Gulf News catches up with top fashion designer Manish Malhotra in Dubai Video Credit: Viren Saklani and reporting: Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Entertainment Editor

Top Indian designer Manish Malhotra, a revered figure in Bollywood with 34 years of experience as one of its most sought-after costume stylists, may not hold a formal degree in fashion design but considers himself an eternal student.

"In 2023, I attended the New York Film Academy for a customized course. I was that 55-year-old student who did eight hours of college and then went home to study… It’s never too late to learn," said Malhotra in an interview with Gulf News.

Malhotra, who has designed the wedding outfits of actors like Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kiara Advani, remembers being anxious about turning student, but then remembered that he’s someone who listens to his youngest interns, often the lowest in any corporate food chain.

"It’s never too late to be inspired. It’s never too late to start something either… There’s always a fear of failure, but the love for my learning was much above all those fears," said Malhotra.

Manish Malhotra2
Indian designer Manish Malhotra

At the time of this interview, we were at his swanky eponymous store in Dubai Mall, whose interiors have been designed by his close friend and wife of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, Gauri. It took them a year to decorate the store.

"Dubai is my home away from home and I wanted this place to be the start of my global journey… I wanted a modern and luxurious Indian palace feel with carvings and chandeliers. And Gauri Khan, a dear friend, understands me well. We were two artists who work together in great synergy… She worked on my study at my home in Mumbai too," said Malhotra.

He was particular that his global footprints should begin in the UAE.

“Dubai is very close to my heart. I came here first in 1999 to shop for a wedding and then I launched my own store at Jumeirah Beach Road in 2005 (which later came to be known as Studio 8) … I had this long journey with Dubai. Each time I come to Dubai, I find it so inspiring. There’s always something new and fabulous,” said Malhotra.

This designer, who recently worked on Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant’s pre-wedding outfits, says the secret to his long-enduring success and appeal is simple.

“I absolutely love, love to work … It’s been 34 years in the movies and 19 years to my own brand … Next year when I hit 35 years in films and 20 years to my own brand, it should be a big celebration. But I can tell you that I have evolved. I am constantly learning and every morning, when I come to work, I ask myself what more can I do and learn? … I have been able to work with different generations – from Srideviji to Janhavi, Chunkey Pandey to Ananya Pandey … I am always interested in what they have to say,” said Malhotra.

While he’s a proud workaholic, the costume stylist to Alia Bhatt in movies like ‘Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani’ admits that his profession isn’t an easy one to pull off.

Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh
Manish Malhotra's costume styling of Alia Bhatt in 'Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani' became an instant rage

“You got to put in many extra hours and it’s a lot of work at times. It’s a lot of stress and things do go wrong, but you immediately think of how you can do better. The journey has to go on,” said Malhotra.

So, what kind of a fashion moment are we having right now?

“We are having a very inclusive fashion moment. There’s a lot of love for textile. We are also seeing a big movement of designers doing so much work with international celebrities. The world is now looking at India for style, workmanship, embroidery … Earlier the international houses got their workmanship done in India, but today they are looking at us for style. It’s a great moment to be a fashion designer.”

He’s also a big fan of evolution and re-invention. Malhtora, apart from being on the speed-dial of Bollywood A-listers, has also dipped his feet into film production.

“I have already produced three films … Today, people don’t look at me as a costume designer to films alone … Each aspect of my journey needs a lot of work and detailing and I am up for it. I have done high-end jewelry too.”

But it all began with his love for Bollywood musicals.

“Bollywood movies have always had a big influence on me. Whether it’s watching colour on screen, music on screen, the actors/actresses on the big screen … I was one of the first people to see potential in getting respectability to a costume designer and stylist … While it took me time to understand mainstream cinema, and I got a lot of criticism along the way for my use of sequins and showstoppers, I knew I always had an eye for the future.” And he agrees that a degree and a formal education would have made his path easier.

Rekha and Manish Malhotra
Rekha and Manish Malhotra

“Education definitely helps. There are time when I miss it because there were a lot of mistakes that I had to make before getting it right … While I was born with this crazy passion towards movies and clothes and would constantly sketch, there was no social media back then for our work to get noticed. We had to put in a lot more effort … While education is important, anything creative requires heart and I have plenty of that.”