I am A middle class person,” says Vandana Luthra. Sitting in her very plush Anand Niketan home you cannot help but wince at those words but she is insistent. “My father, a mechanical engineer, worked with Siemens and I myself graduated from Delhi University and then went on to study nutrition and cosmetology from Germany.” As she tells it, Vandana was married at a young 21, and had had her first child by the time she was 22. But there was this germ of an interest in beauty care that remained alive all those years she stayed at home. She was so insistent that her husband – who would rather she was at home, looking after the children – let her buy a little beauty parlour that was on sale in Delhi’s Safdarjung area.
“It was more a pacifying gesture and I think he secretly hoped that once I had had my fill of failure I would once again give my full attention to home and hearth,” says Vandana. Looking back, she thinks it was those years at home that were her training ground. “I developed strong HR skills,” she lets in with a laugh.
The tiny beauty parlour which offered weight loss packages and bridal makeup and beauty care picked up steam and very soon (before two years were up), a second Curls And Curves came up. But it was over the next two decades that Curls and Curves turned into VLCC (Vandana Luthra’s Curls & Curves) and spread and gradually consolidated its operations – to day there are 100 centres spread over 48 cities. Says Vandana, “As I became more and more ambitious, VLCC continued to grow.” VLCC, according to Vandana, is a roaring success in Dubai. “It is not an easy country to work in but we have managed to do very well here. And they say if you can make it in Dubai, you can make it everywhere,” she says.
Granted that the competition has evened out now, but wasn’t VLCC perceived as the poor woman’s Shahnaz Hussain for a long time? Vandana does not deny the allegation. “VLCC had and has undeniable middle class associations. And why not, after all, I am from the middle class and that is a chunk of my target clientele. There is no shame in it.” But Vandana agrees that till very recently there was a general want of respect for the beauty business and its proponents. “The general impression was arre baal kaat teh honge (they are basically a lot of barbers).” Vandana believes that over the years, with her own protracted efforts, a new and well-respected segment has emerged – and that is the wellness segment.
Talk about wellness and holistic treatments notwithstanding, isn’t it true that her weight loss programmes are eyed with suspicion? “Initially, people were hesitant. But now they have seen that we work closely with doctors. And now many doctors, dermatologists actually train with us, so there is greater trust. Now, it often happens that a lot of people join us to lose weight and then realise that there are medical problems behind their obesity.” But what was the success rate in the beginning? “Something like 50 per cent.” Why only 50 per cent? “See, advertising resulted in footfalls but not too many clients kept to the schedules given to them.” And what would these weight loss practices include? Says Vandana, “All kinds of things: passive exercise, low cal cooking workshops, dietary awareness…” So is it correct to say that the brickbats are over and now it is only bouquets and more bouquets for the housewife-turnedentrepreneur? “The criticism was there before and some of it will always be there, but now I am above all of it.” Poets say beauty is truth. Who are we to doubt them?