When one thinks of beautiful handcrafted designs and unconventional silhouettes, Rohit Bal’s name immediately comes to mind. Even after being in the business of fashion for 25 years, the designer’s deep understanding of aesthetics comes through in his collections, which usually draw inspiration from history, fantasy and folklore. Known not only for his attention to detail, but also for his flamboyant and unabashed personality, Bal believes in breaking conventions. Here, he exclusively talks to us about styling for his celebrity friends, being the “bad boy of Indian fashion”, and more.
You were part of the group that helped India progress as far as fashion is concerned. Rebellion and creative expression were your tools. Do you think designers today have too many restrictions?
I feel they succumb to the needs of the market and their clients, and forget to stay true to what they believe in. I understand there’s a constant need to stay afloat, but one needs to create what they really believe in, and make a niche for themselves.
Several celebrities wear your designs, and even walk for your shows. Why don’t you design for films?
I see many of my friends and colleagues doing it. I like the concept, but I can’t go through the process. I don’t have the patience. I will do costumes [for films] one day, but it will be for my own directorial.
You once said that Bollywood stars are very stressful, and you can’t deal with their tantrums. But aren’t celeb endorsements important for a brand?
Celebrity endorsements are important for some brands, and it’s true that it was very stressful to work with celebrities directly. But thanks to stylists today, it has become fun and easy to deal with.
You are often referred to as “India’s bad boy of fashion”. Does the title irk you at times?
“India’s bad boy of fashion” and “enfant terrible” actually mean someone who rebels against set conventions or the unruly one. That’s who I am. I lead my own way. If anything, it’s a great compliment.
Your early menswear collections really pushed the envelope. With the whole gender-neutral clothing movement making waves internationally, do you think Indian menswear will also see some drastic shifts?
There’s definitely a man empowerment taking place when it comes to fashion. A few years back, I would hardly see grooms stepping into the store. Their clothes were mostly chosen by women. That’s changing; men are definitely more adventurous now in choosing what they wear, they have more courage to experiment, and it’s not just with their wedding attire, but even festive and everyday wardrobes.
Over the years fashion has become a glamorous industry that attracts many. Do you feel there still is a scarcity of real talent in the scene?
I don’t think there’s any scarcity. We have so much untapped talent, but the lack of right marketing and exposure is a problem. Very often these talents don’t get the right platform and enough marketing, and hence go unnoticed.
What is the one thing that you had when you started, and the newer crop of designers don’t, and one thing that you didn’t have and the new generation does.
I would say the courage and belief in myself. I am still who I was. The younger generation lacks courage. They don’t really put themselves out there; it’s more commercial than creative. The one thing we didn’t have back then was exposure and access. With the Internet and digital media, you have access to whatever information you need, and also a way to put yourself out there.
You have been in the industry for so many years. How does one stay relevant in such a competitive market?
Relevance is directly proportional to your belief in yourself. It gets lost the minute you try to be someone else. I believe in individualism. I am lucky to have done it my way. Stay true to yourself, believe who you are, and you will always stay relevant.
Do you feel Indian designers are only designing for the wedding market? If yes, should that change?
Why should it change? Designing for the wedding industry is not easy. When someone believes in you to dress them up for one of the most important days of their life, you are hanging by the string. You are bound to do your best. As for designers, whoever was not doing bridal is now finally doing it, because it’s an industry that has been growing stronger, and is the most important source of income.
Have you ever thought of taking legal action against people who plagiarise your designs? How does plagiarism affect a designer’s business?
Not just thought, I have sued people in the past. But they are parasites, and the way the patenting process and judiciary works [in India], nothing ever happens; it’s too slow. On the bright side, it’s flattering to know that despite plagiarism, I am directly supporting many more livelihoods other than my own set-up.
Even though many Delhi-based designers don’t showcase in Mumbai often, you’ve had a long-lasting association with the fashion week in Mumbai. Now that you are the grand finale designer for the one next year, what can we expect from the show?
Expect the unexpected. The Lakmé Grand Finale at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer Resort 2016 won’t be just another show. You can expect a grand theatrical production, full of drama, better than anything you have seen before.