We meet in a befittingly royal setting that has a stamp of bespoke vintage on it — a 100-year-old haveli that Manish Malhotra has turned into his first flagship store in Delhi. The fashion designer, who was one of the first to introduce the country to a whole new world of refined luxury, bling, cuts and glamour, has come a long way in the 24 years of his career that stemmed from his interest in painting and sketching while he was a model. Manish is proud of having achieved so much, yet persists on remaining a “youngster who is always eager to learn instead of a know-it-all-uncle”. Excerpts from a conversation with the designer:
“Sitting here in my haveli store, I feel all that hard work has paid off. I am not a trained designer. I was a model who loved to paint and sketch. So, I am a self-made man and that’s what makes my journey of over two decades sweeter,” says Manish as we walk on the charmingly preserved rough-cut stone floor of the haveli.
In 1999, Manish had started off with the launch of a store called Reverie, along with Avanti and Yash Birla. After a stint with Sheetal Design Studio in Mumbai, he launched his own label — Manish Malhotra. Today, going to a Manish Malhotra store is an experience in itself than just another day out shopping with the girls. The designer involves himself personally to give his clients bespoke garments. Quiz Manish about how he sees the hallmark of his own work, and pat comes the response, “I don’t think of myself in third person. As a stylist, I like to know what the story is, what jewellery the bride is wearing and details like the venue and the guest list etc. only to get a bigger picture. But, I wouldn’t ever impose my choice upon the person. I don’t want to be in a cocoon, just like an escapist would. I want to be forever learning.”
For Manish, colour and femininity should reflect in the clothes of women, while for the men, the garments should be structured and simple. “A designer puts on the ramp that which according to him is his story. And if that catches the fancy of most people and becomes a trend, it is a great achievement for the designer. I don’t predict trends, but the hallmark of my designs is very old-world — rich luxurious experience, old embroidery motifs and old zari work,” he says.
B-town connectionsA "Bollywood designer" whose clothes sell "because actors wear them" are common sarcastic barbs and critiques from the anti- Manish Malhotra camp. "My response is through my work and my sustenance as a bespoke designer of handcrafted luxury. Had my clothes sold well because actors wore them, my brand wouldn’t have survived for over two decades. Today, people look at me as a couturier and a label rather than just a Bollywood designer. There has not been a single request for a costume that a particular actor has worn," he says.
Not that he minds in the least bit his association with Indian cinema. “Cinema and cricket are two popular obsessions in India, so how can we negate their reach and influence? I am proud of my Bollywood connection. However, at the same time, there are a dime a dozen designers who flaunt actors as showstoppers in their ramp shows, but that doesn’t imply that their brand is soaring too,” he adds.
Punjabi by nature
Manish is a proud Punjabi, and while sometimes that fact is apparent in his work, the designer insists he does not want to fall in the trap of stereotypes. “As a society, we are constantly running away from culture. But, I feel that our basic nature doesn’t change. At the same time, stereotypes keep changing constantly as one evolves personally and professionally. As a label, we have evolved too. When we started out, it was a lot of glitz, a lot of glamour. We went on to rediscover and re-package our craft for a younger audience. I call it a journey of rediscovering yourself,” he prefers to put it.
A globe trotter, in Manish’s collections last year — including his Winter/Festive line called Reflections, comprising Phulkari inspired Threads of Emotion, and Celebrating 100 Years of Indian Cinema line — revivalism was predominant. Manish says traditional art forms interest him. “I have worked with chikankari, Kashmiri embroidery and recently, Punjab’s Phulkari. I engage with an art form because it provides a new dimension to my work. I don’t feel the need to tom-tom about it,” says he.
Next on the cards
Known to be a recluse in the party circuit, Manish says he’d rather observe. “I am not a reader, I am an observer. I wake up early in the morning to do all the things that I do. I did a TV show five years ago, which was great fun and I won’t mind doing a talk show in the future. But I wouldn’t want to give my designs and work too much exposure,” he says.
Currently, the man has gone minimalist. “I would say that too much of everything is a bad thing,” he says. Clearly, Manish is on the road to another self-discovery.