Masaba Gupta, designer and newly-appointed fashion director of Satya Paul talks to T. Krithika Reddy about what it takes to evolve an aesthetic that’s individualistic. Ready for telephone booth, table fan and lipstick motifs?

“Imitation isn’t flattering,” says Masaba Gupta with a smirk, when a friend informs her about spotting her signature prints at a Mumbai store. Switching off her cellphone, she adds, “People think because prints and colour work for me, they can also replicate them. What’s shocking is even established names are involved in rip-off games.”

Like her cascading black curls, Masaba’s latest ink-splatter patterns and abstract prints are about controlled chaos. The princess of quirk has given distinct touches to reinvent Satya Paul for young women who aren’t shy of experimenting with prints and palette.

To the 24-year-old designer, recently appointed fashion director of the 28-year-old Satya Paul label, style is about spunk. It’s an edgy new femininity that she lends to her creations. Imagine huge lipstick motifs across saris, old-world telephone booth prints used as vertical columns on dresses, or table fan motifs making a breezy presence on free-flowing silhouettes. “Quirky patterns are a quintessential part of my aesthetic. They set my creations apart. Otherwise, why would they inspire imitations? My signature palm motif has hit mainstream fashion! Copyright issues need to be taken up more seriously in this country.”

Seeing the pop-toned lipstick motifs (prints with shimmering sequins) on her dress, you immediately think eccentric chic. But the success of Masaba lies in the way she has combined the whacky with the customary. One offsets the other. Austerity in terms of styling and lavishness when it comes to prints, colour and fabric. “Style is about standing out in a crowd. It’s better to skip shows when you are going through a creative crunch. If I don’t have an original narrative for the ramp, I give the Fashion Week the go-by.”

When the conversation veers towards colour, she blushes a beet red. “Colour spurs my designs — after prints. I hardly hit the earth route. No browns, no maroons for me. I play with vivid tones and sometimes even gold and pastels. It’s a happy palette and I feel bright shades suit Indians best.”

Design was hardly on Masaba’s mind. “I thought I would get into acting. Fashion just happened,” says the daughter of West Indian cricketer Vivian Richards and actor-television star Neena Gupta. “Now, my mom is my best critic. When she expresses doubts about a collection, it makes me nervous.”

Having debuted and won the best collection award under the Gen Next category at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2010, the Mumbai-based designer has showcased some interesting lines thereafter. “Straight from my soil,” for instance, was inspired by the Maasai tribe of Tanzania. “Their aesthetics are far more evolved. And their drapes are downright practical — they hunt in them!” The latest line, “Postcards from Benares” which opened the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (Spring-Summer 2013), has become a hit.

Masaba’s new assignment with brand Satya Paul sees the young designer do a balancing act. “Satya Paul comes with certain core aesthetics. I have to add my own flourishes without tampering with the brand’s USP. Thankfully, there’s an orchestration of sensibilities when it comes to love for prints and colour. And, of course, our love for the sari! But I’m thinking below 30. We want to address a new generation of label loyalists.”

A “very organised person,” Masaba usually wraps up work well ahead of a show. “Sometimes when I see other designers pacing about, I’m worried! I have too much free time. I tweet regularly and love to experiment with music for my shows. But I really doubt people understand the work that goes into putting together a collection/show. In our country, fashion is still considered entertainment. You will spot only a few serious fashionistas at ramp dos. A majority are the freebie pass people who want to simply ‘watch’ and get ‘noticed.’ They are not capable of evaluating garments or tracking trends,” she says and returns to interact with Chennai’s swish set that’s waiting to catch up with her at the Satya Paul store in Express Avenue.