Geeta Solaraj talks about what it takes to make it as a stylist-designer.

As showstopper Sameera Reddy walked the ramp in a gush-worthy gown at an event recently, the audience was certain about one thing — that Geetha Solaraj had arrived in the city’s fashion firmament. However, to the stylist-designer, who has set right many sartorial catastrophes, conceived looks for celebrities and created funky-to-formal garments, the show was just another milestone in a decade-long career.

“Herstory”, the well-orchestrated fashion-do in collaboration with filmmaker Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Photon Kathaas, was about the evolution of a woman’s wardrobe from form-meets-function daywear to glamorous eveningwear and intricately-detailed wedding gowns. The show was also symbolic of Geetha’s evolution as a designer. Her style stint began in London where she worked on practical clothing for women at different export houses. Gradually, she picked up the threads, got formal education in fashion, relocated to India, did freelance styling assignments for celebrities and shoots for glossies, before launching Crimson House of Style in Indira Nagar. Her portfolio reads like a wish list with styling assignments for A.R. Rahman, Harris Jayaraj, Sudha Raghunathan and many stars from the world of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films.

A pub is not really a place where you hop into mid-morning. But with its charming ambience, low-key lighting and quiet niches, Winchester Bar at Radisson Blu Hotel City Centre seems like the perfect place for an interview. No canapés, only cookies. No cocktails, only coffee. And plenty of conversation…

“Actually, my relationship with the limelight began as a child,” blushes Geetha, her crimson cheeks matching the shade of her top. Because of her dad A.R. Raju (aka ‘Ajantha’ Raju), well-known in South Indian film circles, Geetha began as a child artiste. “It feels so funny to see myself on television when the films are screened now.” During college days in Bangalore, she modelled for some big names and also did shows for style guru Prasad Bidappa. “I think I had it in me to become a stylist-designer. When I see people, I can instinctively tell the pluses and minuses about their form and sense of style. When I went to London, it was a liberating experience, fashion-wise. It was easy for me to break the rules and experiment. So I became a part-time stylist and assisted export houses with inputs. Though I found satisfaction in my work, I realised that without control over production what you conceive is not actually what you get. This sowed the seeds of a design label through which I could translate my ideas into garments.”

Back in Chennai, Geetha took up styling assignments for celebrities. “The big break came when I was asked to create the look for A.R. Rahman’s official calendar (for two years). It’s not easy to get the music maestro to break free from his black-grey-white scheme. But he sweetly agreed to wear a pink tee!” Then she created a suave look for melody ace Harris Jayaraj. She crossed a new milestone by conceiving 12 different looks for famous classical vocalist Sudha Raghunathan. “Each shot was framed against the backdrop of a festival. It was an exciting assignment as Sudha was willing to let her hair down and try out something new.” She also did the styling for Radhika Sarathkumar for a popular reality show on television. “Since it was for the small screen which she ruled with her soaps, I had to break her ‘serial’ image and work on something refreshing. It was well received.” Portfolio shoots still keep her on her toes. “I experimented with a range of looks for an aspiring star in Telugu films — wild Western, romantic and ethnic…”

It was while styling for celebrities that she felt the need to set up her own production unit. “As a stylist you want to do many things on your own, though you have the liberty to pick up stuff from other stores. That’s when Crimson House of Fashion was launched. Into its third year, it offers design and style solutions to clients in India and the U.K. Since I’m familiar with London, I decided to extend my services there as well. So right now, I’m straddling two worlds.”

Geetha believes that there can be no standardised sizes as far as human beings are concerned. “Each one is made differently. So I prefer customisation. Design is work-intensive, so it is better to create styles that suit different body types — hourglass, banana, apple or pear.” While she works on fun casuals and downright formal, much of her business in India and abroad comes from wedding gowns. “Nothing is outsourced. From pattern making to embroidery, all the work is done at my unit here. And I’m a stickler for deadlines.”

The designer, who is already showing her clothes in Hyderabad, plans to launch herself nationally by participating in the Lakme Fashion Week next year. “I’m also in talks with Selfridges, London, for a little niche to display my creations for the Christmas season. I’m designing jackets and gowns with gentle Indian touches.”

Fractals have always inspired the designer. “The repetitive designs have a slimming effect. I’m also influenced by travel. Recently, I visited the Himalayas. I can easily create 10 collections based on its beauty. Elegance and subtlety drive my sensibility. Clothes must not overpower your personality. “What can an outfit do for you?” is the most important question you must ask while making style choices.

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FROM THE STYLIST…

* Dark blue/ navy is the new black. Instead of wearing black always for an evening out you can try blue. But make sure it does not look like staid office wear.

* Clean, sharply-tailored silhouettes are making a comeback. Fuss-free straight hemlines are good. Play around with panels and pleats if you want.

* Prints are in this year, even in winter-wear you can play around with prints. Graphic, floral and striped patterns were spotted on many runways.

*Peplums continue to be a craze. I don’t like peplums on Indian women. Stay away from it if you have big hips or waist.

*Layering is an all-time favourite. You can layer a pink vest over a blue one and add a sheer wrap to the ensemble. Let the colours be seen through.

LAST-MINUTE PARTY FIX

*If you are running late for a party and don’t have time to get ready, I suggest a high ponytail (for a bad hair day), as it keeps all the hair neatly in place and gives a smart look. Make sure there are no frizzy ends. Even a side swept ponytail will make a change and keep hair neatly in place. Mascara is a must. Even if you don’t have eyeliner, a sweep of mascara on the eyelashes opens up your eyes and makes it sparkle.

*Invest in a good pair of jeans as that is something you can put on at a moment’s notice. Pair it with any well-fitting top or layer with a top and jacket depending on your body type.

*Have a few statement jewellery pieces handy to take the attention away from the dress or make up. A chunky piece of jewellery either on the neck or ears makes for a good distraction. It’s also a good conversation-starter. A dash of perfume, and your ready.

*Essentials for an evening out — mascara, good fitting jeans, comfortable heels, a clutch and a smile! No matter what, when you are feeling good about yourself it shines through.

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Krithika ReddyMay 11, 2012