Q & A with fashion legend Manish Malhotra, The One Who Leads India’s Fashion Industry with Flair
Mumbai [India], June 30: With a career spanning more than three decades, Manish Malhotra is a name synonymous with luxury glamour in India. Known to revolutionise the way India dresses and for his famous makeovers, his clothes are on the wish list of every fashion lover.
As a country that’s steep with rich heritage and culture, Malhotra’s creations reflect that and more through the traditional Indian fabrics, its styles of embroidery and the vibrant colours of the country.
His fashion shows end with standing ovations, showcasing his creative genius. Almost all the top names in the Indian Film Industry, fondly known as Bollywood, have closed his shows over the years marking him the man who started the trend of using celebrities as showstoppers for fashion shows in the first place. He has also styled international celebrities, like Micheal Jackson, Will Smith, Nick Jonas, Sophie Turner, Naomi Campbell and powerful personalities such as Hillary Clinton, Sunder Pichai and many more.
With his latest summer couture collection, ’Khaab’ which is a defined as a dreamy emotion of the old-world craft, he also launched his first bridge line, ‘Diffuse’, a noteworthy vibrant and dynamic collection of textures that give an extra edge for the youth, Malhotra now looks to move forward with his expansion plans, his first directorial debut and exploring more avenues of uniting technology and fashion like his NFTs that were sold out in record seconds.
Ahead, we speak to the prolific designer, to learn more about his journey.
When did your love affair with design and fashion first start?
Growing up, I was always fascinated by Indian films and made it a point to watch every movie released every Friday. I remember being enamoured by what the actors wore. I loved every bit of it; the way they wore the sarees, the way they carried themselves, the way the ensembles flowed in a song sequence which is a big part of Indian films, I observed it all. My love for fashion grew from watching films and being surrounded by my mother’s clothes. When I got into college, I started modelling and worked at a boutique. I learned everything through my modelling gigs and the time at the boutique; I also used to sketch for hours to perfect my design skills. I am self-taught, and my passion for fashion kept me going. My 31 years in the industry stands for patience, hard work, resilience, focus and more than anything else, it also stands for evolving with time.
You have had a long association with Bollywood and have seen it evolve through the years, which is your favourite period?
Even though my journey began in the 90s, I get very nostalgic about the 50s, 60s and 70s because I loved that time. From the music to the clothes, to all the actors, I found it fascinating. Films like “Mughal-E-Asam”, “Madhumati”, and actresses like Madhubala and Meena Kumari had such a long-lasting impact not just in the world of cinema but also in fashion, music, and talent.
Celebrities are part of your success story. How and when did you realise that celebrities would be the best advocates for your creations?
I started as a costume designer for films and later got into couture. I remember my first fashion show at the Taj Mahal, and during that time, I didn’t know anything about the design culture as I didn’t have a formal education in fashion. When I had my show, Urmila, the actor in my first debut film, “Rangeela”, had become a close friend. We had worked in many films together by then, and she walked in my first show, out of love and support. Many other actors and celebrities who were colleagues, friends and by now who had become like family also came in to support me. That one gesture of friendship turned into the trend of having celebrities as show stoppers in India. From Urmilla being my first showstopper to Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Janhvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan and many more, the concept of celebrity and influencer showstoppers became widely accepted. Moreover, I’ve consistently worked with the best models, talents and artists who’ve had a major role in creating and amplifying the brand.
You are known for redefining and modernising how actors look in Indian movies and reviving some of India’s forgotten fabrics. Which fabrics do you like to work with?
I love fashion, so I can work with literally any fabric, but chiffon sarees are one of my signatures if I really must choose. I love chiffon. It’s so beautiful, flowy, and charismatic, and the fine essence between sultry and sophisticated makes anyone look exotic. Organza is also another favourite. It’s so sheer, delicate in the most elegant sense. Despite its fine texture, it’s a solid fabric to work on.
Where did the inspiration for the Chiffon Sari come from?
It all started with Urmila in Rangeela (1995). I remember proposing a sari for her character, and we decided to use it in the song “Pyar Yeh Jaane Kaisa Hai”, which is a romantic number between her and Jackie Shroff. Ramu liked it so much that we decided to do another black chiffon sari for her.
For Raja Hindustani (1996), I was influenced by the ’60s and ’70s, particularly Rekha and Rakhee who often wore patchwork saris. So I picked up different saris and joined them together using delicate embroidery. In the song, “Pucho Jara Pucho”, Karisma is in a blue chiffon sari with a printed chiffon pallu. I love the dramatic fall, subtle sheen and the effortless pleating and draping of the saree and its beautiful effect on screen.
The pandemic affected the fashion industry in numerous ways. What, according to you, is the way forward?
As a person and founder of the brand, I believe in evolving with today’s audience. Pandemic made people isolate themselves at home and encouraged them to explore existing digital avenues like blockchain technology, metaverse, NFT, augmented reality, customisation features, virtual stores, consultations, etc. They were just mere buzzwords that have now turned into digital assets.
The past years have ushered in dramatic changes in expectations in how consumers interact with art and add new layers to collectibles and luxury purchases. We’re striving toward tapping into these markets with due diligence, research and experimental methods. Not just digital, we’re expanding our inter and intra national horizons by introducing new segments, venturing into new business avenues, and improvising the administration of the business.
Are ESG concerns starting to be a hot topic amongst India’s fashion houses?
I think ESG is one of the most important factors coming in. As a label and a first-tier designer today, I think it is imperative for me to consider factors like technology, sustainability and empowerment. For enterprises and companies to be trusted, we must move with these values. We are working on imbibing all of them in our journey. We work with an NGO for empowerment and are very particular about electricity and water consumption.
You stated, “Success is a relative term. For me, it’s about focus, conviction, hard work and honesty. I’ve been willing to work 48 hours in a 24-hour day all through my career”. Since 2018, you have launched four other new verticals — Manish Malhotra Beauty, Manish Malhotra Jewellery, film production company, and home decor. This is highly impressive. What is your daily schedule looking like?
If I could work 48 hours a day, I genuinely would. I am an early riser. No two days are the same. I could also be the first to reach the office depending on my schedule and the last to leave. One day I’m in Mumbai, next day Delhi, then Hyderabad and I could go to Dubai for two days and come back — all for work. The hustle comes with wearing many hats, be it shoots, administration, production, working with my artisans, designing, brainstorming, marketing, or store visits. It may sound hectic, but I absolutely love it.
Is your success inspiring other Indian fashion brands? Have you been mentoring emerging Indian fashion designers?
I have come across many budding designers, established ones, and contemporaries throughout my three-decade-long career. I’ve imparted and received considerable knowledge that has helped me evolve as a designer and individual. I’ve partnered with design colleges and workshops in India to mentor students. I don’t have a formal education in fashion or designing, but my practical experience has helped me sustain and march ahead in this industry. We’re moving at a fast pace; it’s only natural for me to advise these passionate students to stay true to their principles but not shy away from experimenting and move out of their comfort zone.
You shared, “I work from my heart — I am very committed to my job, and it never tires me. My greatest virtue is that I mind my own business. I’ve only focused on my journey, which has helped me to cut through the confusion and stay relevant over the years”. Where do you see your brand in five years? Will you operate a global network of Manish Malhotra boutiques?
Expansion plans are under the way and we will reveal the details soon. I wouldn’t dive deep into the business jargons, but the plan is to expand our customer base exponentially. At the moment, we are weighing up all our options and formulating plans. With Reliance, we hope to go more corporate and systematic. It’s basically the corporatisation of Indian fashion that’s going to happen now. I’m not business educated, so this will help us with technology and sustainability. Also, I know them really well. I know how dynamic and fantastic they are. There could have been no better strategic partner to accompany us on our journey of global reach, business diversification, and renewed creative growth.
Which international actor or actress you have not yet met and would like to work with?
I would love to dress and work with Meryl Streep. She’s the definition of refined elegance, and the perfect muse to glamour.
Tell us about the recent launch of your NFT on the blockchain?
I have researched quite a lot on the potential of blockchain technology. I mean, people questioned the expansiveness of the internet back in the day, and look where we are now. After digitising fashion with our in-house couture films, and our virtual store on the MM website, this seemed the appropriate next step to enter the new industry.
Our first drop in association with FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week was a tremendous success, courtesy of WazirX’s smooth and structured technical procedure. NFTs, with the blockchain that underpins it, have evolved into a whole new institution. The concept is borderless: imagine concert tickets, artist payments, and property in the form of NFTs. I’m looking forward to the innovation and evolution.
If you were to name one person or mentor who has inspired you along your life and career, who would that be?
It has to be the late Sridevi; she was a bundle of talent and discipline. I started my career as her costume stylist. She taught me so much at the most nascent stage of my career. I fondly remember our days on sets where she would listen to my opinion and take every feedback seriously. She taught me so much about women’s fashion, the cuts and designs. Her passion and respect for work made me want to follow the same path, and that’s what I try and emulate even now.