Dubai Fashion Week’s star attraction Sabyasachi Mukherjee may design rich creations befitting royalty, but the designer himself is cut from a different cloth. Clad in a casual white Gap T-shirt and khakis at his recent trunk show in Dubai, it’s oddly unsettling to watch the plain-clothed Mukherjee ask his client to drape his heavily-embellished sari in a more careless fashion.
In a matter of seconds, the highly-articulate Mukherjee manages to convince his client to alter their regular draping style. No surprise there — his skills of persuasion are legendary. Among other things, Mukherjee is credited with successfully resurrecting Bollywood actress Vidya Balan’s sartorial identity. The actress was constantly attacked for her on-screen and off-screen costume choices.
Call it divine designer-intervention: Mukherjee managed to carve out a unique style quotient for Balan. “The entire Vidya Balan episode is well-constructed and has been orchestrated. She is a beautiful actress who is very opinionated and somehow the industry can’t tolerate that. Bollywood has this habit of hanging their actresses in a line and slaughtering them. They even make an intelligent girl look like a dumb blonde,” says Mukherjee.
The Kolkata-based designer, who launched his eponymous label in 1999, believes that Balan’s non-starry ways get her into a lot of trouble. “We have a lot of quacks in India who don’t have much knowledge about fashion, personalities or clothing. But they are intent on slotting everybody into boxes. Vidya is a naturally beautiful girl who can tell a Karl Marx from a Sidney Sheldon. When I spoke to her first, I remember thinking something is really wrong with this industry.”
A self-titled “Bollywood insider-outsider”, Mukherjee has no qualms about shredding the ways of the entertainment industry to bits. His grimace when asked about the questionable costume design in Bollywood films is ample proof. “Bollywood is all about the polyester brigade. Most designers try to make their actors look like the clones of Gwyneth Paltrow or Michelle Pfeiffer.
“Where is their individuality? What is the point of making your stars wear clothes that lack any originality? Plucking something that you can buy from Miami or Mumbai is not how it’s done.”
Mukherjee charges a hefty Rs35lakhs (about Dh285,000) for research alone and is now currently working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for her forthcoming film Raavan. “I find costume designing for Bollywood films therapeutic. It’s an escape for me. When you are designing a collection, you are more self-indulgent, but when you are designing for a film, you need to keep the characters in mind. I spend a lot of time and energy on research.”
He may have adopted a hardliner stand, but Mukherjee makes an exception when it comes to his favourite star, Rani Mukherjee. In the last few years, he has styled her for movies including Black, Baabul and Lagaa Chunari Mein Daag. “Rani and I work well together,” he says. “We have our disagreements, but we always manage to find a solution.
“The thing is, I never put up with a star’s tantrums or their ego. But now I keep joking with her that she cannot bully me into designing clothes for her.”
He is equally lavish in his praise for Bachchan. “When I told people that I will be styling Aishwarya, they warned me that she will be difficult. But when I met her, I realised that she is a perfectionist. In this industry, if you know what you want then you are immediately labelled as difficult.”
He may not be lured by the glamour of Bollywood, but Mukherjee is all geared to direct his own film shortly. “I have always been interested in performing arts and theatre. So yes, I am working on six scripts at the moment and I am hoping that I will decide on directing one of them. In my film, women will have a strong role in it and ideally Vidya and Rani will be my first choices.”
Though he is not willing to put a date on his Bollywood plans, his sartorial agenda is clear. The royal couturier — who is known for his intricate and heavily-embellished Indian ethnic wear — hopes to popularise khadi (hand-spun cotton) once again.
“It is India’s time under the sun, and I hope designers will once again start paying regard to Indian weaves like khadi. I am doing everything to make it popular too.”
Close on the heels of his recent New York Couture Week outing, Aquino is now tipped to make his Middle Eastern debut at Dubai Fashion Week. His mantra is: “Fashion shows should be fun, artistic and theatrical experiences.” Need we say more?
It’s not all play for the Pakistani cricketer. Afridi has now set his creative sights on Dubai and will unveil his collections — currently stocked at JYK boutique — this DFW. The big questions is, will his sartorial delivery be as powerful as his cricketing prowess?
The Highlife Dubai anchor is all set to launch her Pepper by Uma line this DFW. Using mainly silk and satin, she hopes to make metallics the new trend. “My clothes are perfect for a woman who likes to live life on her own terms, knows how to enjoy life and at the same time is extremely comfortable in her own skin. She is feminine while possessing a little wild streak in her,” she says.
“Even though I work inside the industry, I stay out of it. The problem is many people believe that there is no world beyond films and that is one of the reasons why they tend to get repetitive and avoid taking risks,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
“Bollywood is a bonfire of vanities.”
— Mukherjee’s take on Bollywood
“Style is about a person who is 5’1” and wears flats to a party.”
— On his disdain about people who are slaves to fashion and brands
“The movie Fashion is a terrible film and was badly researched. I am surprised that Priyanka Chopra got a National Award for it.”
— On Madhur Bhandarkar’s hit film
On the sidelines
It’s not just about the ramp shows...
* Every night, Samsung will select the best-dressed guest at the DFW. So put on your killer heels and your fave dress!
* Evian will showcase T-shirts designed by particiapting DFW designers.
Rumour has it that Bollywood siren Bipasha Basu will attend the grand finale of Sabyasachi Mukherjee as one of his front-row guests. We also hear Saif and Kareena may descend upon DFW.
Dubai Fashion Week takes place from April 3-7 at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers. More than 45 designers will come together to showcase their autumn-winter collections. For the DFW schedule and the full list of designers log on to dfw.ae