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Manish Malhotra

Manish Malhotra, is not just a name… it’s a mindset, a sensibility and an unshakable 16-year-old luxury fashion brand! 

Neha Sachar Mittal, Managing Editor at FACE, chatted with the man behind the brand about his recent business decisions and about the view from the vantage point of intersection between fashion and film. 

1. We have to begin by Congratulating you on your latest partnership with RBL, that’s acquired 40% minority stake in Brand Manish Malhotra. This strategic partnership may just be India’s definitive answer to global couture. What prompted you to head in this direction? 

I wanted to make my brand truly global, diversified, charter a new growth dimension for Indian luxury while creating personnel opportunities. Collaboration was necessary to do the needful. With Reliance, I felt complete alignment with the vision for the brand. I’ve been a great admirer of the organization and the family’s thought process and way of working. They are passionate about art, culture and cover a wide spectrum. This made it a natural decision for me to partner with them.

2. You started off with a career in modelling… then what made you foray into designing?

My journey into fashion designing was a natural progression of my love for sketching and painting since childhood mixed with my immense love for films.  Cinema has always fueled my passion. I did not go to design school, but I did watch a movie almost every single day. So, when it was time to focus on a career, I decided to bring my two passions together.

3. You had been designing and styling for the Indian film industry for years before Rangeela happened. But that’s where everyone sat up and took notice, Actress Urmila Matondkar almost underwent a metamorphosis. We want our readers to know everything that happened then, and your entire experience of doing Rangeela?

It was in the 90s when the movie released. The movie was a career-changing experience. I remember meeting Urmila and Ram Gopal Varma after they had contacted me to discuss the film. I knew we had to make her look as per her character and have fun with her style. The modern and minimal yet impactful costume styling on Urmila – be it the chiffon saree in “Hai Rama,” the tangerine skater dress in “Tanha Tanha,” pleated skirts, and boyfriend shorts in “Rangeela Re” or the Chaplinesque look in “Kya Kare Kya Na Kare.” Her casual style – from co-ords, skater dresses, leotards with scarves to oversized shirts, high-waist jeans with figure-hugging tees, and wool berets- was and remains one of the main talking points of this film. It was the film I got my first award for.  The whole experience will always remain close to my heart even 31 years later.

4. We are led to believe that you are a “thinking costume designer”, you actually read the film script before designing for it? Is it true? What’s your process of designing or styling a film/actor like? How is it different from designing for people off camera? 

Yes. I really, from the very beginning, felt that it’s very important for the character to look the part. You must understand that if the character looks the part, it also becomes easier for the audience to relate to them on screen. I used to read the script first to understand the role and the personality of the character. If the actress is playing a shy girl, the natural decision of a girl like that will be to choose a subdued colour palette for the wardrobe. If the role is that of a bold character, her choice of clothes will also reflect that.  Costumes are an integral part of visual storytelling. When such films became hits, automatically, the significance of the look also got its due credit, which didn’t happen in films till the late 80s. 

5. Often it is believed that “fashion” is vain, but Manish Malhotra as a designer and couture label – has given back to society on numerous occasions, by way of fundraisers, supporting charities as well as reviving dying Indian crafts. How do you manage to strike this balance?  

I have had the privilege of dressing some of the most beautiful and influential people in the world but at the same time we mustn’t forget to contribute to the society as well. That is something that I have grown up seeing in my family so striking the balance comes naturally for me.  Mijwan Welfare Soceity is an NGO most close to my heart where I work along with Mrs Shabana Azmi and Namrata Goel.  The foundation emphasises on the empowerment of women where we focus on honing their skills. Today we have so many women that churn out some of the most beautiful and intricate chickankari embroidery which is the signature of brand – Manish Malhotra. 

6. The list of awards and accolades presented to you is endless, but which one is most special to your heart and why?

The award that’ll always be dear to me is of my first Filmfare as they introduced the ‘best costume design’ award in 1996 to acknowledge styling and designing work in the film ‘Rangeela’ released in 1995. 

7. Is there an international celebrity you would want, be your muse – that you would like to see in a Manish Malhotra creation? 

I would love to style Meryl Streep. 

8. The pandemic affected the luxury market quite adversely, how has the road to recovery been? What does the future look like for brand Manish Malhotra? 

The pandemic affected the whole world, not only the luxury market. The road to recovery has been challenging at times but it’s been steady and that’s good. We all have now accepted the new normal and things have relatively improved and we are now in the busiest season of the year. There’s so much going on in my life this year – from bridal couture, tech entrance, venture collaborations to direction. I am working on multiple ‘nexts’ simultaneously

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