Manish Malhotra and his avant-garde creations are synonymous with all things glitz and glamour. The ace designer, who completes 30 years of his journey in the fashion industry this year, has showcased his designs on many fashion shows and has even designed costumes for various Bollywood films.
In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, the designer talks about his love for design, his relationship with B-Town celebs, the pandemic and its effects on the fashion industry, and why he is having the last laugh.
When did your love affair with design begin? How would you describe the emotion?
Design for me is freedom from fear, and my designs are always about celebrations. This lockdown, how many times have we donned our favourite lipsticks and that dupatta we love? Design and clothes, for me, are all about happiness and a way of self-care, self-love and celebrating oneself.
The journey officially began 30 years ago but my love affair with design has been ongoing since childhood.
You were pegged as ‘Bollywood’; did you ever feel your creativity was being restricted?
I’m having the last laugh with this. I’ve started the culture of showstoppers, front rows, and all this was never strategic. I come from a film costume background and actors came to my fashion shows as friends. Urmila (Matondkar) came to my show, because we did Rangeela together and, similarly, all other actors as well. I don’t really analyse what the world has to say. I love what I do and I’m continuing on my journey.
In a recent video, you mention the risk of being typecast as a brand. How did you carve a niche on your own terms?
Constructive criticism always helps because you tend to fall in love with what you do, hence the need for people in your inner circle who can give feedback. Brands evolve, so do aesthetics. The signature remains the same but the nuances keep changing. What is important is to stick to your terms, come rain or shine. For long, my design has been labelled as ‘ultra-glam’ but I stuck to my guns and today, the world acknowledges and emulates it.
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While you work a lot with sequins and glitter, you strike a balance with chikankari and Kashmiri embroidery. But what do you truly enjoy working with?
Everything that the World of Manish Malhotra produces. You can’t be the same every day, one day you want to wear denim, the next you’re in Indian textiles, and another day in an over-the-top sequinned outfit. A right balance is the key.
But I would say glitter and sequins are something that have been close to me. Even our Chikankari pieces are immersed in our signature style with pearls and sequins.
The pandemic affected the fashion industry in numerous ways. What, according to you, is the way forward?
More innovation and re-invention. It has helped us tap into our true potential and the survivors of this have really proved their mettle. My biggest virtue is to always look at the brighter side and I feel it has changed the world for the better. Conscious consumption is on the rise and our ecological balance is being restored.
As part of the ‘Behind the Mask’ campaign, you decided to make masks inspired by Bollywood. Could you share the motivation and also the designs that find space on these?
Bollywood is close to me and the world knows that, especially this year, when I’m celebrating 30 years of my journey in costume designing. Of the four mask designs, one is an ode to classic Bollywood (the Mughal-e-Azam era to be specific), the next a reference to 90s blockbusters, the third is the “unfinished” mask that represents 2020, and the fourth one is inspired by the late 70s disco culture, directly inspired from the psychedelic crystal ball.
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You have had a long association with Bollywood and have seen it evolve. Which is your favourite period?
The black and white era. My entire childhood has been spent in movie theatres. So, when the theme of the mask came to me, I wanted to pay homage to Indian cinema of different decades – its style, fashion and films. I wish I could have been a part of the black and white era and worked with Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, V Shantaram, Raj Kapoor (I’m a huge fan of him). Also, with Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Yusuf sahab, so many.
I’m a huge fan of the 60s and 70s, but as I grew older, I watched more and more black and white cinema and believe that, both in the West and here, those movies had so much style. I really miss that.
If you had to choose one thing about Bollywood fashion that you don’t enjoy, what would that be?
Movies seek from society and have an anthropological connection. So, if you see anything in that context, you’ll find tremendous relevance there. Hence, there’s nothing really that I can’t like. I love everything about the movies.
Can you describe the 2020 mask you designed as part of the campaign?
There’s an unfinished mask that represents 2020. It is about all the plans and travels, works and assignments, which couldn’t see the light of the day due to lockdown.
A lot of designers are introducing matching masks as part of their collection, something that has divided opinions. Do you think that masks, more than utility, have become more of fashion accessories?
Masks have quickly evolved to become an identity-accessory. It’s on your face and says a lot about your personality.
Do you also plan to launch matching masks with your creations, or have models sashay down the ramp in them?
Not so far. I hope we go back to the pre-coronavirus days and there’s no need to wear masks in the first place.
While the list of celebs who have won your creations is endless, who do you feel carries off your clothes the best.
Everyone. Especially today, since actors have their own style and attitude and it’s a wonderful time for fashion.
Also, who is that one celebrity you really wish to style?
I would say, Meryl Streep.
Your favourite style moment — Bollywood or on the ramp?
There are numerous. It’s beyond challenging to choose one but as I mentioned, I’m a huge fan of everything black and white, old world so anything from those times.
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