Manav Gangwani can leave you quite confused. He goes from being the petulant mercurial designer who doesn’t like face-to-face interactions to being warm and effusive, self-deprecating and spouting Zen-like philosophy in a blink. His clothes evoke a sense of over-the-top grandeur and indulgence, reflective perhaps of both his Delhi
roots and a Sindhi heritage, replete with the love of bling. Marie Claire met him one balmy afternoon, poolside at Zayed Khan’s house, as he wrapped up a shoot, organised the rescheduling of his assistant’s flights, dug into a pizza and waxed eloquent on his work, friends and a devilish side that just won’t quit.
1. How did you come to be a fashion designer? Dysfunctional family? A stylish grandmother?
Growing up, I was the quintessential nerd – a bookworm who scored 93.8 per cent in Class XII and was set to study engineering in the United States. It was then that the diamond spoon – not just any old silver one – that I was born with, was yanked out of my mouth. There was a family crisis, and I gave up on becoming an engineer and decided to study fashion. It helped that I was familiar with international fashion, thanks to extensive holidays abroad. When I joined fashion school in Delhi, I
had actually been exposed to more than most of the faculty members.
2. What drew you to couture?
Quite simply, I can’t design pret. I’m very luxe in my approach to fashion and am one of the most expensive designers in the country today. My closest friends crib that they can’t afford me, but I very firmly believe, if you want my clothes, you will find a way of getting them.
3. Your clothes are one-off pieces. If more than one woman wants them...
It’s really on a first-come basis. If another client wants the same style, I always inform her that someone already has it. I know my clients personally and know who’s buying what.
4. A city that inspires you?
Mumbai. I might be a Delhi boy, but I really come alive in Mumbai. It has given me what Delhi couldn’t. It’s a city that embraces outsiders. People don’t judge you here like they do in Delhi.
5. How does a Delhi boy have so many celebrity friends in Mumbai?
I know Soha Ali Khan from her Delhi days. I met Sophie Choudry at a party and we just clicked. Zayed Khan and his wife were introduced to me by a common friend. Raveena Tandon is a sister to me. When I launched my line in Delhi, she bought the whole rack – that’s how much she believed in me.
6. With so many Bollywood friends, when is a film happening?
I recently did a song for Love, Breakups, Zindagi, which is being produced by Zayed Khan, Dia Mirza and Sahil Sangha. The thing is, I am a couturier and I am expensive. Only a few production houses pay the kind of prices I command. However, I am in talks with one of them for an upcoming project.
7. You also paint comical images?
Yes, I do canvases of amusing images. I’ve done sketches of everyone from Raveena to Karan Johar to Simi Garewal, but it’s been a while since the last one.
8. When you have a show, what’s your biggest challenge?
Getting the title of the show right! I create the collection, figure out the title and then we design the set accordingly. Unlike other designers, I only do one show a year. So every show is extremerly critical, as is the seating plan for the event. Everyone thinks they deserve a front row seat at the show. I’ve lost a few friends because I didn’t give them a front row seat. It makes me sad as I’m a sensitive person.
9. How do you feel about your clothes being photographed?
I’m okay with pictures shot on the ramp because it’s not possible to capture the finer details like embroidery patterns.
10. Your clothes sell out before the show is over. How does that work?
Like with couture shows internationally, I fly in clients from India and abroad for my shows and they are ready with their cell phones when the show begins. I get calls and texts through the show, booking the ensembles as they appear on the ramp. No one asks how much anything costs – if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
11. Whom would you like to dress up – a historic character, an actor?
Of the old Bollywood stars, I’d love to dress Meena Kumari and Raj Kapoor. From Hollywood, it would be Elizabeth Taylor. I’d also love to dress Amitabh Bachchan and, being a James Bond fan, Sean Connery. I know that when the time is right, both of the last two will definitely happen.
12. Does fashion need Bollywood?
Absolutely. In India, only Bollywood and cricket move the masses. What Bollywood wears is loved by people; it nudges fashion forward in this country.
13. What inspires you?
Titles of old films and some yesteryear Hindi songs.
14. Do you have a muse?
I think my friend Ayesha Thapar is absolutely the most stunning woman I’ve ever seen. Just looking at her gives me goose-bumps sometimes. God really worked overtime on her!
15. What is beautiful to you?
Honesty is beautiful, as are lips. And white lies are sexy, just like eyes.
16. Does a woman have to have a beautiful body to wear your clothes?
That’s not true at all. I have clients ranging from size 0 to size 16! I literally have huge clients – in more ways than one. I don’t fool a client by letting them buy something that doesn’t suit them. I’m possibly the only designer in the country who charges for a consultation. I take my work and clients seriously.
17. What’s your design signature?
Glamorous, bold, sexy without being vulgar. Something that cannot be hidden in a crowd – when a woman wearing Manav Gangwani Couture enters the room, the spotlight must fall on her.
18. But your personal style of dressing is rather understated...
My standard dress code is blue jeans, black jackets, shirts, shoes and sunglasses in different colours. The last three must always be coordinated. In my personal life, I’m only flamboyant with my tongue, not my clothes.
19. Have you ever experimented with minimalism in your collections?
I don’t see the point. However beautifully cut and well-stitched a simple white cotton dress is, no one will remember it the next day. An outfit should tell a story, have some drama, and be memorable.
20. Is excess the route to success?
Success is evaluated on breaking boundaries. I go all out when it comes to my clothes, or even for my shows. I can’t and won’t hold back on anything.
21. What if all the crystals on the planet vanished?
When God takes away one thing, he gives you another! I’m a fighter, I’ll find something else to work with.
22. Who is the villain of fashion?
Everyone has a villain within themselves. To a lot of people, I might be one because I’ve rubbed them the wrong way. I also don’t think much of the way new kids on the fashion block want to take short cuts to success.
23. Fashion editors and reviews – how do you handle them?
I read the reviews but am indifferent to them. If it’s a bad review, then I’ll discuss it with the editor but won’t make an issue out of it.
24. Your revenge – tempestuous and spontaneous, or cold and planned?
Quick and nasty is how I like it. Then, I forgive but never forget.
25. You are clearly not a recluse. But are there moments of solitude?
Yes, there definitely are. I don’t go out on Tuesdays – to me that’s God’s day – although I more than make up for it on weekends. I take off every fortnight for one of my favourite cities and stay at a nice hotel. I often travel by myself. I love watching TV shows, especially Friends, Gossip Girl and Sex And The City as they all have great sense of fashion.
26. What is your average day like?
I’m usually at work by 10.30 a.m. and spend a few hours in the factory. Then I go to my store to interact with clients. Then I have a few meetings and I’m done for the day.
27. Your favourite time of the day?
28. If you were to name your label anything but your name...
Me, myself and Manav.
29. The one thing that nobody knows about you?
I never take measurements. I can look at a woman and suss out the numbers.
30. Worst fashion faux pas?
Wearing long earrings with sunglasses.
31. Your best birthday ever?
It was the previous one – my 32nd – that my friends Sophie, Zayed and his wife organised. It was a lovely dinner with lots of fun. My best birthday gift is to be with my friends who love me, care for me and shall always be there for me!
32. What’s your shopping weakness?
Shoes. I own way too many pairs! Often when I like a style, I will buy two or three of the same kind and in the same colour. I also have a huge collection of sunglasses but I’m always losing them.
33. What do you do with all the money you make?
What money? After spending so extravagantly on the collections, shows and hosting my clients in style, there really isn’t that much left. Also, I go to the Tirupati Balaji temple every few months and donate to charity there.
34. What is the first thing you notice in a person?
The aura. I am a Reiki master and can read a person’s energy. If I enter a room full of people and someone has spoken ill of me, I know it instantly.
35. If not a designer, you would be...
A diamond jeweller – I love bling.
36. Your biggest extravagance?
Unlike most other guys, I’m not a car person. I do like living well and being indulgent with myself. For instance, when I travel, it’s always first class and I like staying in the finest hotels.
37. What kind of music do you like?
Arabic. I love the flash of the Middle- East, the beards, the food, the life, everything. If I were to be reborn, I would love to be a sheikh!
38. What makes you laugh?
Santa-Banta jokes! I have a weakness for stupid humour and slapstick comedy. I also love it when karma bites back!
39. Best invention ever?
Swarovski crystals! Also, watches because when the time is right, everything falls into place.
40. If something doesn’t sell?
That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we put it away in storage for the archives.
41. The city or the wilderness, what appeals to you more?
Oh, 100 per cent the city. I’m a complete city boy and can’t even bear to be 10 kilometres away from the city centre, at any point in time.
42. Would anything make you go on a Anna Hazare-style fast?
While I respect the man for what he stands for, I don’t actually think a 12- day fast is the solution. We need more permanent answers. I mean, as designers we could go on a fast against excessive taxation in the industry, but that is hardly going to be a solution, is it?
43. What kind of drunk are you?
I don’t drink that much, but when I do, I settle my scores. I’ve been known to drunk-dial people who have been bad to me and tell them what I think of them. Either that or I get really flirtatious. You should ask Rahul Gandhi and Rohit Khanna – they’ve seen how mad I get.
44. If you got a life makeover, would you do things differently?
I don’t think so. I went through the tough times early in life, so now I can enjoy the rest of it – that’s a good way to do it.
45. If you could say one thing to women, what would it be?
That they aren’t always right!
46. If you could forever inhabit one decade, which would it be?
The late ’80s – the era of Rekha, Anita Raj and Jaya Prada, badly dressed in puffy-sleeved clothes and big hair. I would love to fix that whole look.
47. Do you live alone?
I live with my parents – in fact, I live for them!
48. What is your home like?
I have recently introduced a bit of bling in my house but it doesn’t feel like a contemporary art museum, it’s still a home. My own room is done up in shades of grey, brown and black.
49. Is there anything you do for the environment?
I save water. When people eat out, they order mineral water and often don’t finish it. They leave it behind. I think that’s terrible, I always take the bottle with me if I haven’t finished it.
50. Is there India in your work?
Yes, my creations have an international silhouette but are Indian in soul.