I’ve had a very simple and disciplined upbringing and I can’t thank my parents enough for that. I was given enough freedom to make my choices but within the limits my parents set for me. I was never a brilliant student (in fact I’ve never passed a math exam in my life) but focused on subjects I was good at — arts, history, English. I was a keen gymnast and that helped me understand the need for a certain balance in life, pretty early on. My parents encouraged me to paint, draw, write and debate. By the time I was 17 or 18, it was pretty much decided that I was not going to follow the family tradition of becoming an international banker, which most of my family members, including the ladies in the family, took as a career choice.
The learning years
I graduated from a design college in Europe and my first major professional high was to be able to work at the design studio of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris while he was still alive and at the peak of his career. I was a junior assistant and learnt the very basis of my work ethics there — focus, focus, focus! I was part of the design studio when the wedding dress for the Duchess of Windsor was done at YSL. That was awesome for the time.
I had the good fortune to work with Martand Singh and Rakesh Thakore on several projects when I was beginning my work life. They are two of the most disciplined, brilliant design people in India today. They instilled in me the need to stay focused, work hard and let your work speak for you.
It may sound strange but in a sense I spend almost all my waking hours dreaming of design and trying to hone my skills and understand my art better. I can look at books, trees, motifs, textiles, and even cars and electronics items and think about shape, form, colour and how I feel inspired by them.
Finding the balance
Being a design professional certainly has its perils — your mind is always working and while designing a collection I don’t rest or sleep much for many, many weeks at a stretch. I try and better everything and want to be my best, constantly, each time. This quality, even though it drives one to fulfilment, can be exhausting! So, I now try and balance my work time with other things I enjoy, like music, exercising or learning to sing.
Dealing with failures
I am at a time in my life where I accept the failures and success with equal elan. I’ve made some mistakes and had some very successful moments. That’s life... you live and learn!
Sharing the mantra
To young people I would say — don’t be afraid to innovate; be different. Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity. Ask yourself often ‘what would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’. The answers will come to you.
Suneet Varma Interviewed by Pankaj Mullick