The country's first men's fashion designer, Krishna Mehta, tells designing for women would have been too easy
Exposure. That's what matters.
No, we're not talking skin show here, though it is the world of fashion we're talking about. We're talking of the frog getting out of his well kind of worldly exposure, to realise what you can do, and figure out ways to beat your limitations.
And with good instinctive Gujarati business acumen backing her, designer Krishna Mehta did just that. How else would you explain India's first menswear designer who started out when there was just one fashion technology course in the country? With 27 years of design experience behind her, and still raring to go, Krishna Mehta is a classic example of the old-world hands-on designer who's been through the floor of the weaving mills, worrying about dobbies as much as she worried about silhouettes to get on to the ramp.
She studied fashion design in 1978 and then seriously studied weaving traditions and techniques. And when she married into a family of garment exporters, she started going to the family's factory everyday, to learn cutting fabrics from the masters. “I was a fabric specialist,” the 49-year-old Krishna explains. She was in Bangalore to receive the BeYu Fashion Award 2009 for her outstanding contribution to the Indian fashion industry.
At the family's factory she met buyers who asked her to check out what was happening at Premier Vision, an international fabric fair in Paris. “I used to go there, write down new weaves in a format of crosses, because there were no cameras! Then I would go direct to Coimbatore, have it woven, and get it ready before the Italians,” she says, the excitement of the achievement shining through her eyes.
And so the warps and wefts of her life in the world of fashion shaped up. Her brand “Krishna Mehta” was established in 1988. “I jumped into a bed of roses,” she says of her smooth entry into the feisty fashion world. “It's been a cakewalk for me. There wasn't so much competition. No one pulled each other down…even if we faltered and fell down, we had time to pull ourselves up. No one trampled over you,” Krishna explains that sense of goodwill in a fairly non-competitive atmosphere. “Moreover the market happily accepted us. What more would a person want?” she exults.
One would think a woman would take more easily to designing women's clothes, but Krishna found that a bit too easy. So she chose to do men's designer wear when it was quite unheard of. “The permutations-combinations for women's wear is endless. But it's much more challenging to do menswear. I found a vacuum here — men only wore pants and shirts…women had different borders for different saris; men didn't even have that! I'm a classic person; I can't do ‘bling bling', so I can relate to menswear more. Moreover it's so much more easier to deal with men. They know what they want; women are perpetually confused!” she says self-assuredly. Of course she also started designing for women later and has hugely successful brands of ethnic and western women's wear. She stocks in 40 stores across Scandinavia!
When she started off in the 80s, men were so ready to break out of their mould. They also had money to spend and didn't know where to, says Krishna. From cotton the clothes went to silk and linen. “Today I make red, purple, green and orange colours for men…they wear the same kind of colours and textures that women do.”
Fashion is a science
So does she subscribe to the concept of unisex clothing? “There can be…but I don't believe in it. We all have special powers as men and women. I like a man to be masculine and a woman can have strength in feminity. You don't need to don a man's garment. I believe there must be an arresting sensuous quality in a woman's garment.”
“Fashion is a fad that will come and go away. You need to have style,” emphasises Krishna, like most designers. And what makes a designer last long is their consistency in style. But isn't change the only constant in the world of fashion? “If you see an Armani or a Valentino, you have a cut that's recognisable,” she argues. “You can move within a style, or else you are confusing people…there's a whole science to fashion which works.”
A sworn workaholic, Krishna has been a consultant for a diversity of businesses — from malls to mills. The untiring entrepreneur says she's not a good businessperson because she thinks from her heart. Why does she think she's not good at business? “I could have done better!” she laughs. Spoken like a true businessman.