For years, close to 80 actually, Zippo has been an icon of American cool. Soon people will be able to lay their hands on one imprinted with ‘Zippo from Rohit Bal'. With this collaboration, Rohit Bal has pulled a coup of sorts, lending a distinctly elegant Indian touch to a lighter that one is more likely to associate with biker dudes in leather jackets on Harley Davidsons than young royalty in bandhgalas.
On his first reaction on first hearing about the prospective collaboration, Bal grins and says, “I felt all overwhelmed and I wanted to cry.”
“Working with something like Zippo is like an incredible feat, a sense of achievement, to be honest, because I think this is the first time that Zippo has actually done anything with any designer,” he adds.
A simple motif — that of Bal's ubiquitous lotus — against a white background, adorns the lighter. The quality that strikes one, something not very likely to be attributed to a Zippo, is that it looks almost delicate. “The very kind of unpredictability makes it very interesting,” Bal says.
Bal chips in about the lighter, which he defines as a “blending of two different cultures”. “It has a slightly rebellious feel to it, not just in terms of design. It calms it down, makes it a very Indian, and I think that is fantastic.”
The motif, unquestionably, had to be the lotus. “The lotus is like an extension of me; wherever I am there is a lotus,” Bal says, pointing to the walls, tables and ceilings of his restaurant Veda in Connaught Place.
“I'm a lotus eater. My favourite textile is mulmul, and my favourite motif is the lotus, and I think both stand for purity. For purity of design, for purity of thought… Somewhere I think design has become so bastardised by so many people, there's so much over-design, there's so much westernised influences. I just feel that we need to take forward what we have already,” he says. “I think the humility of the lotus attracts me the most to it; it grows from dirt, it can' be cultivated. It's humble, gentle and beautiful. If you pluck it, it doesn't live for more than a day.”
It's been a spate of collaborations for Rohit Bal, be it with Hidesign, Lancome, Mitsubishi Outlander or jewellery brand Keertilals. On what proved to be the most creatively fulfilling, Bal says, “One was certainly the restaurants, like Veda and Cibo, which was how it all started. I think the Hidesign project (on the new label ‘Shlok') has been fantastic. That has also been an extremely exhausting and long-term creative process, because it's something you need to be really careful about. I think the jewellery line I did for Keertilals was by far the most creative association I've done with design because that has been really minute skill and precision creativity,” he replies.
For the moment, Bal is working on designing some luxury suites for The Park hotel, while a tie up with an international fabric company will materialise soon. A high-end luxury watch collection, too.
This Sunday, Rohit Bal will also be showcasing at the Van Heusen Men's Fashion Week as the grand finale designer. His line ‘Shararat', he says, is “going to be all naughty boy, sexy, raunchy, about boys dressed up as dudes.”
He explains, “There's a lot of strong Indian influences in terms of what I've done, but it's actually a fairly western collection. It'll have some Indian silhouettes, but I'll also have a strong mix. They come from a very decadent India, which has suddenly absorbed very strong western sensibilities but, just like me, can't stop being Indian. That would be the essence of the collection. They will still be wearing their jewellery, but with they'll wear it with a tee, a jacket. It's an interesting combination, which you'll only have to wait and see.”