Oct 10, 2019

Killer Queen

Because no other song describes the ‘Czarina of Indian Fashion’ better than this one


Photography Sameer Belvalkar

Styling Team Neeta LUlla

HAIR Savita Bansode

MAKEUP Shayli Nayak

I think memories are a funny means of teleportation. The littlest things take you back in time and make you realise how far you’ve come from there. Such was the case with me when I was told I’ll be interviewing Neeta Lulla. After a few moments of subdued asphyxiation and a mental recording playing on loop (the lyrics of the recording being “Ohhmyygod”), I was seen with a Joker-sized smile pasted on my face. I remember making presentations on Neeta Lulla and her collections when I was studying fashion design a few years ago. Cut to now, a few moments away from interacting with her, I was going to meet someone I had looked up to for the longest time and I was ecstatic..

Now, if you’ve seen Neeta in person or on TV, you’ll notice she has this aura, this Maleficent-like vibe, and I say this with the best of intentions. She could walk into the room and people would step aside, as if making way for the Queen herself. Dressed in black with just enough jewellery, a dark lip, rose-hued cheeks, hair parted neatly, not a strand out of place and then of course, her dark eye makeup and a barely-there smile, I was prepared to see this exact version of her. We heard soft footsteps approaching and there she was, wearing black clothes, of course and oversized glasses that sat at the tip of her nose. She walked in and shook hands with everyone and had a warm smile on her face, meanwhile all I could think of was, “Where is Maleficent?!”

After a slightly extended period of waiting, she walked out in her first look that she had put together of course, and as if someone flipped a switch, she was back with her regal demeanour and her oversized pastel blue coffee mug. I asked her about her signature all-black look to which she nonchalantly replied, “Yes, it is all-black and I don’t know, I don’t have a thought process behind it. It’s just that I’m in love with the all-black look and I go with it. So much so that when I was getting married I had this discussion with my mom saying why can’t I have an all black trousseau? There’s nothing that specifically contrives a format.” After all, she is a rebel who knows what she wants and goes after it relentlessly. 

Neeta got married at a young age and started her career very early in life. Juggling her marriage and career must have been challenging is what I thought but she had a different take on this. “My journey was not really challenging because I’ve always taken it as a learning experience and the challenges have been very interesting. It’s been something that has taught me a lot so I don’t regard it as a challenge. However, if you see what are the interesting aspects of my journey to this is that, having started so early in my career, I was able to understand techniques and I was able to understand creative aspects of making clothes purely from observing people around me, what people like and dislike, their personality. So whether you call it a challenge or a learning experience, it is up to you.” 

For someone who entered the industry and built her own empire when people were still dreaming about taking the plunge into this hard-hitting thing called life, I asked her about how one can make their identity in the industry, to which she gracefully replied, “By sheer hard work, by standing out and following what you love to do.” She paused for a second as if in deep thought and continued, “As somebody who understands this field, I think that the more you work, the more experience you get in the field. It teaches you a lot as you go on in life and the focus on what you want to do. As soon as you learn about what intrigues or inspires you and you follow that, you get better at it. That focus gets you to where you want to be.”

Designing must have been her childhood dream, I wondered. But her thoughts on it surprised me once again, “Designing was not a childhood dream at all! I didn’t have any profession in mind,” she laughed while I was wide-eyed, puzzled and curious, all at once! She retained her calm and composed tone and continued, “When I did fashion design, I started my career as a fashion choreographer. I worked into choreography for 21 shows and two and a half years and then I just went with the flow of things and I got an opportunity to do a film. Simultaneously I got an opportunity to do a bridal outfit and I took it up. Two years down the line I got an opportunity to teach in college and I did it. I guess it only started after I went into the flow of things that a profession happened.” After going over past events, if she could go back in time and tell herself one thing at the start of her career, what would she say, I asked and her answer effortlessly flew out, “What would I tell myself? I would tell myself to go with the flow, baby there’s a lot of opportunities out there!” Spoken like the boss that she truly is.

So, let’s go over this part again. Neeta Lulla, one of the greatest fashion designers of all time, wasn’t planning on becoming a designer but she comes up with the most phenomenal collections? I shot this doubt ahead and in came the answer, “As a design student, my design philosophy ebbs from the Edwardian era, the sensuality of the Edwardian era, the strength of the Renaissance structures and colours. The Elizabethan neckline, off shoulders, laces, the sensuality of lace, form-fitted garments are my favourite. That was the design philosophy that, as a student, I kind of developed for myself. But in terms of inspiration, I keep my mind and eyes and ears open and I focus on what really touches my heart and I kind of use that as an inspiration. It doesn’t have to be a concise inspiration. I do a lot of collections on women based subjects like female foeticide, women empowerment, that’s because it’s very close to my heart and it just kind of inspires you.” 

Speaking to her reminded me of the number of inspiration boards I used to make in college and it was not always an easy task. But what inspires the ‘Czarina of Indian Fashion’? “What inspires me is the romance of Radha Krishna. There is a collection called Vrindavan Symphony that I keep working on, even if I’m not consciously working on it, I try to come back to that collection every year. I like Indian fabrics because apart from my liking for Edwardian and Renaissance, I'm still Indian at heart. So I use a lot of kanjivaram weaves, a lot of kalamkari and I use a lot of paithani weaves. Then I contemporise them into different forms. I don’t have one specific inspiration point that I go to, but whatever inspiration I use, it has a very strong in-depth meaning to it, or rather a very strong sensibility like the use of a weave or art form.” 

With more than three decades of designing and having worked on over 300 films, I asked if there was any particular collection closest to her heart. “All of them are close to me because they are all ebbing from my creative inspiration. So, I wouldn’t say there is one particular one, but I’m greedy for the kind of work I do, I’m quite a greedy creative person. I want it all and I love it all.” Being greedy for her work did lead to a lot of great things, she now has a day named after her in Austin, Texas! What? Didn’t you know that already? 16th August is officially proclaimed as ‘Neeta Lulla Day’ now. But that’s alright, you’re not the only one who’s surprised. “Oh, that was the most surprising aspect that I came across!” chimed Neeta. “I was at a loss for words because when Lesley Varghese was reading it out, for a moment I was like wait, what is this, you know? There was a video recording that I saw later and I was completely overwhelmed. It feels really nice when I’m the first Indian designer or person who has a day named after her in Texas and I’m thankful to the mayor who facilitated this and bestowed this honour on me.” 

As much as I was loving every bit of the conversation, sadly, it was time to wrap up the interview so I asked Neeta Lulla for a message just for you, the readers of Just Urbane! Here’s what she had to say, “I think there is a fantastic world out there that is full of fashion and that can divert your attention to something more fun, something more beautiful for yourself so delve into it. Enjoy fashion, don’t be scared of trying because trial and error gives you perfection. Fashion is something that can create a persona, a positive persona, so just have fun with it. For the students, I would say, it’s a great space to be in right now, focus on understanding the fundamentals of fashion. Create an identity for yourself which you can only do in college because you have your mentors telling you about your strengths and making you work on other aspects to get better. Take that with a pinch of salt and understand what is your calling. Focus on it and dedicate your life to it.”

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