Designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla are names to be reckoned with when it comes to Indian fashion. From English actress Judi Dench to the Bachchan family, the duo, over the last 30 years, has not just made a mark in fashion circles in India, but has also dressed the who’s who of showbiz internationally.
As they prepare to make their debut at an upcoming fashion week in Mumbai, we catch up with the designers to talk to them about everything, from style to costume designing, and bans to creative freedom.
Several celebrities wear your designs and attend your shows. Does fashion require support from Bollywood?
All the celebrities we know, we have met them through our work. They’ve seen our work, liked it, and that’s how we have become friends. So, whether it is Dimple (Kapadia) or the Bachchans, they are all like family to us. Today, also, Bollywood is king; all that the press writes about is Bollywood.
I believe, today, the media and Bollywood have become very important. So, celebrities do make a lot of news. However, we don’t use a celebrity unless that person is adding value to our clothes.
Your close association with the Bachchan family is well-known. Tell us about it.
Our clothes get us clients, and then, our clients become our friends. In fact, with the Bachchans, we don’t even know whether we are the friends of the parents or the children. It’s a magical thing. We are like family. Mr Bachchan really inspires us. The way the man works, his punctuality, his styling, whatever he does, is simply great.
Who are your favourite celebrities?
I love Sonam (Kapoor) and Deepika (Padukone).The moment Sonam wears a garment, she becomes part of that ensemble. The same is with Deepika. Even Kangana (Ranaut) has got a great personality.
Are you keen on costume designing?
: I started my career with theatre. That time, I worked with a costume designer. It was a very unprofessional and unrewarding job. When we were offered Devdas (2002), that was challenging. A challenge like that makes creative juices flow. After that, we were never offered anything similar. If a project like that comes our way, we would love to take it up.
This is the first time you are participating in the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW). What made you finally take this decision?
: It’s very strange, but nobody really approached us for LFW till now, and the first time they did, we said yes. Abu and I took a decision this year to get out there and get younger [with our designs], because we are always called classic. We just wanted to tell people that we are still alive, because everyone calls us veteran designers, veteran this and veteran that… it’s awful. So, this was just our way of getting out there.
A few years ago, you said that you both don’t wish to associate with fashion weeks. What changed?
People kept saying, “Guys, where are you? We are not seeing you anywhere.” Also, putting up your own show is such a chore. With fashion weeks, we have realised that the platform is available, and the models are already booked, so it just makes everything simpler. It also helps take your work to a much wider audience. When we are doing a show on our own, it is again attended by just that many people. Today, money spending has changed completely. There is a whole new generation of people who are spending money. So, it’s a good time to grow.
We have usually done shows for charity. But then, we realised that we have a lot of younger blood coming into the company, and they suggested that we should reach out to more people.
You have been designing for so many years. Does the pace of the industry ever get to you?
The energy level that Sandeep and I have is superb. In our life, there is nothing that is impossible. We are always creating something or the other. The moment the clock stops ticking in the mind, you become redundant. So, as long as the energy and the creativity are flowing, we have to be out there, and we have to generate new ideas. At the moment, too, ambitions are very high.
You have been part of the industry for almost 30 years. Does it still, sometimes, get difficult to sustain your popularity?
The challenge lies within us; to prove to each other that we are getting better. We are constantly trying to do better than what we did last. So, basically, when we are doing a fashion show, we are always exploring new ideas. Yes, mostly, those are not clothes that walk off the ramp and are bought immediately. It takes some time to sell them. But then, we have lines, like our chikankari work, that sell instantly.
While fashion weeks are great platforms for upcoming talent, do you feel that with the availability of easy avenues to enter the fashion industry, at times, a lot of mediocre work also gets showcased?
There’s tonnes of mediocrity [in the fashion industry], but that is all over the world. Very few people want to be special.
I’m the last person who judges. Young blood has to have its own mind. So, there is no point in suggesting anything to them. I just feel that everyone should think original.
How do you think the fashion industry has evolved over the years?
: The industry has grown wonderfully. We came in at the right time, because money had changed hands by then, and people were ready to experiment. When we started almost 30 years ago, India lived in the past. It was all about history and its marvels. But then, the whole concept of looking ahead started, which is great.
: Fashion has become a vast industry. There are people coming from every corner of India, and it’s fantastic.
What are your future plans?
The plan is to go online. Also, we want to collaborate with another brand, which will be a cross-over collection of separates. We are expanding with a western line in 2016, but only internationally for now.
We always had a western line in the UK, but when we stopped exporting it, we got a lot of queries. So, we have done a collection only for that market.