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.

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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, 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.

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

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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.

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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. 

I Get This Amazing Positive Energy From Salman Khan And I’m Very Inspired By Him, Says Indian Fashion Designer Vikram Phadnis

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Salman Khan

Indian designer Vikram Phadnis has held fashionable ground, and successfully at that, in the Indian fashion industry’s fiercely competitive and evolving landscape, for the last 25 years.

It is a prodigious victory, transitioning from a film choreographer to fashion designer, that called for a celebratory commemoration of the same with a special runway show held in January in Mumbai. None other than Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bachchan, walked as the designer’s showstopper, amidst enchanting and glamourous attendees.

Phadnis’ impervious and composed countenance and his single-minded focus on actualizing his dreams of dressing up the world in his designs, contributed largely to this accomplishment, but not without a few steadfast friends, Bollywood superstar Salman Khan being the most formidable influence in his life. In Dubai for the Aaraish show, the designer spoke exclusively to Rubina A KhanGulf News tabloid!

What is your biggest strength, surviving and thriving for 25 years in a ferociously competitive and predominantly Bollywood driven fashion business in India?
I don’t think I can call it my strength as such, but I am a very driven and ambitious person inherently, and I think inadvertently, that has become my strength over the years. Whatever I have achieved in my life as a choreographer in the entertainment business and the last 25 years as a fashion designer, is due to my ambitious drive and that I am almost never satisfied or content with my work. If you are not driven or focused and are not willing and able to deliver every single time, and slip up, there are a dime a dozen people ready and waiting to take your place. You have to keep at it constantly, be consistent and innovative and strive for new goals and benchmarks with each collection or outfit. Like in a Bollywood actor’s life, Friday is the most important day at the box office for every film of his to determine his value and worth, for a designer, it is every single time he makes an ensemble or puts a collection together for a showing. It is a constant endeavor every day.

Did you feel taller than Amitabh Bachchan, who was your showstopper, on your very well-attended commemorative show, Adhvan, in January?
I just felt completely humbled and I felt so blessed walking down the runway with him. I have worked with him on films like Waqt, Hum Kisi Ke Kum Nahin and Bade Miyan Chhote Miya and I can just say that there are no more men like him anymore. He is truly exceptional. He’s the only man I call Sir in the world.

Would you consider yourself among India’s top three talents in fashion?
I don’t know. There are far more commercially viable and well-known names in India’s flourishing fashion business than me and I have never measured my success with the strength of others’ success. There’s always someone ahead of you and there’s always someone behind you in the business. It depends on the perspective you see it from really.

Who, according to you, are the top designers of India?
Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, Anamika Khanna and Monisha Jaising.

Who were, and still are, your biggest supporters in your career path?
People like Hemant Trivedi, Mehr Jesia-Rampal, Priyanka Chopra, Malaika Arora-Khan, Kareena Kapoor-Khan in a big way, have supported me enormously, and still do, and are a very important part of my successful journey as a fashion designer and undoubtedly Salman Khan, without whom I don’t think I would be who I am today.

How has Salman Khan impacted your career?
Whatever I am today is really because of Salman. He showed me a whole new world, when no one understood me. I worked with him for 13 years as a designer, and he gave me so much without expecting anything back. He gave me a standing in the entertainment business, his professional support and backing, and personal strength. When I wanted to quit choreography and go and study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, USA, he convinced me to stay back in India and helped me find a footing as a designer. He took me in all his film projects, and opened my first store in Mumbai. He was never selfish about anything, allowing me to work with other actors alongside working with him, not restraining my creative freedom, and gave me more than even I could imagine. Till today, there’s a picture of Salman that hangs in my cabin in my office. I am inspired by Salman and get this amazing positive energy from him, always. Salman is the older brother I never had. He made me travel worldwide with him and introduced me to people everywhere. In fact, the first time I traveled abroad was to Dubai with Salman! I had never sat in an aircraft before or had any idea of what a plane even looked like from the inside, and I had obviously never been outside India either. This is 30 years ago! It was a stage show Salman was doing back then that he had taken me for. Dubai was not even remotely like what it is today. It was on the verge of the modern and magical explosion that Dubai is today. Dubai feels like home to me and every time I travel to Dubai, it has a newer dimension to it.

What, or who, has been a constant muse for your designs?
I don’t create clothes with one particular muse in mind. I make the garment according to the person I am working for, or the collection that I am putting together. I don’t think a single inspiration or muse can transpire into an entire collection or a garment for different kinds of people.

Which is your favourite, and most memorable contribution, as a designer to the fashion world?
I think everything that I have designed and created for Salman Khan – be it the dhotis, hot shorts, sarongs… made an impact on Indian fashion, because prior to him wearing them, no one was wearing these garments on screen, and the fact that he carried them off so well made them extremely popular and on trend all of a sudden. Also, getting the opportunity to dress up international model Naomi Campbell, the South African President Jacob Zuma and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar in my clothes have also been memorable moments for me as a designer.

Is there anybody rich and famous in India who does not wear you?
There are so many people who have not worn my clothes! And I do not run after the rich to wear my designs or even think like that. You never know who your ultimate buyer is when you’re creating a garment anyway. I like to make wearable and affordable clothing that is essentially commercially viable. I do not make impractical clothes for the runway that a person can’t wear off it. I like to see people, all kinds of people, wearing my clothes in the world, and not see them hanging on the walls of my studio.

What is it about Dubai fashion that intrigues you?
Fashion is more forward in Dubai than in most other countries. Like I said earlier, Dubai is the first international place I set foot in and it is home to me and I feel I understand the fashion landscape here quite well. When it comes to fashion, the people in Dubai know it all and more! And the best part of Dubai is dressing up its women! They are just so fashion forward and clued in, that it keeps me on the edge constantly and drives me to give them my best. And it also helps that I have a great fashion network and database in Dubai.

Are designs in Dubai driven largely by what Bollywood is wearing, or your designs and craftsmanship?
No, I don’t think the fashion in Dubai is necessarily driven by Bollywood trends. The taste here is very diverse – some like their fashion ethnic, some prefer fusion, some go for the quintessentially traditional designs and some stick to haute couture. There is not one set pattern that the fashion here adheres to and that is what keeps it, and makes it, so fashionably exciting. It’s like a year-round fashion runway, from prat to haute couture, celebrating fashion globally.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 13 February, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Girls Chase Ranbir, And He Runs After Samara!

Rubina A Khan interviews jewellery designer, Riddhima Kapoor-Sahni for Gulf News:

Whilst Bollywood superstar-in-the-making, Ranbir Kapoor, makes headlines for his box office hits and misses, his hookups and breakups in Bollywood and his current single status, his sister Riddhima Kapoor-Sahni has transitioned from being a star kid, to wife and mother, to an entrepreneur in her new role as a jewelry designer, launching her eponymous line, in the first half of January this year. Bollywood veterans’ Rishi and Neetu Kapoor’s first born is excited about stepping into her new shimmer and shine phase as a designer, and if the alluring Sahni’s quintessential minimalist and classic personal style is anything to go by, her designs will have you clamoring for more!

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Riddhima Kapoor-Sahni

You launched a jewellery line, your first, earlier this month – Riddhima Kapoor-Sahni. What turned you into a designer vis-à-vis modeling for the Notandas jewellery brand with your mother, Neetu Kapoor, earlier on?
I have always understood jewellery and have an intrinsic flair for it, but I was never a jewellery person as such. I would wear small pieces but not really bling myself up! But I was mesmerized by the designs of Notandas, the brand my mom and I modeled for, and were the face of, for the past eight years. Their designs were at par with top international jewellery houses and we had a blast shooting for them. Every piece was stunning and was a pleasure to wear every single time and made a deep impression on me during that time period. After the contract got over, I started telling my jeweller to make this and that for me, designs that were mine, instead of buying in stores, for everyday wear. The result of that was that everyone started commenting on my designs and loving them, so I thought why not design jewellery for others too? No one has really tapped the mid-market segment in India for every day, fun jewelry that’s made of diamonds, semi-precious and real stones and 18 karat gold ranging from Rs 30,000 upwards and that’s how Riddhima Kapoor Sahni Jewellery came into being, along with my jeweler friend and partner, Anuj Kapoor in Bombay, where our pieces are manufactured. It’s wearable, affordable and light jewellery anyone can wear everyday to a lunch, brunch, coffee conversations, birthday party – be it your child (I’ve been getting so many orders for them!) teenager, mom or just about anyone who loves jewellery.

It’s just the beginning as RKS is only about two weeks old right now, and I am already overwhelmed with the fantastic response to the bracelets we launched this month, especially the four-leaved clover one and the evil eye one that was my first design. My plan is to launch ten pieces every month, and take orders on the same. I have been taking orders from India, London and New York so far, and hopefully Dubai soon, as I plan to go international with my brand. January has been about bracelets and February will be another exciting launch of pendants as it is the month for romance and Valentine’s Day.

I am working on customizing orders with people I share a personal rapport with – I will emboss, engrave and add elements to my designs for them and will even revamp a wedding ring for them, but in my style and design aesthetic. You just have to leave it to me and trust me on that. And no, I will definitely not be doing the whole “copying the Cartier” kind of customizing at all! Online is the future and I am promoting my work through social media. I don’t want to open a store as of now, but you never know.

Who is the woman who wears your designs?
Me! The woman who wears my designs is someone like me. My designs are an extension of my personality and who ever wears them can then reflect their own personas on them.

From a star kid to wife and mommy to now jewellery designer and entrepreneur… what role is the most exciting for you?
Being a mother is by far the most exciting, satisfying and rewarding role in my life.

Your sense of fashion is classic minimalist. You are always dressed for the occasion you’re at without the Bollywood or the Delhi fuss. What are your must-dos for your look?
I like to make a statement with my look, but in a classic style. You’ll never see me in a set or wearing my entire jewellery box blinding people everywhere I go! I’m a big watch collector – a classic, vintage Rolex person – it’s my jewellery. So, a watch is mandatory for every outfit that I wear and then I’ll add my chain bracelets as I am in love with all my RKS bracelets or a cuff or earrings to complete the look, whether I am wearing jeans or a dress or an Indian ensemble.

What is your favourite gemstone to wear and now, to work with, for your designs?
Rubies are my favourite gemstones. I wear a small sized one on my little finger.

How did a beautiful girl like you not ever think of doing movies being Neetu and Rishi’s daughter? And how are you so comfortable being away from the spotlight given you grew up in the thick of it?
At 17, I went off to London to study and was away from all the filmi brouhaha. I came back home to Bombay at 22, and got married, soon after, to Bharat (Sahni) who I had met in London, and moved to Delhi. If I had stayed on in Bombay, maybe the life of stardom might have hit me, but staying away, I was unaware of the effect it could have had on me. My parents were swarmed and bombed with film offers for me but I’m really glad I didn’t do films and the way my life has played out. I love my life and I love my husband and my kid and the way things are.

You just celebrated your tenth wedding anniversary on the 25th of January, but you look like a newly married girl. How has it been being Mrs Sahni?
Bharat and I have come a long way – ten years! It’s an amazing, ongoing journey together, and our precocious daughter, Samara, is almost five-years-old now. It’s incredible just thinking about it. I do miss my parents because I live in Delhi, and they are in Bombay, but it’s not too far geographically, so it’s not that bad. My parents just celebrated 36 years of being together on the 22nd of January this year and it’s been inspiring to see their marriage, looking up to them and seeing them surviving it all. I’m very close to both my parents and of course my brother. Family comes first for my dad and he’s very big on that. So I’ve learnt to keep family first in everything I do.

Your daughter Samara is a summation of all the Kapoors, and the dubsmashes you post of her on Instagram are very popular. Who does she take after?
Samara loves herself! As soon we are ready to step out, she makes me take selfies of us in the car, pouting and posing with her. She loves the camera and loves singing, dancing, dressing up, putting on pretend makeup, enacting dialogues from my dad and Ranbir’s films and imitating just about anyone. She’ll keep asking me, “Mamma, why do I gave to go to school? Let me help you in your jewellery business. Mamma, why do you get to wear pretty clothes, jewellery and makeup everyday and why can’t I?” I indulge her, as does everyone in the family, to a large extent, but I just want her formal education to be completed, as besides her naughtiness, she’s very bright, a thinker, with an elephantine memory and sometimes, her thought processes befuddle me and get me wondering if she’s really only five years old? These days, kids only teach you everything. Samara is just like my dad – she is totally like him. She has him and Ranbir wrapped around her little finger and she means business. Girls chase Ranbir and he runs after Samara!

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on 28 January, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

Salman Khan Walks The Runway For FDCI’S Huts To High Street Fashion Show To Promote Khadi | Gujarat

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Salman Khan

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Salman Khan | Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2015

An Evening Of Pandeymonium With Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar And Piyush Pandey!

Amitabh Bachchan launched Pandeymonium, a book  written by India’s most lauded, awarded and loved advertising creative, Piyush Pandey, on 14th October, 2015 in Mumbai amidst a large gathering of the city’s intelligentsia.

Amitabh Bachchan / Getty Images

Amitabh Bachchan

The conversations between Amitabh and Piyush about the world of advertising and how they worked together for eight long years on a campaign to make India Polio free or how they did their respective mothers’ shraadh in Sidhpur (the only place in India where one can do so) in Gujarat whilst filming the Gujarat Tourism campaign or how Piyush had to make Power Point presentations (his first and last!) for Amitabh for the Cadbury campaign or how Amitabh has stopped disclosing things to his wife Jaya as it is never good enough for her, made for an engaging and amusing insight into their world.

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Piyush Pandey, Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar spoke about his experiences, working with Piyush as a 16-year-old boy who knew nothing about advertising or looking good, only cricket, in a vein most humorous. A delightful evening indeed, spent amidst the greatest Indian luminaries from the world of film, cricket and advertising.

Sachin Tendulkar / Getty Images

Sachin and Anjali Tendulkar with Piyush Pandey

All images are subject to copyright and can be purchased on Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2015

Christian Louboutin And Sabyasachi’s Glamorous “Sole” Collaboration At FDCI’s Amazon India Couture Week 2015

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Sabyasachi 

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Christian Louboutin and Sabyasachi

©Rubina A Khan 2015