Made in India

Varun Bahl

He has the ability to take anyone on a vintage escapade with his designs that he creates with assorted motifs and intricate embroidery. For over two decades, Varun Bahl has delicately balanced traditional craft and innovation with a fresh take on colours and silhouettes. But, this year was different. He returned to Lakmé Fashion Week after a gap of four years to launch his new ready-to-wear line, Varun Bahl Prêt. We asked him about his decsion, even as he took us on a journey of soft hues and contemporary details. Excerpts from the interview:

What was your vision behind the prêt label? Take us through the elements incorporated?

I felt it was the right time to design a line that is first and foremost, more accessible. Second, that it adds solid design value to a wearer’s wardrobe, enhancing her personal style. And third, that it is trendless and versatile, so that each piece can be styled in a variety of ways with the wearer’s existing wardrobe. The Five Petal Story, as this collection is called, is a meditation on the simple beauty of flowers that bloom with five petals, like the lily, the iris, the orchid, the frangipani, and the Himalayan wild rose. I’ve been thinking about this for almost a year, and when Lakmé Fashion Week approached me to participate this season, I just had to do it, and I am so encouraged by the response we got in Mumbai.

I have included delicate 3D flower motifs as embellishments that might remind you of our haute couture techniques handcrafted by our artisan embroiderers. The entire collection is designed as separates, so that different looks can be created by mix and match, which is a smart way to dress. We have also developed prints inspired by Art Nouveau patterns and executed by colourful tessellations and repetitions of a five-petal flower. Then there are transparent bombers embroidered with silk-thread flowers.

Take us through the inspiration board for the collection.

If you have noticed, my couture line is all about flowers. For the prêt label too, flowers were my obvious choice. The five-petal flowers are everywhere to create patterns, as damask, check, stripes or a floral jaal. There are no straight lines. Also, my favourite subject currently is Art Nouveau. We have drawn a lot of curves from architecture and mirror frames and incorporated those in our seams and borders as well as embroideries.

Tell us about colours, embroideries and other techniques that you have used?

There are microfloral gingham checks, curvy lines and mosaic patterns achieved by tessellating the five-petal motif. And so, with flowers marking their presence in the launch collection, I added my love for the Art Nouveau style through undulating, wave-like seams, hems, and appliqué additions. The lazer-cut 3D flowers lend eye-catching details as well. The colour palette includes old rose, pistachio, duck egg blue, ochre, olive, faded mustard, and pearl grey, with an emphasis on ivory as a base tone to highlight the softness of pastels. The fabrics are double-georgette, moss-crepe, silk satin, cotton-silk, handwoven Chanderi, tussar and organza. The collection is for the young in age and young at heart.

How do you fathom what your buyers want?

I feel women these days don’t succumb to set norms of dressing according to their ‘age’. They are dressing up according to their personality. With unique prints and delicate touches of hand-embellishment, these pieces are aimed at becoming wardrobe staples for the design-conscious Indian woman, who want to invest in quality rather than quantity. This is also why I chose a simple, five-petal flower, because it can easily adapt into a multitude of prints. You have been in the industry for close to two decades now.

How do you think industry has changed over the years? 

I think the consumer is better informed now and is able to make more precise choices about what she wants to buy and wear. This makes my job as a designer both easier and more interesting. The act of designing becomes a conversation between the customer and myself. It makes me strive to do more in terms of design development, garment quality, creative research, styling flexibility, and of course, pricing.

The sari is taking new forms. Lehenga is becoming lighter. Are we finally ready for a shift in style?

The change has already taken place. It is all about simplicity and comfort including our ready-to-wear label. There are free-flowing silhouettes and subtle colours. Even the saris are minimal with ruffle details and soft fabrics.

What is your take on emergence of social media? How do you think social media has helped you in promoting your label?

Social media has its pros and cons. Fortunately for me, it has been a boon for me and helpfed me to promote the new label. Social media is my virtual moodboard where I can showcase my designs, philosophy, and inspirations, making the audience virtually experience the brand. It has also played in our favour as a lot of our business comes through social media as well. 

There is always a difference in finding inspiration and copying the design. Anonymous accounts like Diet Sabya is calling out the copycats.What is your take on it?

I think it is great to call out imitators. Blatant copying definitely is an epidemic in the fashion industry and I am glad someone is taking a stand. It is important to speak up against it. I staunchly believe that you have to be original with your designs.

Mitali Goyal

Mitali Goyal is a fashion stylist at L'Officiel India. She is a stationery hoarder and you could come to her, in case, you'd like to know Victoria's Secret.