Q&A | Manish Malhotra


Q&A | Manish Malhotra

Straight out of a movie

Manish Malhotra’s success has been due to three things: sensuous garments that are designed to make people look younger and slimmer; his association with blockbuster films as a stylist; and the fact that he can play wardrobe mentor of the stars without “prying into other people’s affairs”.

We are at the The Leela Palace hotel in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri and Malhotra orders a plain idli with sweet lime juice. He is watching his diet, he says; he has already lost eight of the 15kg he put on recently. Just two days back he opened a 5,000 sq. ft store in Bandra-Khar in Mumbai (his second) and next week he is set to launch a 7,000 sq. ft store in Delhi in a repurposed haveli (mansion) in Mehrauli.

For someone whose talent is barely acknowledged outside Bollywood’s chiffon set (he’s known more for his starry friends than the creativity of his eight-year-old label), he is a deeply assured person. Malhotra says he isn’t waiting for anyone to declare him a great artist because even he doesn’t think he is great. Here, he tells us which city his newer clients come from and why he doesn’t disclose his turnover. Edited excerpts:

Have you become the designer you set out to be or has Bollywood drowned your artistic ambition?

There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t been fascinated by Hindi films. I adored 1970s style. But I never went to fashion school, never even went abroad till I earned some money as a 19-year-old, small-time print model to visit Singapore and Bangkok. I was raised in a middle-class Punjabi family in Mumbai. Yet I styled one song for Swarg (1990) and later made Nagma’s costumes for Baaghi (also 1990) at a time when film costumes were looked down upon. I got my first Filmfare award when I was 27 (best costume design for Rangeela, 1995). Today, at 46, I see copies of my designs all over. I have worked with the best, so some dreams have been fulfilled, others are knocking anew. I don’t think I am the best, I don’t even know if I am talented. Yet if people love my work and it sells so much, who am I to complain?

You dress some of India’s most glamorous women so why is there an absence of distinction in what you create for them?

I don’t agree because that’s my brand talking loudly. The brand has become as big as the designer, besides style needs to be consistent. I want to dress women in sensuous, flowing and colourful drapes that make them look younger and slimmer. My mindset comes from the movies where youth and beauty are non-negotiable.

You work with various crafts but inconsistently, making it difficult to associate you with any particular craft in mainstream fashion.

That’s because I don’t want to stagnate and don’t think working with one craft to make an intellectual point matters as much as bringing different Indian crafts to the mainstream and to wedding wear. It is clichéd and old-fashioned to keep doing the same thing. I have worked on Mijwan (for Lucknavi Chikankari) for more than two years now, have also explored Kashmiri and Phulkari for couture, all this is more exciting than staying with one school of thought.

What makes you disillusioned, disheartened?

When people pull me down or critics chide me for doing the “same old Bollywood”. But I am a die-hard optimist who jumps back in one day after being low. I have never called up anyone to ask for assignments or indirectly dropped hints asking “so when are we working together?” If a bride doesn’t want to buy from me for an event of her wedding, I will never ask who is making her other clothes. I adore my work, I hate Sundays. And I derive strength from my family as I still live with my parents, while my brother and sister-in-law work with me.

Why has the Indian wedding become so inflated? Do brides really need designers like yourself for these intense and expensive moments of vanity?

Other designers may not like this but this mindset of the exuberant wedding, a dozen functions and ensembles flows out of the movies where the Indian wedding is a spectacle like none other. It amalgamates the aspirations of the Indian and international youth. Films romanticize this idea and people come looking for a similar experience. I am not at all apologetic that I help create and recreate that glamour.

Not long back your biggest clients were the NRIs. Now?

Not any more. NRIs only form about 40% of my client base. Delhi is the big and most keenly emerging market for my brand.

Why doesn’t your website disclose your company’s turnover? Shouldn’t designers be transparent about earnings?

Some designers do disclose company turnover but I am not that kind of person. I don’t want to announce my money. If I am opening huge new stores, doesn’t it convey what’s going on?

What about pricing, why is it so arbitrary in fashion? Some of your clothes on Perniaspopupshop.com after ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ are so expensive!

You think so? Then how come they get sold out? But I have to agree that one of the reasons why I want to do diffusion and more accessible collections is because I want to reach out. I think I am connecting more and more with regular fashion buyers. I want to make the Manish Malhotra label of fluid, glamorous garments accessible to my newer clients, starting at, let’s say, Rs.11,000.

Why do you make so many clothes every year? Films, ready-to-wear, wedding garments?

So that people don’t say I was wasting my time chatting with Kareena Kapoor.