Wendell Rodricks On aLL Primero, His First Ever Runway Collection For Plus Sized Fashion Forwards

Wendell Rodricks is a cultural revivalist with a cause. Conferring the sole status of just a fashion designer to Rodricks, a Padma Shri winning Indian icon, would be a tad indecorous. His is a career of many fashion firsts – from exhibiting a sustainable collection, that’s du jour today, back in the 90s, to being an advisory voice and key player in the first edition of LFW (2000) to working with white cottons and linens to reviving the Goan Kunbi cotton sari weave to writing incisive books on fashion. Rodricks was the first Indian designer to open Dubai Fashion Week (2001) and today, he’s turned into a museologist, converting his private residence into the Moda Goa Museum for all things fashionable and cultural to the state. This Goaphile is doing it all, the aLL Primero collection for plus sizes this season being yet another first in his exemplary career.

Ahead of his August 19 showing at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017 in Mumbai, Rodricks spoke exclusively to Rubina A Khan | Gulf News tabloid! 

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Wendell Rodricks with his Creative Director, Schulen Fernandes

The aLL Primero show is the first of its kind in India for plus-sized people at LFW in Mumbai. Does the line adhere to the minimalistic métier of your label?
The aLL Primero Collection by Wendell Rodricks is the first Plus Size line to be shown in a Main Show Area at Fashion Week, bringing it to the public’s attention. The line is similar to our label in terms of minimalism. There is no embellishment, very little sparkle and the aesthetic is in harmony with the Wendell Rodricks philosophy of design. I believe in fashion democracy –  it is for everyone, no matter what age, colour or size. In fact, when we showed the sketches to some of our clients, they wanted to buy them in regular sizes too. I am confident of the Primero line doing very well at LFW and in the aLL Plus size stores. When I see the unnecessary drama and chaos in fashion, I’m amazed and amused. The sycophancy, paranoia and insecurity are surreal. For God’s sake, we are just glorified tailors, not Messiahs of a new religion!

How did you and your label’s creative director, Schulen Fernandes, go about setting up the aLL Primero line, which is in sharp contrast to the vibrant, geometric silhouettes of the AW17 Cubist Rose runway collection?
Primero was conceived entirely by Schulen. She has imbibed my method of working without a mood board as I find them restrictive and they “lift” old concepts and one tends to copy past eras, fabric treatments and colour combinations. I prefer keeping a clear mind.

What is the essence of you that Fernandes has brought into the aLL collection?
Schulen has my DNA very firmly in our collections. It is for this reason that I appointed her my successor. When the media and public look at the new collections, they can’t tell that there is a new person spearheading the collection. It looks like Wendell Rodricks all the way from colour to concept, styling and silhouette.

How does designing for plus sizes vary from a runway collection for slim and lithe bodies?
It’s easier to make runway clothes for regular models as they’re almost factory produced at 34-25-36. With Plus sizes, I love the challenge. People imagine that curvy is all there to Plus sizes, but that’s not true at all as there are hour-glass, apple, pear, carrot and rectangular shapes too. For the aLL show, we chose models that fit every one of these shapes so that voluptuous people can find clothes that suit their shape.

The Cubist Rose collection was loved instantaneously. Do you think Primero will hit a fashion frontier for plus-sized fashion forwards?
I’m certain she will score a hat trick with Primero. She did so with Trapezoid and Cubist Rose. Now it is time for the aLL Primero collection to shine and send out a vibrant, fashion statement. I’ve chosen the music, and the backdrop and I think curvy will be the next trend from LFW. This collection has a happy vibe, quite like the happy people that will wear them.

Will this collection break runway stereotypes in India and encourage more designers to design plus- sized fashion?
There are many myths that we will shatter with the aLL Primero collection. Whites, bright colours, colour blocking, neutrals… most people feel that Plus sizes should stay away from all this. Not at all! We made it a point not to include black in the collection. Black is boring and safe. When I first said ‘white’ for Plus sizes, people gagged. After the show they won’t be gagging, but applauding.

It sounds like you’re bringing voluptuous to the fashion fore with Primero, where skinny takes to the shadows…
Whoever said dogs like bones and men like flesh knew what they were talking about, and 60% of the world’s population of Plus size women will agree. This is a real show for real people and therein lies the strength of the collection. This is real, not virtual fashion fluff.

Who selected the models for the aLL Primero show and was there any training involved for their “runway strut”?
aLL and IMG Reliance had an audition where we chose 21 models from almost 300 entries. We chose them based on their confidence with their own bodies. They are a happy, excited lot. I loved them at first sight. Our choreographer Anu Ahuja, doesn’t want them to do a runway strut. At the fittings she told them, “At the end of it all, comfortable models are happy models”. I second that.

Have you ever had a muse?
Malaika Arora was my first and only muse, till I made all women a collective muse. I have a job to do and I’m obliged to please the public muse. My job is to make them look slimmer, taller and feel more beautiful – that’s all women want.

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Jerome Marrel and Wendell Rodricks at the Poskem book launch in Mumbai

You have the Moda Goa museum opening end 2018, you’re an impassioned traveler, author, you’re designing silverware, gourmet coffees and the Goa Police Band costume and you love food. How do you maintain your fit persona and sense of self with your diverse creative pursuits?
I am a creative spirit. I guess some people are just made this way. People ask me how I do so much all the time. It really is no effort. I am a Gemini and an expert at multi-tasking. But I am also extremely disciplined. After IHM, a career in hotel management in Mumbai and my sweat and blood years working with the Royal Oman Police, handling Sultans, Sheikhs, Presidents, Prime Ministers et al, I realized one can take on the world in a disciplined, restrained and orderly manner. I learnt discipline from a young age. Give me a 24-hour challenge and I will strive to deliver it in 12 hours. As for loving food, I am an epicurean for sure. Since I lived in Paris, I learnt to ‘indulge in limitation’. Do not believe that I eat everything I post on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I taste, but don’t gorge, except for dark chocolate.

What achievements in your life are you most proud of and what do you love the most?
I don’t think about myself or my past glories at all. For that, there is google and my website, wendellrodricks.com to refresh my memory. There is much to do without thinking of one’s self and developing an unnecessary ego. I would like to learn Sanskrit and Latin. After aLL Primero, I will be focussing on Moda Goa Museum.  I live in a real world in a small village in Goa. Life in an ivory tower is just so not my vibe. Apart from my partner and my dogs, I love this journey called life. I am on a constant high with life and this big, beautiful world.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 17 August, 2017

©Rubina A Khan 2017

RUBINA’S RADAR | FDCI’S INDIA COUTURE WEEK 2017

RUBINA’S RADAR 

The 10th edition of the Fashion Design Council of India’s (FDCI) India Couture Week 2017 (24th-31st July), orchestrated by Sunil Sethi, President, FDCI, was a splendacious celebration of India’s fashion vanguards at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. India Couture Week has earned its laurels for the past decade of being the best in the country with its marked excellence in fashion. And what’s a fashion week in India without some Bollywood stardust thrown in? ICW 2017’s couture catwalk had actors like Alia Bhatt, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Shilpa Shetty and many more walking for the participating couturiers.

TARUN TAHILIANI | Tarakanna: 
Tarakanna was an alluring experience with an “evolved vocabulary of design” befitting the legendary status of Tahiliani and his majestic consummation of couture. His design constructs were fluid, almost seamless, in silk, velvet, brocade, Italian tulle and georgette, in hues of burnished rose, gold, olive, black, ivory, midnight blue and the de riguer bridal palette of red.  The unparalleled artistry of Tahiliani’s craft shone on the runway. As the models glided on to the breathtaking autumnal leaved set, designed to semble the end of autumn, Central Park in New York perhaps, the earthy tones came alive with the shimmering Swarovski crystal-embellished ensembles, all 85 of them, taking over the runway. The line alluded to a bride’s lightness of being, akin to her dancing in the glory of her marital coupling in bespoke designs, fitted not just to her body, but also to her soul. Scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan’s visual aesthetic lent itself beautifully to the magnificent confluence of the Tarakanna line and the buoyancy of the human spirit it embodied. Throughout its duration, the show appeared to have suspended the audience in the most exalted place of happiness and wonderment, that stayed on long after it had ended. 

MONISHA JAISING | Opera:
Sexy is a vibe Jaising shoots for consistently, and her Opera collection wasn’t left wanting in the least. The clothes were tantalising and edgy, and a tad theatrical too, primarily made in lamé, velvet metallics, Italian organza, banarasi brocade and metallic satins. The light and set design of the runway didn’t really take you into the world of operatic tenors and high octaves that inspired her line this season, as the models walked in her evening dresses and gowns, cocktail saris, crop tops and ball skirts. The multi-faceted actor-turned-businesswoman-turned-yoga-guru, Shilpa Shetty – a flawless showstopper who nails it every single time, tripped on the brocade train of her gown, not once, not twice, but four times, as it kept getting caught on the runway floor. To say that the runway nailed Shetty, rather than the other way around, would be an understatement here. Shetty of course, let it slide and slayed it forward on the runway, with a strut only her enviable body is capable of, coupled with the radiance of her persona.

ANITA DONGRE | Tree Of Love:
Anita Dongre is a relatively new entrant in the Indian couture and bridal wear landscape, having started her couture line, Bridal, only six years ago. But, she is a veteran player, and a very successful one at that in the prêt-à-porter business of fashion for the last two decades, with her labels – AND, Global Desi, Pink City and Grassroot. Dongre opened her first Grassroot store in Manhattan, New York, recently and will be opening the doors to her Bridal store there subsequently. Her Tree Of Love collection was inspired by the Bishnoi community and their spiritual reverence for nature. Dongre married her “love for trees, rich Indian craftsmanship and music into one joyous collection” with dominant shades of blue, green and red. 
Beautiful SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) embroidered tabards, paired with tulle skirts, mushroo and hand-embroidered tea-length dresses with gottapatti lehengas, obi belts, embroidered flat shoes and cross-body potli bags made up the very desirable contemporary bridal line. The uncut diamond jewellery from her Pink City line as stunning. Dongre’s runway felt like an Indian summer wedding, with the metallic trees adding dramatic flair to the aureate mood board.

GAURAV GUPTA | Moondust: 
Gaurav Gupta’s knows how to haute couture the runway up. Structure and form are Gupta’s forte and he plays that well, like a consumed installation artist, with “blurred boundaries of traditional and modern couture”, choosing to “sit on the cusp of both worlds”. The Moondust collection is Gupta’s interpretation of a surreal ball Cinderella went to, in sculpted ensembles created from translucent textiles in pale tones of grey, blue, green and teal, playing with shadow and light. Handcrafted embroideries and silhouettes accentuating one aspect of the body – either the legs, the back, the arms  or the shoulders – but never all at once, kept the collection elegant and sassy. Though he was going for an immersive experience with this line, it was anything but immersive. Aditi Rao Hydari was Gupta’s showstopper and surprisingly, she was one of the best ramp walkers in the lineup of Bollywood stars.

MANISH MALHOTRA | Sensual Affair:
Manish Malhotra’s exceedingly mirrored runway for his Sensual Affair collection, seemed to be asking, “Mirror mirror on the wall, on the ceiling and on the floor, Who is the grandest couturier of them all?” Satin organzas, silk tulles, satin velvets made up the fabric for Malhotra’s lehengas, sherwanis, voluminous skirts and gowns with trains and the gorgeous fitted corsets, in ivory, soft grey, vintage rose, burgundy and teal tones. The models swirled around on the gleaming catwalk, left, right and centre in a fast-paced, synchronised rhythm, showing off 85 ensembles, with not a second to breathe. It left you wanting to see more of the clothes, with just a little bit of stay. Rapturous glamour is what Malhotra does best, be it sensual, sexual or unusual. There is no one grand couturier of them all, but t
he grandest finale to a decade of couture at the India Couture Week 2017 was undeniably Malhotra’s, with Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh walking for him. The raucous screams that erupted throughout the show area were deafening and most definitely burst an eardrum or two amidst the audience in the excitement of it all. Tears were shed at not meeting Singh, who seems to be the star, no, superstar of Delhi. Sure he’s popular, but really? Bhatt was an enchanting delight on the runway as always, looking like the Bollywood belle of the ball. 

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2017

India Couture Week 2017’s 10th Anniversary Edition

The Fashion Design Council of India’s annual event extraordinaire, India Couture Week 2017, celebrates its 10th edition this year with a seven-day fashion extravaganza in New Delhi. The luxuriously indulgent runway week commences on July 24th with opening shows by designers, Rohit Bal and Anamika Khanna, and a grand finale on July 30th 2017, with a viewing of Rina Dhaka’s line and a closing show by Manish Malhotra with his Sensual Affair

“2017 is a momentous year for us at FDCI, a non-profit organisation and the apex body of fashion design in India, represented by over 350 members, completing ten years of India Couture Week this year. It’s the only event in the country to offer a prestigious platform to couturiers to showcase their talent in offering irrepressible indulgence. It has been an incredible journey that would not have been possible without the support of the board members and the FDCI team. We look forward to presenting many more editions of this magical event as we take it to a new high with seven days this time around. What has been most interesting is that our couturiers have influenced the evolution of the luxury consumer. They have not just been revivalists, but also innovators. Our embroideries and handmade crafts have found a place on the world map, and that is why it is imperative to promote the Make in India endeavour. We hope to create a new language of high definition glamour through our celebrations,­­” says Sunil Sethi, President FDCI and Founder, Sunil Sethi Design Alliance

A legendary vanguard of Indian fashion and a headliner for all things luxurious, couturier Tarun Tahiliani, will exhibit his Tarakanna collection on July 26th at 9.30PM at the Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. “This year our India Couture Week show is about lightness, borne by a new construct and a conscious desire to make the most floaty couture that women desire to wear a hundred times over. Tarakanna is stardust,” says Tahiliani in his quintessential smoky voice. 

Rohit Bal’s ICW show is offsite, at the restored Bikaner House on opening night at 9.30PM. “My collection is an ode to lost craft and tradition. A journey from the past to the present with a gentle nudge of contemporary influences. It is an effort to revive heritage pieces from the costume collections of royal Mughals which have been immortalised in museums. The collection highlights an amalgamation of traditional craft with modern sensibilities preserving its timeless beauty,” says Bal of his new collection.  

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2017 

Fashion Design Council Of India Presents India Fashion Week Autumn / Winter 2017

The Fashion Design Council of India’s Fashion Week Autumn Winter 2017 edition celebrated India’s immense talent in the world of fashion, right from handloom revivalists to the unabashedly glamorous. Union Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani, Alia Bhatt, Sunil Sethi President FDCI and Union Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi made for some great photo ops and the Delhi sunshine demanded iced lattes on the hour to keep up with the frenetic pace of the week.

Here is the FDCI presented India Fashion Week 2017 in pictures:

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Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium entrance

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Schulen Fernandes | Wendell Rodricks

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Schulen Fernandes | Wendell Rodricks

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Schulen Fernandes | Wendell Rodricks

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Siddartha Tytler

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Siddartha Tytler

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Alia Bhatt for Namrata Joshipura

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Malini Ramani

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Vaani Kapoor for Rina Dhaka

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Pankaj & Nidhi

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Nachiket Barve’s sari

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Madhu Jain

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Rara Avis sari

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Golden Threads of Assam mannequin

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Tarun Tahiliani & Amit Aggarwal’s Grand Finale

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Opening Day

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Opening Day

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Sunil Sethi President FDCI with Maneka Gandhi Union Minister for Women & Child Development

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Sunil Sethi President FDCI with Smriti Irani Union Minister of Textiles on opening day

Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2017

Rohit Bal Launches His First Home Collection & Apparel Line, Husn-E-Taairaat With Good Earth

Rohit Bal’s fashionable silhouette cuts through his own luminosity of an evolving design métier, with a celestial force that is quintessentially maximalist like him. India’s irrefragable and original master couturier, appositely so, has designed a luxurious home décor and apparel line for Good Earth, an indigenously Indian design house like his own eponymous label, called the Husn-E-Taairaat collection that launched in Mumbai today. Not only can you wear the designer now, but also drink, eat, admire, entertain and sleep in Bal with his exquisitely designed tableware, vases, scarves, espresso and tea service sets and more from this jewel-toned capsule collection.

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The original master couturier Rohit Bal

ROHIT BAL:

How did the Husn-E-Taairat Home and Apparel collaboration come about with Good Earth?
I’ve always known that if I designed a home décor line, it would only be with Good Earth, India’s leading design house, simply because it’s a beautiful and aesthetic match of our sensibilities. It was either this or designing a home line for my own store. Home décor is virgin terrain for me, and a completely new and exciting category that I have stepped into with my design métier with Good Earth. My Husn-E-Taairaat (which means ‘beauty of a bird’ in Persian) collection for Good Earth is a reinterpretation of the themes that inspired my 2015 couture line, that was a tribute to the rich crafts of Persia that drew parallels with renaissance and post-impressionism art movements, in the form of a fine home décor and a capsule fashion line. It’s a juxtaposition of my thoughts, influences, art affiliations and a deep, personal love for Indian textiles and the collection celebrates the beauty of wildlife, birds and flowers. The signature motifs of this collection are inspired by vintage Pichwai paintings, one of the most intricate styles of Indian temple art hailing from Rajasthan. The apparel collection in Habutai silk resonates a contemporary aesthetic, with modern silhouettes and a relaxed style, which is very Good Earth. Together, we have beautifully captured my maximalist style and nature inspired motifs in a gorgeous set of home art collectibles accentuated by Good Earth’s rich design language and technical creation expertise.

How easy or difficult was it re-imagining your couture line into Cushions, Espresso and Tea Sets, Tapas Plates, Glasses, Trinket Trays and Vases?
There are a multitude of common inspirations in my work and that of Good Earth’s – most importantly a common love for nature, wildlife, decorative arts and crafts and the need for reviving and preserving indigenous fabrics and techniques. This enabled us to work with an inspired and synergized design language, without losing our individual design essence that is clearly visible in our capsule collection. It was a joy to create a line of exclusive collectibles and select accent pieces for home décor and dining. We have used detailed hand decoration of artwork decals and placement of motifs on fine bone china, ceramic and glass, accentuated with 24 carat gold and platinum. Vibrant shades of royal blue and jade are offset with creams and natural tones to bring this collection to life. Again, all the products feature my signature motifs – multi-colored lotuses, long-tailed birds like peacocks, fruits, beauty, nature, wildlife, flora and fauna. There is a very limited range of pieces in both, home décor and apparel. The collection features less than ten unique styles and pieces and some of the pieces are very few in number, for example the tall vase which is really special, and we have only made three of the same.

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Husn-E-Taairaat home collectibles

What are price points for the Rohit Bal Husn-E-Taairaat line?
The collection ranges from gifts starting at $85 (AED 310 approximately) to limited pieces that go upwards of $1500 (AED 5500 approximately).

Who will this designer home collection appeal to and why?
This collection will appeal to young, urban, tasteful millennials around the world, including Dubai of course, looking for everyday luxury and a slice of Rohit Bal, presented in Good Earth’s signature style and that too at very attractive price points. This line has been designed with a strong focus on individual, stand-out pieces and not complete product sets, making it highly versatile and immensely appealing to a wide variety of age groups and home settings.

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Rohit Bal & Simran Lal of Good Earth

SIMRAN LAL:

How is it that a 20-year old indigenous Indian brand like yours did not collaborate with Rohit Bal earlier on and now that you have, why him?
Gosh it’s sometimes hard to believe that myself that Good Earth turns 21 in January 2017! I can’t imagine what life was like before Good Earth and where we shopped ourselves. We’ve never gone out strategically seeking or courting collaborations. It’s always been an organic process for us – a natural extension of conversations about shared inspirations and style and that is how the Rohit Bal Husn-E-Taairaat collection came about right after his 2015 couture collection. There’s a natural synergy between Good Earth and Rohit Bal. We share a commitment to craft traditions, a passion for Persian art and culture and love of nature. Being Kashmiri, Rohit has an understanding and deep reverence for flowers and wildlife, all of which are at the heart of our design vocabulary and language. We also share an audience, but for different occasions, and that makes this collaboration particularly exciting. Good Earth is known for everyday luxury and thoughtful gifts while Rohit Bal couture is aspired to for milestone occasions. So we thought it would be fun to make his couture collection relevant in an everyday context. The collaboration with Rohit has been a very enriching experience and I’m sure this association will continue for a very long time.

When will the Husn-E-Taairaat line be available to purchase online, particularly in Dubai and the Middle East?
The collection will be available Nov 21st onwards on http://www.goodearth.in and we ship to over 50 countries, including Dubai and the Middle East. However, for limited edition pieces like the tall vase, which we only have 3 pieces of, one can make the purchase by emailing us directly. Given the Rohit Bal design history and extraordinary demand, we expect the Husn-E-Taairaat collection to go down extremely well in Dubai and the Middle East, which has always shown a penchant for our classic and decorative design aesthetic.

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Husn-E-Taairaat apparel and home collectibles

What is your favorite part of the Rohit Bal Good Earth collection?
We are bringing a quintessentially Rohit Bal ‘look’ to home décor with his maximalist style with our maker expertise with quality, pattern play and gift ideas. There is also a charming high tea service. We’ve never done one in such a crepuscular palette and now I wonder why! It’s so rich and opulent in jewel tones and hand decorated with glimmering 24-carat gold accents. It’s very festive and very Rohit Bal and I love it. My favorite hostess gift for the season would be the jewel glass candles with a heady tuberose fragrance. In the apparel collection, I think my first buy is going to be the jacket. Maybe it’s just the weather, but I love the versatility of this statement apparel piece that can be styled with saris, dresses, pants and farshis alike.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on November 12, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Love Fuels My Soul, Says Jewelry Designer & Photographer Nadine Kanso Of Bil Arabi

Nadine Kanso is not just an artistic being; she’s a vibe. The sparkle to her vibe is as luminous as her incredible Bil Arabi jewelry designs, which I think are works of art. A celebrated photographer too, having exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the B21 Gallery in Dubai, Kanso was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon and lived in Canada and the Czech Republic after her marriage and has been living in Dubai for the last 16 years. She started her jewelry line with the idea of demystifying the presence or absence of a ring on a finger, that declared a marital or single status. And she chose to say it in Bil Arabi (which literally means In Arabic) with a handcrafted ring in 18K gold back in 2006 with a “noon” or “N” in the English language.

A proud Arab, the culture and heritage of her roots drove her to create a contemporary visual language for the world through her jewelry. An incarnation of the Emirati expression of endearment, Fdeytak, turned into a bangle studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds that was auctioned off at Christie’s Dubai. The Bil Arabi line today, a decade after its launch, includes rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and cufflinks that draw on the inherent beauty, calligraphic shape and lyricism of the Arabic alphabet in Yellow, White and Rose gold, along with precious and semi-precious stones.

Rubina A Khan spoke to Nadine Kanso on a sun-dappled Sunday afternoon at her office in the Dubai Design District:

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Nadine Kanso

Are you the only jewelry designer in the world who does Arabic calligraphic designs on metal?
I was the first one to start the Arabic  letter in jewelry and I have used words like Hubb which means Love and Bhibbak which means I Love You which no one had really used or done before. Designers had done non-religious verses, sayings and proverbs from the Arabic language, but not the Arabic letters. So I sort of dazzled it up with my designs and made the Arabic language more contemporary.

How did you decide upon this as a career?
I’m an artist photographer and I did a photo exhibition called Meen Ana which means Who I Am and it was about the Arab identity. This was it after the 9/11 when we were looked at and perceived in a bad way, which unfortunately, still stands today. I showcased people from the region from the Arab world in my photographs in a different way, with a different view. People from different backgrounds held up sentences in calligraphy that I wrote saying My Love is Arabic, My Language is Arabic, My Future is Arabic, Talk to me in Arabic with collages. A Saudi with blue eyes and blond hair was holding up a sign saying I Look Arab but don’t judge us. So from here, I felt I needed to do something that is more spread out globally because photographs showcased in a gallery can only be viewed by a certain number of people and the reach is limited. I did cushions, scarves, teeshirts… and then I said to myself “why are we wearing Latin letters and not Arabic ones” and that’s how the first “Noon” for Nadine started and Bil Arabi was born.

What about the Arabic script fascinates you the most?
I have nothing to do with religious stuff. I’m a proud Arab and I try to keep my work and designs related to our heritage, culture and our Arab roots and the language we speak. That is what is the most fascinating part to me. There are two ways to look two ways to look at my collection – you have some designs wherein I do my own calligraphy and then there’s the classical font – I use both and people have appreciated both styles.

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The City & Birds is a limited edition, 18K Gold Handcuff, made by Nadine Kanso for DRAK / Dubai Design Week 2015, reflecting the contrasting elements of Ras Al Khor, the oldest industrial area of Dubai and its flamingo reserve and the Burj Khalifa symbolising the concrete development in the country

What is the most unusual request you have received for a custom Bil Arabi design?(Laughs) A couple of words that are slightly risqué that were made into a pendant and a ring. And we did it in diamonds as well.

From making only rings, you now make all kinds of jewelry today. Is it both for men and women?
We just launched a men’s line a year ago. It’s a silver line, so the price point is different and it is more accessible. The font is designed by me and another designer from Milan, Italy who happens to be my cousin and it is more modern and contemporary. Even if you read and write Arabic or you don’t, it’s very difficult to make out that the font is in Arabic letters.

Where can one buy Bil Arabi?
Bil Arabi is mostly available in the GCC but I would say Dubai is the home and heart of Bil Arabi. This is where I live and this is where I started. It’s available in Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales Dubai and Sauce which is the first store I started with and they promoted me so well and pushed me and were very supportive of the local talent. Then there is SAKS Bahrain, Eye Candy Oman and in Saudi Arabia, we do pop-ups and anywhere else in the world too.

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An 18K gold handcuff designed by Nadine Kanso for DE.Fash.Struction 2015 (Telling Stories Through Fashion) outlining the UAE’s rich pearl diving heritage, using deconstructed diving nose clips, UAE pearls and gold wires for the contemporary design called ‘Taba’ meaning dive in Arabic

What is the source of inspiration for your collections?
It is about being proud of who we are, today and yesterday, and I try to make the world look at us Arabs in a different way with everything I do.

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An 18K Gold Evil Eye Handcuff from Bil Arabi

What makes you the happiest?
I find great joy in what I do and I love seeing my kids following their dreams.

What feeds your soul, to fuel your creative energy?
Love fuels my soul and creative energy. For me, the basic thing is to love life and to love everything you do. Love for me is very important, in all its forms. From loving a person to loving what I do, it all has to be very positive and fulfilling. This is where things come from and creativity comes. It’s hard to be productive when you’re sad, at least for me.

What about misery creating art and artists?
This is so typical, people thinking that you should not have money to be an artist or that you should be sad in order to be creative. I mean why?  These are connotations that applied to artists a long time ago and they were right at the time, because they felt that way perhaps, and thats’s what fueled their creativity, but that does not apply to everybody, especially today. I should not be begging on the streets to take a picture. Come on! In my photography, a lot of socio-political things form the base of what I do, but alongside that, there’s always a twist of a hopeful future in all my work. In my black and white photo series, there was a splash of color somewhere in the picture which was my way of expressing that there was hope for a better future for Lebanon. You have to always hope, otherwise it does not happen.

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Varun Bahl’s Fantasy Bouquet Show At India Couture Week 2016

Varun Bahl has been showing at the Fashion Design Council of India’s India Couture Week since its inception eight years ago with Sunil Sethi as the President of the council. Tonight, he shows his Fantasy Bouquet line at FDCI India Couture Week 2016.

Your show last year was spectacular. What is the theme of your couture line this year?
We have renewed our commitment to reinventing traditional Indian silhouettes for the contemporary woman with our India Couture Week 2016 collection and are showing almost 50 looks. Delicate floral motifs make a prominent appearance in the entire collection, with sophisticated colours, textures and patterns mixed with the intricate craftsmanship that our brand is well known for. Dainty vintage inspirations meet opulent baroque influences in this line, which has a hint of tropical motifs as well. The colour scheme is versatile and varied, and imitates a bouquet of flowers.

unnamedVarun Bahl 

Whose show are you most looking forward to, apart from your own?
Each designer’s creations are so unique that to differentiate and pick one would be an exercise in futility. What I look forward to most is the post-couture-week time, when I can enjoy looking at all the collections in detail and appreciate everyone’s particular vision for the season.

Is there a celebrity walking for your show?
I feel a celebrity showstopper is not essential to a successful show, but I’m not averse to the idea either if it suits the concept of the collection. For this couture week, though, you’ll have to wait and see.

What is the most challenging aspect of doing a couture show, aside from all the other preparations?
The modern Indian consumer is evolving. She is well aware, has ample global exposure, and is extremely quality-conscious. She is also one on the lookout for designs that seamlessly marry Indian heritage with an international sensibility. The real challenge is to appeal to her nuanced tastes. Another imposing challenge is to stay true to the craft in the face of growing commercialization.

You are largely known for your couture and bridal lines. Do you think bridal and couture and clearly demarcated in India?
One can’t deny that the focus of the couture market in India is largely on bridal pieces — they are considered two sides of the same coin. That’s mainly because the wedding market in the country is one that cannot be ignored. Moreover, since couture is associated with hefty price tags, people are more likely to purchase them for wedding festivities. While the trend of considering couture and bridal as synonymous is changing, it will take a while before the two are clearly distinguished. As a brand, we’ve been paving the way for couture to be embraced as part of one’s daily wardrobe since the very beginning.

How many people pronounce couture right? Do you correct them, or you let it ride?
Almost everyone I meet can pronounce it right, but in case they can’t, I prefer to let it go. Getting a pronunciation correct is not the foremost thing on everyone’s agenda. Besides, they may be better than me at other things.

What is the most often repeated request for a Varun Bahl couture outfit?
There are many actually, like our sari-gown, our farshi-palazzo with a couture tunic, our anarkalis and of course, our haute couture saris.

unnamed-2What’s your signature style that creeps up in every collection?
Our focus has always been to blend the classic with the contemporary, and the antique with the new. We are constantly reinventing traditional staples to keep them fresh for the non-conformist customer of today, but without diluting its traditional essence. Innovative use of fabrics and florals are also mainstays of all our collections.

What do you think makes your designs different from the others?
Our designs take global cues, but are not run-of-the-mill. They have a unique quality that makes the wearer stand out. We also believe in creating classics that will serve the wearer for years to come. We have stayed to true to our artistry even in the face of commercialization of the design business in India. Moreover, we introduced the concept of black and ivory bridal wear even when they were considered taboo colours in India. It may be de rigueur today, but we championed the concept when it was unheard of. Our treatment of the traditional embroidery crafts of India — like zardozi, aari, dabka, muqaish, chikan, etc — in contemporary motifs and colours is also our signature.

Varun Bahl’s show is at 8pm on Saturday, July 23, at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 22 July, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

 

Anita Dongre Makes Her India Couture Week 2016 Debut With Epic Love

India Couture Week 2016 kicks off in New Delhi today. You are debuting your couture line at ICW 2016 this year. Have you been doing couture all along in your career, as you are largely known for pret lines under various labels?
It is our debut at the India Couture Week this year. I started couture five years ago. I believe fashion should be affordable. Everybody deserves to own a label and our pret brands are doing just that. We are very excited to unveil the bridal couture collection in the capital at such a prestigious event on the fashion calendar. The Epic Love collection is inspired by Mughal gardens and architecture. Our muse, a young gypsy princess is free-spirited, yet embraces tradition in her own special way, much like young brides today who enjoy what they wear rather than being weighed down by it. Traditional silhouettes like the lehenga choli and saree are reinvented in contemporary and individualistic styling. We are exhibiting 55 pieces from our Epic Love line. unnamed-2                                                                                  Anita Dongre 

Whose show are you most looking forward to, apart from your own?
India Couture Week showcases the most selective and the best talent that the fashion industry has to offer. ICW is the event that dictates the bridal couture trends for the season. It is exciting to see every designer’s work because each one has put together his or her best creations of the season.

What is the most challenging aspect of doing a couture show, aside from all the other preparations?
There is a lot of work that goes into putting a collection together for the ramp. The whole team works together on this. We have hundreds of people who are working very hard on the collection and the event. Coordinating with so many people is challenging, but it is all worth it in the end. For me, every show we do is exciting.

You are one of the most successful and popular designers in India, fiscally even more. How are you feeling right before your first couture show? 
For me, every show we do is exciting.

Do you think the blurred lines between “couture” and “bridal” are becoming clearer over the years in India?
I think in India, couture means bridal. Weddings are when people look towards buying couture labels.

What has kept you busier – the production of the Kate Middleton Gulrukh dress or the couture line you are showing at ICW?
I know we have sold about a hundred pieces of the Gulrukh tunic dress after the Duchess of Cambridge wore it, and orders on that are still pouring in. I am in charge of the design process; my production team takes over from there. I am always busy with creating the next line, which is the bridal couture line of 2016 – Epic Love.

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Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton in Anita Dongre’s Gulrukh dress on her first trip to Mumbai, India | Getty Images

How much of a difference has the Duchess wearing one of your designs made to the Anita Dongre brand globally?
Of course, it is a matter of immense pride that I am the only designer who dressed the Duchess on her maiden visit to India. It was a wonderful experience for me personally; and the label made headlines across the world.

Anita Dongre’s show is at 8.30pm on Thursday, July 21st, 2016 at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 20 July, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

 

Tarun Tahiliani’s Back At India Couture Week 2016 With The Last Dance Of The Courtesan Collection

India Couture Week last year was a fashion symphony extraordinaire, with Sabyasachi and Christian Louboutin taking collective bows amidst a bedazzled crowd of fashion forwards on opening night in New Delhi. The eclectic showing of couture by India’s finest designers put together by Sunil Sethi, President of Fashion Design Council of India, was grandiloquent, with glamazons like Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, Shilpa Shetty, Chitrangada Singh and Kangna Ranaut walking the ramp.

This year though, Sabyasachi will not be showing at India Couture Week 2016 and previewed his Firdaus line on Instagram on Monday, the 18th of July. But the week’s schedule smacks of fashionable excitement as the ICW sees Anita Dongre, designer of the immensely popular Gulrukh tunic dress that Kate Middleton wore on her trip to India in March this year, making her couture line debut and Tarun Tahiliani returning to the week after a six year hiatus.

Two of Bollywood’s most beautiful faces, Deepika Padukone and Fawad Khan are walking for Manish Malhotra who is kicking off the fashion extravaganza on July 20th at the Taj Palace Hotel, with a finale by Rohit Bal and the de riguer smattering of famous faces lending their celebrity to the runway for various designers. “Tarun and Anita have been influencers and trend setters in the fashion space and will present defining looks through their sartorial rendition of what a modern woman desires at ICW 2016. From the year I became the President of the FDCI eight years ago, I take great pride in the quality of designers who put their best designs on the ramp each year. The fantasy and dream of these designers turn into reality for the customer at couture week each year and I take great pride in that,” says Sethi, making it sound like the thrilling fashion carousel of India’s best designs on the runway that it’s expected to be.

Excerpts from the interview with Tarun Tahiliani ahead of his upcoming show on July 21st at India Couture Week 2016:
unnamedTarun Tahiliani

You are back at ICW after 6 years since it shifted to New Delhi. What made you participate in the ICW this year and what is your couture line all about?
Yes, I am. I am not sure if ICW was ever in Bombay, it is just that I had started with India Bridal Week, and so I stayed with the platform that I had started out with. However, over time I felt that India Couture Week being officially backed by the FDCI was the correct one to be involved with and it happens at a consistent time and at a consistent location, with a degree of professionalism that I have come to expect at the FDCI events so, it made sense for us to switch back since we are a Delhi based design house. We are very happy to be back and looking forward to having our first show with ICW next Thursday.

How many pieces are you showing?
We are exhibiting 28 couture pieces and 16 couture bespoke pieces for men as well from our Last Dance of the Courtesan collection. In addition, we will show the Ready-To-Wear bridal lehengas which will come out in a separate section and are styled to look different, as we do not have a separate platform for the RTW Bridal. We understand that couture is very linked to Bridal in this country. In view of that we are doing it in this manner.

Whose show are you most looking forward to, apart from your own?
Apart from my own show, I am most looking forward to seeing Anamika Khanna’s show, who is a friend and colleague. I don’t think will have time to watch the other shows because I am travelling thereafter. I am sure there will be a wonderful standard in many shows this season. It’s been a long, slow summer and people have had lots of time in their workshops.

13718553_1132045066855366_6494982334806720601_nLast Dance of the Courtesan India Couture Week 2016 collection

Is there a celebrity walking for your show?
No, there is no celebrity walking for us. We have tried the trick and it gets us tremendous eyeballs, but unfortunately, that’s all that’s talked about. We’d much rather have the star of a couture show be the clothes themselves with people noticing the finesse, fit and the embroidery on them. It is very easy to fall into the celebrity trap and we are trying to resist that for as long as we can because honestly, it’s better for the reportage of the clothes if they are the real stars as they should be. Too often, I have seen very mediocre clothes get a lot of splash because it’s been worn by, let’s say Kareena Kapoor, and I don’t think that’s what we want to be associated with.

What is the most challenging aspect of doing a couture show?
The beauty about couture is that it is made to particular bodies and for a show, you get your models at the very last minute in a way, although you do fittings, it is not pushing the envelope as much as one could normally have had one got one the models right from the start. To me, that is always the greatest challenge and how to differentiate the couture and RTW shows, besides the costs, price ranges and the finesse of the embroidery and the quality of materials we use.

Describe how you are feeling right this moment, despite the vast experience of being one of the most legendary and reputed designers the Indian fashion industry has ever seen?
I would be lying if I said I am not a bit nervous, I am actually very nervous. I have got a lot riding on the show and I worked on it the whole summer, and we have 25 minutes to show the line, so I am very concerned about all the components coming together to portray it exactly as I see it in my head.

13529002_1124943444232195_4408707928758731629_nLast Dance of the Courtesan India Couture Week 2016 collection

Do you think the blurred lines between “couture” and “bridal” are becoming clearer over the years, or does most of the fashionable populace think they are one and the same in India?
I think that’s one of the best questions I have heard. The lines between couture and bridal are becoming completely blurred because the only time people really indulge in couture without even realizing it is during weddings. Most people think that if something is expensive, it is couture. It could be entirely machine-embroidered or machine-stitched and they still think it is couture. They don’t understand that it’s a bespoke experience, designed to mould to every body. We are probably the only design house that has a separate couture studio, though we think it might be time to merge the two now. I am not sure whether the fashion conscious want the same thing, but they don’t have a specific regard for handmade v/s machine made and I think the designers who don’t do a special couture line have used this to their advantage to keep propagating the myth that it is the same thing. The fact is that it is not.

How many people pronounce couture right?
Most people can’t pronounce the word couture correctly. If it is relevant, we try and teach them the correct pronunciation but there are many who will never get it because phonetically they can’t say certain things, and it is okay if we call it what it is as long as we understand what it is and uphold the standards in every which way, namely, in the fit and on the quality of the garments, I think that is more important than how it is pronounced.

Tarun Tahiliani’s show is at 9.30pm on Thursday, July 21st, 2016 at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India. 

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 19 July, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

From Couture To Carats, Bibhu Mohapatra Designs His First Jewelry Line, Artemis For Forevermark India

Each season, New York based, Indian fashion designer, Bibhu Mohapatra’s collections play out a new, olde world story on the runway, a historical throwback to some of the most fascinating men and women that ever lived, and this year is no different.

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       Fern Mallis with fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra 

Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a journalist and photographer in Europe during the 30s fueled his Bauhaus inspired SS 16 line and the audacious Empress Dowager Cixi, a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng, who went on to become a ruler of the Chinese Qing dynasty, his Fall RTW16 collection with dominant hues of red, at New York Fashion Week in February this year. He couldn’t be more paradoxical in his design approach, elegantly consummating the past with the contemporary, with the visual flourish of an artist. What made him embody the spirit of Empress Dowager Cixi in his collection this time around? “Courage and confidence are the two qualities that I admire the most in people. My muses always have these qualities in common and Empress Cixi was a dreamer. With her focus and perseverance, she went from being a young concubine to a ruler of the Chinese empire for half a century. My clothes, inspired by her, are meant to bring out those qualities in women and empower them,” said Mohapatra of his current muse.

Mohapatra is not the biggest name in the fashion business, yet, or the go-to designer for the coveted Met Gala or the Cannes red carpet photo-ops, but his designs are worn by some of the most influential and ingenious women in the world – the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, Priyanka Chopra, New York Fashion Week creator, Fern Mallis and the stunning model du jour, Kendall Jenner. It is an incredible triumph for his young eponymous fashion label that launched its first collection in Fall 2009.

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Kendall Jenner in a Bibhu Mohapatra outfit (2015) Picture Credit Unknown 

From dreaming up fashion runways in his hometown Rourkela, in Odisha, India, to designing for Halston and J Mendel, his Economics degree from Utah turning fashionably expendable in the interim, to settling down in New York with his own atelier in the Garment District, Mohapatra’s heart is “most humbled and gratified” with the distinguished set wearing his designs. Interestingly, it was fashion connoisseur Fern Mallis and author of Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis, who suggested his name to Michelle Obama’s stylist when they were exploring young, new designers, making the initial connection for Mohapatra, and that’s how the most famous woman in the free world came to wearing, and loving his designs. “I love Fern! She is one of my closest friends and a huge supporter,” said Mohapatra, who recently launched a jewelry line, his first, in collaboration with Forevermark India called Artemis in Mumbai.

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A piece from Bibhu Mohapatra’s Artemis line

Mohapatra is ecstatic about this new creative dimension his design sense is roused by. He finds designing for both, couture and carats, “very different, with the only similarity designing for both being the ultimate target consumer who wants the same finesse, style and quality in the fine jewellery that is intrinsic to the garments I design. I have always dreamt of working with diamonds and designing a fine jewellery collection and this collaboration came about from a casual meet and greet with the Forevermark team in India about two years ago. So, before I actually got around to discussing this opportunity with the Forevermark team, I was reassured by the brand about the responsible sourcing of its diamonds, which was one of the most important and key deciding factors for our collaboration. It took more than a year to put the Artemis collection together and we have about 35 pieces in all and the collection is growing.”

Is the Artemis line an extension of his creative pursuits as a women’s wear designer? “Artemis is an extension of my brand as a lifestyle brand. When I had my first meeting with the Forevermark team, it became apparent to me that not only will I get to work with the finest of diamonds to create some unique pieces, but I will also get the opportunity to create something that will be available to a broader clientele, rather than just to a select few. Artemis is a collection of iconic pieces that are eternal. The sun, the moon and the stars play a powerful role in our lives and our loves and all creations in the world. For over 5,000 years, Vedic Astrology has provided a method of understanding the compatibility of couples. I have combined the forms and phases of the sun, moon and the stars to create a sensual, romantic line that brilliantly comes to life in the Artemis collection. The different shades of gold represent the sun, the moon and the stars and the Forevermark diamond at the heart of this collection embodies all the closely held secrets of the universe. The muse of this collection is someone who is well exposed to the world and appreciates the craft of fine jewelry and believes that these pieces are not merely for decoration; but that they represent a state of lives together.”

There is almost always a celebratory female power, barring the odd male, in the characters Mohapatra picks out from historical archives for his mood board that resonate in his arresting, structured designs that stems from a deeply personal, feminine chord. “I have been shaped by women in my life, namely my (late) mother and my sister. My mother gave me everything I have today. She not only taught me how to sew, but she instilled the design sensibility in me. My sister indulged me by wearing my hand-stitched designs at home, but it was a gold jacquard top with a pale yellow chiffon skirt that she wore out at a function that got people talking and gave me the feeling that I was doing something right. I was so proud of my tailoring in that outfit. My sister has refined taste and she only wears select pieces of mine that suit her lifestyle. I am always inspired by women, not only professionally and creatively, but also personally,” said Mohapatra, who likes to describe himself as an “emotional designer”. “I call myself an emotional designer because I see clothes as tools to improve and empower the lives of the wearers by providing them with confidence. I am inspired by real people and deeply moved by their stories. The stories that shape the character of a person become my key sources wherein I draw my references from whilst working. Sketching and designing are both emotional processes for me.” If he had no creative or financial restraints and were asked to run free with his imagination to create a spectacular dress, who would he make it for and how expensive would it be? “Well, it would have to be for someone really special and the value would be priceless.”

Mohapatra is the only Indian designer based in the United States with an atelier in New York’s Garment District, an enviable international clientele, and stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Lane Crawford in China retailing his designs, but he does not have flagship stores in India or anywhere around the world, yet. “It’s in the pipeline. It’s my dream to open my first store in New York. All good things take time,” says Mohapatra, who desires “to be present in many parts of the world, touching as many lives as I can with my clothes, jewellery and other products.” Given that he loves cooking and traveling his “two passions after designing”, he could very well expand his brand into a home and living line soon.

The designer finds the fashion sensibility of the Middle East “incredibly refined and interesting”. Will the Artemis line retail in Dubai soon? “We just launched in India and our focus will be the Indian market for now. Dubai is a great city and the women there have such a definitive style. We will definitely look at launching Artemis in the Middle East in the future.”

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 25 May, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Disclaimer: Kendall Jenner’s picture is from an unknown source on Google. If you own this picture, we’ll be happy to rightfully credit it to you.