Vivek Karunakaran, noted designer, was in the city recently. He talks about his journey from cosy Thiruvananthapuram to the crazy world of fashion
Vivek Karunakaran is all set for his maiden show in Kerala at the Kochi International Fashion Week and despite his outer cool, he is excited. His parents are going to see his fashion show for the first time ever. That he is a veteran of many fashion shows like the Lakme India Fashion Week doesn't count this time and that folks like our own Mohanlal, Anil Kapoor, Vidya Balan, Suriya, Vikram and others wear his designs doesn't matter either.
When Vivek talks about growing up in Thiruvananthapuram and about PTP Nagar there is nostalgia and affection. And there are lots of memories. That is where it all began, his tryst with fashion. There was this fashion show he organised in PTP Nagar in the late 90s. “It was done very professionally. There was a ramp, stage…it was properly choreographed.”
It was around this time that Vivek's decision to pursue fashion design crystallised. Like a horse with blinkers, he doggedly pursued his goal and reached the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai. Not before his engineer father made him write ‘all the entrance exams', though. As far as pursuing fashion as a career went it was almost blasphemous in the State in the 90s. In retrospect he is grateful to his parents for the support they lent ‘despite a heavy heart' and for having understood his dreams.
How does someone with a regular, normal middle class upbringing in Thiruvananthapuram in the 90s end up as one of the leading designers in South India? There is no specific ‘how' or ‘why' to Vivek's inclination or rather his choice of career. Sports didn't feature in his scheme of things, but every other extra-curricular activity, arts, dance, drama…he did it all. “I have inherited my artistic flair from my mother who in turn has a flair for arts and crafts.” Well wishers, some neighbours and others friends, all encouraged him.
After graduating from NIFT he joined Cammacaria, one of the few export houses in Chennai which designed and manufactured garments. The clients were European labels such as Zara, Kenzo, Diesel, Armani etc. He went on to become their creative head. Then the time came for a change. Vivek was considering pursuing his Masters in Fashion Design in Milan, when on a lark he applied to Lakme India Fashion Week (LIFW), 2007. And got invited and debuted with ‘Dark Romance' in the GenNext category for up-and-coming designers.
“There was no plan to launch a label then…” but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Vivek decided to stay back and make the leap of faith. Thus was born ‘viia' (derived from the first two letters of Vivek's and the last two sounds of Shreya's name). Shreya, now his wife, was at the time pursuing a Masters in fashion in New York. “I am the face of the brand and Shreya is the brand's backbone.”
His parents were glad and relieved that Vivek was contemplating ‘higher studies', and so, naturally, when he decided to stay back they got worried. “When the first two letters of SUCCESS were in sight they were happy and not as worried.”
Participating in a fashion week requires deep pockets and a plan, a very well thought out plan. Both of which, he confesses, ‘viia' did not have. But what Vivek had as a weapon was experience. Putting together the first show was a combination of challenge and craziness. And it is something he doesn't recommend, he says. “There has to be a back-up plan before you take a huge risk.” To cut a long story short, he is now a regular at LIFW. He learnt a lot on the job and continues to do so, ‘sponge-like'.
Did he have to contend with the north-south divide? That a designer or a model from the south has to try harder, is true, it is tougher, the criticism more vicious….It is not easy, Vivek agrees but he says, “move out of your comfort zone and adapt. Don't whine, let your work do the talking and make them respect you which they will if your work is super good.”