From the time she wore a self-designed hand-knit sweater to impress the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) interview board, to becoming India's first truly international fashion label, Ritu Beri has come a long way.
Beri was one of the 25 applicants handpicked by NIFT from all over the country for their creativity potential.
Fashion design was not considered an important profession those days, recalls Beri. "It was virgin territory. When I faced the interview board I took an individualistic approach and let myself be."
For her first show Beri decided to do something challenging. "It was the trend those days to do double shows. Initially I decided to go solo at the Lodi Gardens instead — a retrospective of everything Indian, something grand and unique.
But finally it had to be cancelled and although it was held at a farmhouse, it was a roaring success."
With her prodigious talent and calm determination, Beri went about realising her designer dreams.
The moment Liberty in London looked at Lavanya, her graduation collection, they immediately placed an order. Encouraged by the response and armed with a loan from her father, Beri set up her own studio in Delhi.
In 1995, she created Sanskriti, a line of clothing that offered a cultural outlook.
She has not looked back since. After shows in London, Paris and Vienna, Beri is now an inspiration for young, aspiring designers.
She has dressed the leading ladies of Hollywood such as Nicole Kidman, been a consultant with Harrods and has an impressive uniform portfolio that includes Air-India, the Delhi Police and the Indian hockey team.
"The world is still my oyster and I appear to have succeeded in prizing it open just a little bit," she announces.
A protégé of the famous French embroiderer Francois Lesage, Beri was the first Indian designer to present her collection in Paris. She was also the first Indian to be appointed head designer of a prestigious French label.
Beri was hired to create a new image for the prêt-a-porter business for the fashion house Jean-Louis Scherrer.
Having presented her first luxe collection in Paris in July 1999, Beri launched her ready-to-wear collection in Paris in October 2000. But the road to success has not been easy. It has been hard work and more hard work.
"It is never easy when you aspire for high goals. There are no shortcuts to hard work-everything comes through experience. If you are really good, nothing, even the lack of funds, can stop you. If you are confident and different, fashion is an area where there is place for new ideas and new creativity. Being a niche designer is more important than doing everything the fashion portfolio has to offer."
Cutting her teeth at Paris has been a learning experience, says Beri. "Paris was like going to school again. It taught me what not to do. I acquired a different level of maturity there.
There is a lot to learn from the fashion business, there is no end to it. In Paris everyone is in the fashion business. Fashion as a brand happens because of a team of individuals, fashion design does not work in isolation, teamwork is extremely important.
Stylists and merchandisers are as important as fashion designers," she elaborates. International tie-ups in fashion can be beneficial, avers Beri.
"It is always good to experiment and learn from someone who can offer you a little more than what you already have," says the designer diva who turned writer last year with the outrageously priced Rs one lakh book,
Firefly—A Fairy Tale. Ask Beri her mantra for success and she comes up with: "I always did what I believed in. My advice to all creative people would be to do what you believe in. There should be no set parameters, one has to create one's own niche, be different and be completely unique."