Monisha Jaising always seems to know what the Indian woman will want to wear tomorrow. This foresight, coupled with creativity and an astute business sense, makes her one of the most formidable names in fashion. In her 25th year in the industry, she talks to Butool Jamal about the art of constant reinvention
Some of the sexiest women in the country have chosen to walk the red carpet in Monisha Jaising gowns. So it’s a surprise to meet the designer and discover that she is soft-spoken, calm, collected and prefers wearing jeans over her own sultry creations. Walk into her sprawling Mumbai store and you realise that there is much more to her work than the slit-to-there gowns. The inventor of the kurti was one of the first to start her own sportswear line—think track pants with sparkly sequins. And she recently launched her own bridal collection. In her 25th year in fashion, we look back at Monisha Jaising’s career.
Tell us how it all started?
Well, I actually started off as an exporter. Back then, there was no concept of fashion and not many designers. If you wanted something made, you just went to a tailor. Exporting gave me the chance to start my own factory and on the side, I was supplying to stores like Ensemble and Ogaan. This was along with Rohit Khosla, Abu-Sandeep and Tarun Tahiliani, among others. My main bread and butter, however, was still coming from exports.
Did you always want to be a designer?
Yes I did, but I studied commerce first and then went to fashion school. Commerce was to make my parents happy, but it actually helped me a lot. It’s always good to have business knowledge.
What is your export client looking for compared to your Indian client?
Now it’s pretty much the same. Fashion has become so global, we’re all looking at the same images, everything is so accessible—we’re all on the same page, really. Everyone is also very fit now and aware of their bodies. They’re making sure that they devote time to yoga or running. So obviously, if everyone is fitter, they can wear a lot more. You can experiment; you don’t have to hide yourself in a salwar-kameez.
Everyone credits the creation of the kurti to you. Tell us how that happened.
Through my work in exports, I was constantly in touch with the international customer. An international buyer came to me because they wanted a range of beachwear. I submitted a sketchof a kurti and eventually it was accepted and they placed about 3,000 orders. At the same time, I thought I would try and sell it at Ensemble. So while exporting, it came under beachwear and at Ensemble, I decided to display it with a pair ofjeans or raw silk trousers. It sold out completely.
Why do you think the kurti did so well?
I think it was because there was an Indiansensibility to it. It was like a Lucknowi kurta, but shorter, just down to the hip, and you could wear it with anything, from a bikini to a pair of shorts or jeans and it would still look stylish. There is a very relaxed, retro, ’70s feel to it. I still wear a kurti to the beach or with track pants, and even with embroidered leggings to weddings. It’s perfect for women on the go, but also for young girls who are willing to experiment
You recently launched your own bridal line. How is your take on bridalwear different from that of other designers?
I started the bridal line because I realised that a lot of people were having destination weddings. These are usually in resorts, so this is just an extension of my resortwear—a more luxurious extension, of course. My bridal wear is a bit more relaxed and laid-back than that of the other designers. There are more separates as well. It’s only fair to give that freedom to the buyer. She doesn’t have to wear Monisha Jaising from head to toe; she should be free to mix.
You’re also known for your red carpet gowns. Given that fashion has become so casual, less occasion-appropriate, is there still room for that kind of glamour?
Always. Now, if a young girl has a special occasion to go to, she won’t want to wear a sari from her mother’s closet. She wants to feel like a princess, so she will want a fairytale fl oor-length gown. The Indian woman is now also much more in touch with her sensuality, so she wants to weara gown that makes her feel sexy.
What is glamour to you?
Glamour is knowing what you want to wear, and how to wear it. If you’ve got that sensibility, you could look glamorous even in a T-shirt and jeans.
What helps you stay relevant?
Well, youth has always been an inspiration for me. I always try and understand what they want. I’ve got two young boys but inspiration doesn’t come just from them, it’s all around me.It might just be a girl I see shopping on the road who may have never travelled but still has great style.
Tell us more about your latest couture collection.
It’s nautical in inspiration. There’s a lot of red, white and blue, there are embellishments like chains, braiding and roping, and we have crests in gold.
What has been the highlight of your career?
There have been so many: the fi rst time I did Lakmé Fashion Week, when I introduced the kurti and again when I started my bridal range. Actually, every time something new happens, it’s a high. Now I’ve just launched my own e-commerce site, which was really great to work on. The site is mainly resort and sportswear at the moment, but eventually, people will be buying everything online. As a designer, you constantly have to reinvent yourself.