For the last 25 years, Indian designer Vikram Phadnis has held fashionable ground — and very successfully — in the Indian fashion industry’s fiercely competitive and evolving landscape.
It is a prodigious victory transitioning from a film choreographer to fashion designer that called for a celebratory commemoration with a special runway show held in January in Mumbai.
No less, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan was the showstopper, amidst other enchanting and glamourous attendees.
Phadnis’ impervious and composed countenance and his single-minded focus on actualising his dreams of dressing up the world in his designs, contributed largely to this accomplishment, but not without a few steadfast friends — Bollywood superstar Salman Khan being the most formidable influence in his life.
With peppy peplums, high-waisted box pleat pants and crop tops, jumpsuits, jackets with drape sarees, bustiers, long gathered printed skirts and lehengas along with his classics, Phadnis will be in Dubai at Araaish this Saturday. Before the show, the designer let tabloid! into his world of fashion.
What is your biggest strength, surviving and thriving for 25 years in a ferociously competitive and predominantly Bollywood-driven fashion business in India?
I don’t think I can call it my strength as such, but I am inherently a very driven and ambitious person, and I think inadvertently, that has become my strength over the years. Whatever I have achieved in my life as a choreographer and the last 25 years as a fashion designer, is due to my ambitious drive and that I am almost never satisfied or content with my work. If you are not driven or focused and are not willing and able to deliver every single time, there are people available dime a dozen, ready and waiting to take your place. You have to keep at it constantly, be consistent and innovative and strive for new goals and benchmarks with each collection or outfit. Like in a Bollywood actor’s life, Friday is the most important day at the box office for to determine his value, for a designer, it is every single time he makes an ensemble or puts a collection together for a showing. It is a constant endeavour every day.
Did you feel taller than Amitabh Bachchan at your very well-attended commemorative show, Adhvan, in January?
I just felt completely humbled and I felt so blessed walking down the runway with him. I have worked with him on films such as Waqt, Hum Kisi Ke Kum Nahin and Bade Miyan Chhote Miya and I can just say that there are no more men like him anymore. He is truly exceptional. He’s the only man I call ‘Sir’ in the world.
Would you consider yourself among India’s top three talents in fashion?
I don’t know. There are far more commercially viable and well-known names in India’s flourishing fashion business than me and I have never measured my success with the strength of others’ success. There’s always someone ahead of you and there’s always someone behind you in the business. It depends on the perspective you see it from really.
Who, according to you, are the top designers of India?
Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, Anamika Khanna and Monisha Jaising.
Who were, and still are, your biggest supporters in your career?
Hemant Trivedi, Mehr Jesia-Rampal, Priyanka Chopra, Malaika Arora-Khan, Kareena Kapoor-Khan have all supported me enormously, and still do, and are a very important part of my successful journey as a fashion designer. And undoubtedly, Salman Khan, without whom I don’t think I would be who I am today.
How has Salman Khan impacted your career?
Whatever I am today is really because of Salman. He showed me a whole new world, when no one understood me. I worked with him for 13 years as a designer, and he gave me so much without expecting anything in return. He gave me a standing in the entertainment business, his professional support and backing, and personal strength.
When I wanted to quit choreography and go and study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, USA, he convinced me to stay back in India and helped me find a footing as a designer. He took me in all his film projects, and opened my first store in Mumbai. He was never selfish about anything, allowing me to work with other actors alongside working with him, not restraining my creative freedom, and gave me more than even I could imagine.
Until today, there’s a picture of Salman that hangs in my cabin in my office. I am inspired by Salman and get this amazing positive energy from him, always. He is the older brother I never had. He made me travel worldwide with him and introduced me to people everywhere. In fact, the first time I travelled abroad was to Dubai with him!
I had never sat in a plane before or had any idea of what it looked like from the inside, and I had obviously never been outside India either. This was 30 years ago. It was a stage show Salman was doing then that he had taken me for. Dubai was not even remotely like what it is today. It was on the verge of the modern and magical explosion that it is today. Dubai feels like home to me and every time I travel to Dubai, it has a new dimension to it.
What, or who, has been a constant muse for your designs?
I don’t create clothes with one particular muse in mind. I make the garment according to the person I am working for, or the collection that I am putting together. I don’t think a single inspiration or muse can transpire into an entire collection or a garment for different kinds of people.
Which is your favourite, and most memorable, contribution as a designer?
I think everything that I have designed and created for Salman Khan — be it the dhotis, hot shorts, sarongs… made an impact on Indian fashion, because prior to him wearing them, no one was wearing these garments on screen, and the fact that he carried them off so well made them extremely popular and on trend all of a sudden. Also, getting the opportunity to dress up international model Naomi Campbell, the South African President Jacob Zuma and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar in my clothes have all been memorable moments for me as a designer.
Is there anybody rich and famous in India who does not wear you?
There are so many people who have not worn my clothes. And I do not run after the rich to wear my designs or even think like that. You never know who your ultimate buyer is when you’re creating a garment anyway. I like to make wearable and affordable clothing that is essentially commercially viable. I do not make impractical clothes for the runway that a person can’t wear off it. I’d like to see people — all kinds of people — wearing my clothes, rather than see them hanging on the walls of my studio.
What is it about Dubai fashion that intrigues you?
Fashion is more forward in Dubai than in most other countries. Like I said earlier, Dubai is the first international place I set foot in and it is home to me. I feel I understand the fashion landscape here quite well. When it comes to fashion, the people in Dubai know it all and more. And the best part of Dubai is dressing up its women. They are just so fashion forward and clued in, that it keeps me on the edge and drives me to give them my best. And it also helps that I have a great fashion network and database in Dubai.
Are designs in Dubai driven largely by what Bollywood is wearing, or your designs and craftsmanship?
No, I don’t think the fashion in Dubai is necessarily driven by Bollywood trends. The taste here is very diverse — some like their fashion ethnic, some prefer fusion, some go for the quintessentially traditional designs while others stick to haute couture. There is not one set pattern that the fashion here adheres to and that is what keeps it, and makes it, so fashionably exciting. It’s like a year-round fashion runway, from prêt to haute couture, celebrating fashion globally.