‘We are still glorified darzis’


‘We are still glorified darzis’

My fashion career started with the colour red. As a fashion aspirant in the early ’80s,I was enthused by red taffeta shirts that I would get my neighbourhood darzi to stitch. In those days,I would wear checked trousers created from light-weight furnishing fabrics bought from FabIndia. Being a turbaned Sikh then,I would even match my socks and turbans. There was no such thing as Indian fashion then. In1985,I told my father,a steel trader,that I wanted to study at the London College of fashion. My father didn’t mind a son’s flights of fancy but the family figured that they didn’t have the required finances. I wound up studying fashion in London because of a nun’s retirement fund. I had a Canadian godmother,a nun who serves still at Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh). She decided to spend her life’s earnings on my fashion education.

I returned to India in late 1986,when fashion in the country was essentially a hit-and-miss industry. Amongst designers,there was Rohit Khosla,who died tragically young; Bina Ramani with Once Upon a Time,her store in Hauz Khas,and Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla in Mumbai. The only multi designer store was Khazana at Delhi’s Taj Hotel. I wanted to make constructed clothes based on my European training but the market here was all about drapes and lehngas.

A few people among the Delhi elite “did fashion”,others just wore safari suits. That meant quite a struggle for someone who wanted to make a living out of design. A label by the name of Ravi Bajaj was a preposterous idea then. In the ’80s,Bajaj meant scooters. It was Hamara Bajaj,not Ravi Bajaj.

Finally,I put out an advertisement in The Economic Times selling myself as an internationally trained designer available for freelance work. I was hired for an assignment by a Mumbai-based garment exporter. I took the job but never gave up on the dream of opening a store under my own name. I opened one in Delhi in 1987,barely a year after returning from London. It stocked a coordinated collection of men’s and women’s garments. I have never named any of my collections. Abroad,no designer names a collection; it is categorised under a season,even if inspirations are varied. But here,the media wants to feel excited about something and designers fall into that trap and end up giving fancy titles to their collections.

An anonymous collection walked the ramp for my first solo show in 1990 in Delhi. It was sponsored by Ranbaxy. I continued to show three times a year for the first decade. I saw myself as a focused fashion show director and obsessed about everything: from the champagne to invitation cards and the ambience.

In fashion,you must fantasise but not forget that it is an applied art because parameters are set and technique is paramount. I’m now 46,and can look back with some pride at my achievement. I own Ravi Bajaj — one of India’s oldest fashion labels,but also Soak and Le Cafe restaurants. I will be starting as an interiors architect. It’s a part of my aesthetic need.

You seldom see me at fashion weeks. I believe fashion shows have lost their relevance. The moment I get distracted by the other aspects of fashion — display,fashion shows,marketing and sales,discontent sets in. I still sell suits and saris that I made a decade ago,which is why I believe that Indian designers are only glorified darzis.