Gauri and Nainika Karan are India’s first evening wear designers. From starting up from their garage over 10 years ago, they have come a long way with dressing up celebrities and various important clients. Their designs now grace the red carpets of the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. Shweta Bhatia spoke to the talented siblings about their journey
You started your label over a decade ago. How has the journey been so far?
The last 12 years have been so much fun. There’s always something new and exciting happening in our career, which is amazing. We have crossed so many milestones professionally and personally. It’s been a great learning process and we have been blessed.
What has changed about your working process since you started out?
In life, as you grow older or when the business grows, you learn from your mistakes. We learnt the tricks of the trade and became more professional. We hired more people to help our brand grow. Today, we have a team who we love working with and we trust completely who handle our business. But other than that, we still follow the same working process. We are still completely involved in designing every piece. We have never worked with other people to design our collections. We are designers first, so that philosophy has always remained the same.
What are the difficulties that you faced when you were starting out?
Even though our parents funded us to begin the business, we started out in our garage. We had the money to start up but it was our responsibility to take the business forward. We had to get orders ourselves, meet the demands and make sure that it was delivered on time. To manage everything on our own was definitely challenging and difficult at times but by hiring the right people, we made the process smoother. We did have a few basic teething problems but our designs were received well almost immediately. It was only the task of meeting the demands more systematically, which was something that we worked hard on, and today we have achieved that.
What was the turning point of your career?
Definitely to start with, it was fashion week. We both wanted to design evening gowns that were meant for the red carpet. When we showcased that at our first fashion week, critics said that this would never work with Indian fashion. But after the show, we were approached by a lot of buyers and suddenly our creations became available in different boutiques and then international buyers approached us, which was a big thing for us. Then came the big moment, when Indian cinema actress, Bipasha Basu asked us to design a gown for her for an international event. That made the industry sit up and notice us. After that we designed for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and so many more celebrities and the brand just took off.
What is the first thing you think of when you sit to design a new collection?
There’s never one thing that comes to your mind. In any creative field, multiple things that you come across in your day-to-day life inspire you. For instance, there were these beautiful pansies growing in my flower pot and I love taking pictures of flowers. While I was doing that, I looked at Gauri and commented on how beautiful it was and she immediately said that we should do something with flowers for our next line and we did just that. That’s the thing, it could be something as simple as a flower or just the way a fabric looks and feels. For example, we came across this fabric and the way it falls is so beautiful that we knew that we had to design it a certain way for the beauty of that fabric to completely show. Other than that, we get inspired by our moods, travels and old Hollywood.
You’ve been working together from the very beginning. What are the professional differences you face?
Fortunately, we’ve never had any professional differences. We keep saying that we are each other’s soul mates. If I show her a design and if she isn’t convinced about it, within a day, I will see why it was a bad idea. We are always on the same page when it comes to any decisionmaking and are always convinced about each other’s designs concepts.
Your designs have graced the international red carpets now. Tell us about when it first happened.
We got a call from a stylist saying that Allison Tolman, actress of Fargo, was attending the Golden Globes and she wanted to wear a custom Gauri & Nainika creation. Needless to say, we were most excited. After that we were asked to dress Nancy O’Dell for the Academy Awards and then singer, Sia, for an episode of American Idol. It just happened and we have enjoyed designing for these celebrities thoroughly.
What are the challenges you face when designing a collection?
As a designer, we let our creative juices run wild. We have so many ideas at the point of designing our new collection that we want to put them all down on paper and out on the runway. Stylists work very closely with the clients and the designers. In the West, stylists go over the designs for the new season with the designer and give their feedback about which designs will work and which can be kept for another season. This helps designers get another expert’s point of view and narrows the vision, which really matters. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in India as of yet, but if it did, we would get an extra set of minds that could really benefit both parties.
Which is the era that inspires you the most?
Definitely the 1950s! We are so inspired by the era that anybody who looks at our designs can see it. We love the fashion from that time as it exudes romance. The style back then was very glamorous and feminine and that’s what we aim to achieve with our designs.
Tell us something about your upcoming collection?
We are collaborating with Swarovski and also designing a whole line with Koovs.com. These are some new ideas and new creations that we are most excited about.
What advice would you give to designers who are starting out?
Be true to yourself and create your own niche in the field. It is very important to love what you are doing and if you do that, it will show in your work and become your signature style. Believe in your work and yourself.
One lesson the two of you have learnt in your journey?
Trust your instinct, don’t follow others blindly and hire the right people to work for you.
A celebrity that has passed that you would have loved to dress and why?
Audrey Hepburn. She is the epitome of style and has always inspired us. She is a classic beauty and we hope our creations are the same.
Three things that you would grab from your wardrobe in an emergency:
Gauri: my collection of jeans, heels and red lipstick
Nainika: my LBD, a big handbag and heels
In your bag we will find?
Gauri: Handcream, make-up pouch, credit card and phone
Naninika: My portable battery pack, lip balm, makeup pouch and credit cards.
The last thing you bought?
Gauri: Coconut Water !
Naninika: Somethig from Zara.
I shop a lot from there.
Your favourite possession from your wardrobe?
Gauri: A goddess gown from our label
Nainika: This white dress with a low back from our label
Describe your personal style.
Gauri: Elegant and glamorous
Nainika: Comfortable and sexy