FASHION is a celebration of life, says Manish Malhotra, who is known for his visually-driven, India-inspired collections

Urmila’s kinky sensuality in Rangeela , Kareena’s casual-is-cool look in Jab We Met and notice-me sultriness in Heroine , Priyanka Chopra’s feminine-but-not-girly demeanour in Dostana , and Katrina Kaif’s understated elegance in Jab Tak Hai Jaan … Bollywood’s iconic “looks” guy Manish Malhotra is in Chennai for a showing.

“My last visit to the South was for director Shankar’s Rajni-starrer Endhiran ( Robot ). Life’s a whirl. In the midst of working for Bollywood, handling retail business, designing for celebrities, styling for events and doing fashion shows, I’ve had little time to focus on the South. But it was always on my mind. I decided that when I come here, I have to do something really spectacular,” smiles the designer with poster boy charm.

Deconstructing his collection for the ramp-do and a promotion, Manish says, “It’s a work-intensive line. Fine Kashmiri embroidery and delicate chikankari occupy a prime place in this line that’s late 1960s in its sensibility. The silhouettes are long and flowing, and old-world pink and orange add to the visual appeal of weightless chiffons, nets and woven silks.”

Well-orchestrated with the intricacies of a couture line, Manish believes it’s important for designers to balance legacy and newness in their work. The subtext of his design narrative is updated classicism. The colours, silhouettes and delicate workmanship engage us visually without looking costume-y. “Trends are squashed sooner than ever. So it’s important to create lines that respect the past and at the same time respond to changes. Craftsmanship is our USP. Cut and construction come only next. I keep that in mind even while designing for Naomi Campbell,” says the designer who has worked with Shabana Azmi’s Mijwan Welfare Society to empower girls by teaching them needle skills to make a living. “I think it’s empathy, not sympathy that they want. We are trying to make them self-reliant.”

Manish’s unspoken bond with painting comes through in the conversation as he discusses his everlasting fascination for wispy monotone or colour-block chiffon saris. “There was a time when I used to paint a lot. Not anymore. I try to keep my visual vocabulary painterly. Colour remains a huge inspiration. I love blending hues and experimenting. When you use huge blocks of colour, it’s dramatic and instantly catches the eye,” says Manish, who has draped many actors from Sri Devi and Juhi Chawla to Sonam Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor in chiffon saris. And yes, don’t forget Aishwarya Rai Bachchan sizzling in the canvas-like ‘Sana Sana’ song sequence in Endhiran .

As someone who has rolled out several fashion trends in Bollywood, Manish believes fashion is about challenging set patterns and fearlessly embracing individuality. “To me, glamour and fashion are inseparable. So whatever I create has to be statement-making. People don’t invest in designer clothes to wear them at home! Fashion is celebration. It’s about colour and cheer. I’ve been doing costumes for 22 years. And several of my on-screen looks have hit the streets. That’s gratifying. What worked for me is the fact that my creations are contemporary, glamorous and have an indelible stamp of Indian-ness. Desi is cool.”

Having flown into Chennai after a crazy schedule in Mumbai, Manish says it’s passion that keeps him going. “I got back from New Delhi and headed straight to my warehouse. I had to give finishing touches to the garments kept aside for Chennai and Bangalore. I left the warehouse at 2 a.m. When I woke up, I went for a Deepika-Ranbir Kapoor shoot. Now, after I finish Chennai and Bangalore, I head to Mumbai and then leave for Dubai for the Masala Awards for which I’m doing the styling. It’s crazy, not easy. But it gives me a high, and I love every moment of it.”

T. KRITHIKA REDDY

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