefs stifled her creativity. “(After NIFT,) I took up styling,which was not a very developed area then. I returned to design,and to Kolkata eventually,but my magazine stint broadened my vision and also matured my approach to design. It helped me mature as a person too,” says the 34-year-old.

Her return to Kolkata saw her apprentice with another city-based designer Anamika Khanna. In those two years before she set up her own label,Kanoi learned the importance of handcrafting and working with indigenous crafts and fabrics. “I love traditional crafts and embroideries and there is no place like Kolkata when it comes to the quality of workmanship,” she says.

She had few apprehensions,therefore,in setting up her label in Kolkata,and in the last couple of years,she has been vindicated. Kanoi,who retails out of boutiques like Aza,Ensemble,Evoluzione,Atosa,Collage and Zenon across India,has her own workshop in Dacres Lane in the heart of Kolkata from where she coordinates with her clients across the country. “At present,thanks to national platforms,publications and social media,networking is not a ‘locational’ thing anymore,” she says.

Bollywood is a huge endorsement,and Kanoi makes sure to take part in the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai,where her work finds new takers every season. But that,she says,is only because she doesn’t let the quality of her designs flag. “Networking is secondary,doing good work is the most important aspect for me,” she says.

Sonaakshi Raaj

If there’s one thing that Sonaakshi Raaj learned well during her stint as assistant designer to Manish Malhotra,it was to ensure that the quality of the product never flagged. In between counselling Malhotra’s clients — Kareena Kapoor,Priyanka Chopra,Rani Mukerji among others — on their costume choice for appearances in films,commercials,television appearances and print campaigns,Raaj was imbibing important lessons in styling and design. A year later,when she started out on her own in 2009 at her studio and workshop in Juhu,she was already a seasoned hand in second-guessing what they wanted. “Most of the stars are easy-going,but they demand quality work with unique designs,which I provide them and that’s the reason why they come to me,” says the designer in her late 20s.

Her first celebrity client was Katrina Kaif,who picked up pieces from her autumn-winter 2009 collection,but ever since the list has grown to include Bipasha Basu,Raveena Tandon,Alia Bhatt,Shazahn Padamsee and Shraddha Kapoor. Raaj’s design sensibility is,however,different from Malhotra’s. Evening gowns with rosette busts and plunging backs,dresses with lace overlays and Peter Pan collars,cocktail wear in monochromatic organza with pouf sleeves and deep backs — her look book focuses on the cutesy and the glamorous and positions itself as easy couture wear. “I enjoy dressing up. So my personal styling is more towards the classic. I love dresses,fun colours,well-fitted denims and accessories,” says Raaj,who trained in design at Mumbai’s SNDT University.

After launching her spring-summer 2013 collection at the LFW,she is now scouring for costumes for an upcoming Sajid Nadiadwala film. Raaj’s designs retail from stores such as Fuel in Mumbai,Araha in Nagpur and Studio 8 in Dubai and Galleria Graffiti in Italy.

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