For designer Rohit Bal there’s no fashion without soul

Rohit Bal is as incredible a headline spinner as he is talented. Straddling the commercial and the couture worlds with ease for two decades, the pin-up boy for sassy modernity says, “There’s no fashion without soul.”

If soul is the last thing you’d associate with fashion’s once enfant terrible, Bal springs more surprises during his recent visit to Chennai. “Fashion to me is a result of an inward search. You can’t survive for so long without tapping into your soul. It helps you cut off from the negativity around. People don’t believe me when I say I am a deeply spiritual person. The spur to do a line could be anything — music, art, architecture or even furniture design, but the journey through a collection is always soulful,” he says with earnestness.

Despite his irrepressible bohemian reputation, Bal confesses, “I draw strength from my Indianness. History and culture are continuing threads in my designs. And I’m saying this not because I’m a History graduate.”

Having grown up in picturesque Kashmir, the designer says he still wakes up with memories of its picture-perfect beauty. “That’s something I can’t shake off my mind despite the hurly burly of life in New Delhi. ” Incidentally, Bal even celebrated the snowfall in Kashmir in a white, wispy line.

Now that explains why Bal’s collections are as close as fashion gets to poetry. “A designer is an artist first. If you don’t have passion and respect for your craft, you’ll end up making frivolous clothes. To me, design must have a timeless quality. And I think that comes from the crafts. Recently, I put together a collection inspired by ancient tiles from Turkey. I spent over a month researching about them. The outcome was splendid.”

Unlike some of his publicity-hungry contemporaries, Bal has never courted Bollywood. In fact, even recently, he declined an offer to work for Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Fashion.” “From what I understood, the film revolved around the underbelly of fashiondom. I wouldn’t like to be associated with a subject like that. Besides, for me to work in a film, the budget has to be really big and I must have total creative freedom,” he chuckles. “But I do have friends from Bollywood. And I make clothes for their personal wardrobe. Recently, I designed outfits for Priyanka Chopra and Harman Baweja for the IFFA Awards. And I’m now putting together a collection for Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan for their “Unforgettable Tour. I like to work with people who don’t get in the way of good design.”

Bal’s clientele doesn’t stop with the first family of Bollywood. He designed Liz Hurley’s trousseau. Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Uma Thurman are some of his loyalists from the West. “I think what attracts them to me is my Indian sensibility and global appeal. Besides, my clothes are not costume-y.”

There’s a hint of pomp in his tone, yet you can’t deny the purity of his designs. Be it his couture or prêt, Bal’s is a rare mix of simplicity and sumptuousness.

It’s not easy to be on the top of today’s fashion heap unless you keep reinventing yourself. And Bal is too smart to discern that. So he’s opened restaurants, endorsed accessories, promoted organic linen and khadi, and tied up with Kirtilal Kalidas to design a line of exquisite diamond jewellery. He will soon launch cologne and diversify into home and fashion accessories.

“Today, fashion encompasses lifestyle. A designer has to think of fresh creative pursuits and reinvent himself.”

Talk about the recent turmoil in the Fashion Design Council of India and he doesn’t flinch. “Yes, there’s a lot happening. But we designers are still with the FDCI. We won’t leave the Council. If another Fashion Week happens in New Delhi, we still have the option of participating in both,” he laughs.