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Electric green and yellow lasers cut through the billowing smoke on the runway while the crowd and celebrity guests hushed their clamoring in anticipation for Shivan & Narresh’s EQUUS collection to hit the ramp.
Models trotted out, fiercely styled in what is arguably the designers’ most glamorous collection yet. Shimmering swimsuits in nude, emerald and black were meant to conjure the slick, shiny surface of a horse’s flank, thickly braided detailing and tassels inspired by leather saddlery and whips highlighted their curves. A handful of suits and beachwear in pink and blue were less impactful than those in black and emerald but bore the same stamp of quality in fabric, design and cut.
Not long ago Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja were mocked and derided for daring to design swimwear in a country that didn’t even have a swimwear industry. Today, their label is beloved by fashion insiders, lusted after by stylish young women and may just start a revolution with the bikini sari. They insist that their desire to design swimsuits is less about fashion and more about giving a woman back her confidence — but make no mistake, these young men have built a brand that epitomizes style and elegance and perhaps with this show, solidified their place in India’s fashion firmament.
Read on to find out how they broke into the fashion industry, why they’ve become famous for the revolutionary bikini sari and what the future holds for this promising young label.
Kukreja: The collection in entitled EQUUS; it takes inspiration from the depiction of horses in the Indian folklore — the anatomy of a horse, the speed of a horse, the physical attributes of it. We purposefully didn’t make EQUUS with a western interpretation because we’re very conscious and proud of the fact that we’re an Indian swimwear brand.
This was our first formal cruise collection so it had to be more glamorous, more dressed up, which is why the color palette [has] more jewel tones. Swimwear is still the backbone of the collection because that’s our bread and butter but the whole soul is very, very dressed up and very formal.
You’re now quite famous for the bikini sari, which is really a revolutionary garment. What’s the attention been like?
Kukreja:More than being about a fashionable garment, it’s the fact that everyone’s come back to us saying they feel so happy, they can finally swim or recreate around water, when they haven’t been able to for 10 or 15 years. That these women can finally face themselves in the mirror when they wear a swimsuit or a bikini sari? That just makes it feel so much more worthwhile.
The bikini sari came about because we had a woman who was UK size 14 and she said, “I go on a cruise every year and I’ve always worn salwar kameez and saris. It’s not that I cant afford western silhouettes, but I don’t know what to wear.” Then when she had the bikini sari, we got a call from the cruise. She said, “I cant even tell you, I’m almost in tears, how beautiful I feel. You’ve made me and you’ve made my husband fall in love with me again!”
You recently opened your first Bombay store — how did it go?
Kukreja: When we launched the store, we wanted to keep it very intimate because we’re an intimate brand and we wanted to call people who genuinely have been the reason we’ve been successful. It turned out to be quite nice!
I think the space had a lot to do with that. We wanted a place that makes you feel like you’re shopping for a holiday. The place we have is perfect because it’s in a residential area, no stores around, it has a small patio outside — which in Bombay is finding heaven! — and it’s twice the size of our Delhi store, which is so ironic because Delhi has all the space.
How has business been since the opening?
Kukreja:We thought it would be dull because we were opening in a dull business period. June, July and August are very low periods because people are already on their holidays, they’ve already shopped for them. [But] it surprised us — we’ve been able to pay our bills.
Why do you think you had such a great reception?
Kukreja: Nobody was doing swimwear here — there was such a huge gap!
Bhatiya: When we started, our clients told us, “We were so badly waiting for something like this!” Our retailers were intrigued, they wanted to learn more, they showed the willingness to stock but they weren’t sure. So we also changed ourselves, we trained sales staff…
Kukreja: …changed our ways of approaching the market. We know we can’t approach it in a traditional way. There’s a lot of learning for us. We thought we’d cater to a younger audience, but we’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised that it’s all 35 and 40-plus women; 80 percent of our business is 35-plus women. When we started to understand that, it made sense. These were the women who had practically stopped swimming. They didn’t want to wear the same styles their daughters were wearing. Whatever they bought while traveling abroad didn’t fit their Indian body types. What suffered the most was confidence. It’s really not been about fashion, at all. It’s been about confidence selling and giving them a reason to love themselves.
You’ve said your Indian upbringing had a lot to do with the maturity and modesty of your garments but they are still very sexy!
Kukreja: They had to be bold, otherwise they wouldn’t be modern and it would push women back in their closet again. Thanks to Indians being very comfortable with color — that really played a very big role. We could put in color blocking, we could then put attention at areas where a woman would want it to be placed and take away attention from areas she felt weren’t her best assets.
Indian women tend to have beautiful napes, shoulders — their hips aren’t their biggest strength. So cutting diagonal lines or making sure brighter colors were placed more on the neck — these were things that started to play a role.
They weren’t open to wearing swimwear that was cut a little bit higher, because they were living under the misconception that wearing boy shorts is the best way to hide but in fact it’s the worst because it puts more attention there! As you start educating them, they become more open to wearing swimsuits that are cut slightly higher — not for sexual reasons but purely because it’s more logical, it gives them more confidenc
You’re retailed online — on Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop, for example. Will you be expanding your online presence in the future?
Kukreja: Yes, absolutely! Very soon we’ll be going online on our own. There will be a Shivan and Narresh dot com, the first online swimwear store for India. The idea is to reach out to second- and third-tier towns, from where — you’d be surprised to know — we do so much better business than from metropolitan cities! It shocks us.
Bhatiya: They’re so thirsty. They want to get the latest.
Kukreja: We have something called the customized swimsuit service. It’s a swimsuit workshop, every season in a [different] city, where we go and meet clients personally, for them to understand what swimsuits would best suit their body type. Some of them have never worn a swimsuit before so they really need that intimate session. The sales from those two days match up to the sales one makes in a month’s time in a metro city! Places like Nagpur, Raipur, Chandigarh… it’s astonishing!
It’s obvious that you have a real, emotional connection with your clients.
Kukreja: Once we had a client who was from Bombay but belonged to a very, very conservative family — they don’t even show their face to their elders. She bought three swimsuits for her honeymoon. She was skeptical but she said, “No, I’m a modern woman!” She went to Bora Bora and she called us from there. She said, “You really saved my marriage! I never thought I was that beautiful but the way that my fiancé saw me, he’s never looked at me that way. I’ve been pleasing all my relatives but the one I wanted to please the most has never given me the kind of attention I got on this honeymoon because of your swimsuits.” At the end she said, very candidly, “I have to tell you, at the end of my honeymoon, I am your most satisfied customer!”
What are your plans for the future?
Kukreja: Opening more stores. Being an intimate brand, it’s a better to have a designated space that’s allotted to a product like this where one can very discreetly meet and shop, than to [put it] in a multi-brand store. It’s financially intensive but it’s a call that we’ll have to take, especially in the first five to seven years of brand building. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai… South Bombay is so promising.
This article has been edited and condensed.
READ THIS ARTICLE ON THE HUFFINGTON POST.
It was something of a historical moment for Lakme Fashion Week last Tuesday night when the runway lights shone on not one but two of India’s emerging design labels, husband and wife design duo Pankaj & Nidhi and ethno-grunge kid Kallol Datta. Season after season LFW has promised an extravagant, exorbitantly expensive, ostentatious and outrageous grand finale show put on by a parade of the country’s most celebrated senior designers but this Winter Festive 2012 season, the reigns were passed on from fashion’s most fortunate to fashion’s most promising.
LFW has garnered a reputation for its ability to nurture and launch the careers of talented young designers, indeed, this has become the hallmark of a fashion week that is so often compared to Delhi’s (where more senior designers loom large) but despite its commitment to showcase new designers throughout the week, the coveted evening shows and certainly the grand finale have remained far beyond their reach.
Is this a real turning point for Mumbai’s fashion week? Has it resolved its identity crisis, its seeming inability to fully embrace a focus on emerging rather than established designers? And if it has, what does that mean for marquee sponsorships deals and cozy alliances with Bollywood? By completely coming into its own will it render itself irrelevant or will it finally step up to bat for young designers in a country whose consumers so passionately prove their allegiance to senior designers who focus on Indian bridal wear?
A LAUNCHPAD TO THE BIG LEAGUES | LFW A PLATFORM FOR YOUNG DESIGNERS
Though there are many who would like to see India return to having one main fashion week in Delhi, there appears to be a real consensus among industry insiders about the vital role LFW plays, not only in the lives of young designers struggling to build a career but also as a necessary ancillary to Delhi fashion week, which simply cannot accommodate the number of new designers that show in Bombay, never mind properly promote them.
Editor-in-chief of Vogue India Priya Tanna believes LFW is the best place for designers to get their start, “for a newcomer, to have access to buyers, media and customers in one arena is critical for their career to take off,” she says. It’s what LFW has come to be known for, says popular Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks, who has shown in both Bombay and Delhi. “LFW has developed a reputation, and justifiably so, for showing new, exciting young designers,” says Rodricks.
At the heart of LFW’s focus on young designers is Gen Next, a program that every season, selects seven young designers from hundreds of applicants and grooms them for their very first fashion show — and hopefully, a career in fashion. It’s an ideal place from which to launch a design career — and many careers have been launched here: Rahul Mishra, Nachiket Barve, Masaba Gupta and Kallol Datta, to name a few. “The Gen Next show is really the signature of Lakme Fashion Week,” says Fern Mallis, the former Senior VP of IMG fashion who spent ten yearsnurturing LFW from the very beginning and after a one year absence, was present at LFW this season. “It’s one of the best things about the week,” said the woman credited with starting New York Fashion Week, “discovering and finding new talent.” Sujata Assomull-Sippy, founding editor of Harper’s Bazaar India and fashion journalist echoes the sentiment, “Gen Next is the differentiating factor of LFW to other fashion weeks,” she says proudly.
In an attempt to offer the current crop of Gen Nexters even more guidance and industry knowledge than was given to those in season’s past, organizers put together a workshop with buyers, members of the Elle Indiateam (the magazine recently began publishing a full editorial with Gen Next garments each season) and other industry figures. Anjana Sharma, fashion director at IMG Reliance (IMG runs LFW with beauty brand Lakme,) conceived of the workshop to help guide them: “how to be prepped, how to negotiate, how to capitalize on the noise value of fashion week, what to be ready with at their stalls,” but she admits, “there’s only so much as organizers we can do.” She’d like to do something akin to London’s Fashion Fringe (a competitive fashion business award that revolves around mentorship) but needs “someone to see the vision in that.” Currently she’s working on finding a sponsor so she can introduce a six-month program. Assomull-Sippy, who is on the LFW Advisory Board, thinks the workshop is “a very smart move — the more help we can give them on how to get it right, then maybe they will become more commercial and people can buy their first season’s collection.” She believes the right kind of sponsors is key, that this could happen if a retail chain like Shopper’s Stop, Lifestyle or Debenhams got on board. However, until a deal like this is brokered, organizers appear to be prepping the designers as best they can, something which this season’s Gen Next hopefuls reported to be grateful for, calling the workshop both “eye opening” and incredibly helpful.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON THE HUFFINGTON POST’S STYLE SITE STYLELIST.
Since an ‘aha!’ moment while watching The Social Network, Stephanie Mark, Erin Kleinberg and Jake Rosenberg have transformed an ambitious fashion blog into a bonafide brand; their site The Coveteur has quickly become one of the most covetable spaces to be featured on and certainly one of the most enjoyable sites to spend time on.
It’s been less than two years of dashing from one glamorous closet to another, styling and photographing the sartorial sanctums of the who’s who of Toronto, New York, L.A. and Paris, and collaborating with the world’s most venerated fashion publications but it’s certainly become de rigeur for this enterprising, young trio.
Now it’s time for The Coveteur 2.0.
In the fall, they will relaunch The Coveteur with a focus on video, mobile and Shop This Look, with the intent to monetize the site and deepen user experience — no longer will the site simply be a collection of static vignettes. It’s a bold move and one that was precipitated by reader demand and their own desire to offer more, challenge themselves and strengthen the brand. They admit that they’ve gone through an enormous amount of trial and error, gauging reader reaction and learning from other web companies.
Read on to find out how they were able to so swiftly and stylishly make their mark in the oversaturated world of fashion and street style blogs, who their absolute favorite Coveteurs are and what important lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Sixteen years ago Anita Lal opened a beautiful, tiny home wares shop called Good Earth in tony South Bombay with absolutely no business knowledge or experience. What began as a passion project for a housewife who simply wanted to sell beautiful things has since grown into a fabulous and formidable global brand that boasts gorgeous shops in four different Indian cities. Good Earth stores are veritable treasure troves teeming with sumptuous bedding, giant silk pillows, glowing lanterns, elegant and sometimes eclectic furniture, inspired dinnerware and just about everything you would ever want in your home. Though this is no rags-to-riches success story — Lal admits she was lucky to have had (and still have) the financial backing of her husband — it is a story about the passion and perseverance of a woman who had a vision and brought it to life. No easy feat for a woman, in a country like India, who knew nothing about business.
Read the Daniel Pillai’s full interview with me on Two Mangoes here.
While international editors, stylists, models and photographers were busy with such celebrated shows as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and YSL in Paris for the parisienne leg of fashion week fall 2012, a very different fashion fraternity was equally occupied on the shores of the Arabian Sea with Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2012, held in glistening Mumbai, India.
A season apart, and oceans too, Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai has an even longer way to go before it could ever hope to join the stylish ranks of fashion’s most important metropolitan quartet — New York, London, Milan and Paris — but interestingly, it doesn’t quite seem to matter. Business is booming, not only within India but throughout the entire Asian region, and the boom is “business as usual for the Indian markets,” says Anjana Sharma, Director of Fashion at IMG Reliance (IMG Reliance runs LFW alongside Indian cosmetics giant Lakme.) So there you have it, booming business-as-usual in India, without Anna Wintour and the coterie of front row regulars.
Business was undoubtedly the unofficial theme of LFW S/R 12 and it manifested itself in myriad ways, some positive and some downright unfashionable.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of LFW’s fiscal focus was The Source, a cavernous tented building erected near the main venue that housed clothes and accessories stalls, showing off the wares of each participating designer. Whether it was lavish Indian finery from Sabyasachi or psychedelic prints from a young label like Retarded Velvet, it was smart to have everyone represented under one roof, referred to as the “business hub” by LFW. Lesser known designers also showed on The Source’s ramp in The Talent Box — though much smaller and far less attended than the main LFW runway, a nevertheless worthy platform to showcase new design talent to media, buyers and individual customers. Consensus among young designers at The Source was that business had been consistently fantastic over the five days of LFW S/R 12 — surely thanks in large part to the ingenious setup of the stalls in one great big space.
Twice a year, in the frantic and fashionable city of Bombay, Lakme Fashion Week showcases collections by some of the country’s most respected and sought after designers alongside fresh, emerging young talent.
Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2012 kicked off on Friday with the highly anticipated Gen Next show, which debuted original creations by seven promising young designers.
Though the coming days will witness exquisite shows from internationally lauded Indian designers like Bibhu Mohapatra and Rohit Bal, LFW will also feature new design talent with a number of smaller shows.
It’s been a whirlwind of fashion and style in New York, London, Milan and now Paris but there’s no need for fashion week fatigue just yet — Bombay deserves its due.
Read the full article on The Huffington Post here.
Malini Agarwal is without a doubt, India’s most famous blogger; an independent, effervescent young woman who has turned a hobby into a business, desire into reality and a whole lot of passion and hard work into an enormously successful brand.
Based out of Bombay, a pulsating city that’s home to illustrious Bollywood stars, powerful industry titans and a very shiny glitterati, MissMalini.com shares the latest on film, celebrities, fashion, lifestyle and entertainment to eager readers all over the world. Though the blog is focused on India, there is growing coverage of international trends, events and celebrities — all updated throughout the day, every day. Interviews with the hottest stars, reviews of the latest films and reports from the most stylish runways — Agarwal and her team cover everything that’s hot.
Read the full article on The Huffington Post here
The Huffington Post article on Malini Agarwal on MissMalini.com here
I had my first look at Le Mill back in March, mere days before Mumbai’s first concept store threw a glittering launch party to celebrate their entrée into the city’s scene of trendy, high end retailers.
Nestled almost anonymously in the chaos of Mumbai’s dockyards, behind bustling Crawford market, Le Mill has taken a cavernous 1920s rice mill and converted it into a 15,000 square foot treasure trove of chic apparel, lust worthy accessories, elegant furniture and crockery, not to mention a stylish flower shop and a relaxed café with healthy food on the menu and free wifi.
It was a sunny spring day in Toronto when I first met Veronica Chail — all dressed up from the OMNI studio to meet me for coffee at a Starbucks on the funky Queen Street strip — but idyllic atmosphere aside, we had something very serious to discuss: IIFA 2011. Little did I know that a masala style chat about one of the world’s biggest award shows would offer me a window into the life of a young woman carving her own path in the media landscape and proving that stereotypes are meant to be broken and glass ceilings shattered.
What began as a collaboration for IIFA became a real friendship and I was lucky to learn about Chail’s passion, courage of conviction and dedication to giving back. She’s had success as a producer, news writer and reporter, and most recently, as the very talented host of Bollywood Boulevard — yet has always found time to volunteer with charities and organizations with genuine interest and commitment. Outraged by the shameful blind eye to human trafficking she’s witnessed, particularly at home in Canada, Chail has recently set up an anti-human trafficking organization to create awareness, spread knowledge and ultimately find solutions to end this horrible practice. No small feat with only 24 hours in a day.
In a very short time spent with this media maven it was clear to me that there’s absolutely no stopping her — the sky’s the limit — and after reading the interview below I’m sure you’ll feel the same.
After being escorted down a long winding hallway I entered the hotel’s banquet room to the ebullient sound of Hindi music and stomping feet, where dance king Shiamak Davar was rehearsing with his dancers and Bollywood actor Bobby Deol for the 2011 International Indian Film Academy Awards in Toronto. Anyone who knows anything about Bollywood knows that dance is an absolutely integral part of film and the IIFA Awards are no exception; Davar has been called upon to choreograph the stage show for 11 consecutive years simply because he’s the best.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Davar. Over two decades ago when he first started his school with seven students, traditional values and binding stereotypes in India provoked enormous backlash and harsh criticism. “Everyone made fun of me, they said ‘you’ll never make it, it’s an effeminate thing, it’s disgusting, you shouldn’t do this,’” Davar told me he, yet he had the strength and vision to pursue his dreams amidst the condemnation. His female students were maligned as well for their tight dance clothes and passionate dance moves, told they were crazy and would never be able to marry.
Ironically, it’s thanks to one of Davar’s first female dance students that he broke into film and forever changed dance in the Bollywood film industry. Gauri Khan, then girlfriend and future wife of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was a student of Davar’s and Khan would often be at the studio to pick her up from dance class. At the time Khan was working on a film with the legendary Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra and approached Davar to come on board. Chopra told Davar “we want your different style, we want your freshness, we want your unique style” and when Dil To Pagal Hai released, it included the banner “Introducing Shiamak Davar.” And the rest, they say, is history. Davar won the National Film Award for Best Choreography and was credited with changing the style of dance in Bollywood. The exposure was “unbelievable’ said Davar, whose career has continued to soar since.
For over three decades makeup magician Mickey Contractor has been wielding his magic wand on Bollywood’s brightest beauties for dozens of hit films and advertising campaigns. Gender discrimination in the film industry forced him from hair into makeup, where he felt frustrated with archaic beauty ideals and lighting technology that required egregious amounts of makeup.
Though change has been slow to come in India, he’s proud to have been a driving force behind altering mindsets to embrace different kinds of makeup and lighter applications. I caught up with this seasoned pro during the 2011 IIFA Awards Weekend to chat about his new partnership with MAC Cosmetics, his passion for Viva Glam, his trajectory through film and advertising, and the beautiful life lessons he’s learned along the way.
The fans were screaming, the media running and the celebrities dancing — yes, it was the 2011 International Indian Film Academy Awards that brought Bombay and Bollywood to the streets of Toronto for a decidedly spicy IIFA weekend full of film, fashion and masala-style fun. Keep reading to find out which stars came, which films won big and why the 12th annual IIFA awards weekend was a memorable Canadian affair.
Confirming Bollywood celebrity appearances is about as easy as getting through Bombay’s glutted traffic, so it’s no surprise that there was a lot of confusion, debate and disappointment surrounding which stars would touch down in Toronto for IIFA 2011 (read more about it here). A smattering of sultry sirens came along with a handful of Bollywood hunks but by far the biggest star at IIFA 2011 was the king of Bollywood himself, Shah Rukh Khan. His attendance was confirmed mere days before the big event and the pandemonium that ensued was a testament to his astonishing global star status. Bollywood heavyweight Salman Khan dropped out at the last minute to much disappointment, but young hero Ranveer Singh joined Anil Kapoor, Sonu Sood, Ritesh Deshmukh, Boman Irani and Rahul Khanna, who all shared the IIFA 2011 green carpets with Dia Mirza, Bipasha Basu, Mallika Sherawat and Shilpa Shetty.
Read the full article on The Huffington Post.
With a fresh aesthetic and international influences, India’s hottest stylist is making her mark in both fashion and film; if you don’t already know the name Pernia Qureshi then it’s time to take note. She gained invaluable experience with a handful of enviable jobs in New York City and to India’s very fashionable good fortune, moved back in 2008. Since then she’s worked as a stylist for celebrated designers like Tarun Tahiliani, on fun films like Aisha and even debuted India’s very first short fashion film this year. She’ll be in Toronto for the 2011 International Indian Film Academy Awards June 23rd-25th, and we have some very exciting sartorial surprises we’ll unveil to IIFA fans. You won’t want to miss all the glitz and glamour of this spectacular awards weekend so stay tuned!
You obviously have a close relationship with Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, who you’ve styled in Aisha, Thank You and numerous magazine editorials. What is it like working with her as a stylist?
Working with Sonam is a pleasure because we do share a similar style sensibility and she is highly inclined in matters of style. I think I Sonam and I have mutually benefited each other in being tagged as “most stylish.”
Read the full article on The Huffington Post here.