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‘Don’t hide simplicity’

brunch Updated: Apr 05, 2013 10:03 IST
Navleen Lakhi
Navleen Lakhi
Hindustan Times
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A meeting with Dilip Kapur needs homework, especially when you know that as a boy he grew up in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, earned a scholarship to study at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, by just writing a letter to the headmaster, graduated from Princeton and followed it up with a PhD from University of Denver before returning to India to give the country its own luxury brand Hidesign.

A business handcrafted out of a hobby, Kapur, the founder and president of Hidesign, started with a two-man workshop in Pondicherry in 1978. Today, he has 3,000 employees and his company caters to the world.

And, it’s rather striking what this hide honcho of luxe world offers — simplicity and humility.

“There is a great beauty in simplicity. And simple designs are the most difficult to make. Be yourself and be unique. Your brand is the reflection of who you are,” says Kapur in city on Thursday at Elante where the second exclusive store of Hidesign has opened in the city.

His words not only encapsulate his brand’s core value but also his personality.

Apart from more lessons in business and life, one is curious about his Punjab connection, which interests him too, as it is something he has rarely been asked about. “My parents were from Peshawar and Lahore. Post Partition they moved to India and started a shoe company in Agra. Eventually my father gave up the well-established business and money to be a part of the Aurobindo Ashram. It was, in fact, a culture shock for my Punjabi parents initially, as both men and women were required to wear shorts at the ashram,” says Kapur who was five when his parents came to ashram.

He studied at the ashram school before pursuing higher education. About his journey from Auroville to America and back, he says, “I was sure that I’ll come back some day. I returned and made leather bags, which I learnt over the nine months I worked in a leather company while pursuing PhD in the US.”

Ninety per cent of Kapur’s bags were exported before he got established in India. “Who would have bought my bags back then,” he smiles, adding, “People thought them to be ugly.

Initially, only NRIs and foreigners liked them when we launched in India in 2000. The real change happened in 2003 when people started travelling, became more career-oriented, up market and professional. Today, even small towns such as Kochi love the brand. It’s only when people became more conscious that they opted for less synthetic items.”

The proud moment came for Kapur in 2007 when luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton (LV) bought a stake in Hidesign. “When LV decided to set up in India, out of all the places, the brand chose Pondicherry. They are long-term thinkers and know brands are not build in a year or two. When LV tied up with us, a lot of international brands came to us. LV also introduced us to a French company, which designs sunglasses for us. It’s the same company which designs for Dior and Chanel. I call them (LV) my big brothers.”

Recounting more such proud moments, Kapur says, “PM Dr Manmohan Singh and his wife took Hidesign bags as Indian souvenirs for foreign delegates they went to Korea last year for the international meet.”

For those who are against the use of leather, he says, “I have three dogs, 24 horses and dozens of cats. I’m an animal lover, but also believe that when an animal dies, its skin should not rot. Leather is a byproduct.”

As Kapur sings off, he doesn’t forget to mention daughter Ayesha’s (child actor Ayesha Kapur of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Black) venture. “Ayesha and my wife Jacqueline have opened ‘Ayesha’, a young accessories’ brand. The products are attitude-oriented. It has outlets across cities, including Chandigarh.