Fashion

MonaPali’s monopoly

They are the big mammas of Indian fashion. Sisters Mona Lamba and Pali Sachdev, who together formed the label Monapali way back in 1985 in Calcutta, when couture wasn’t even a big word in our vocabulary, have been going strong since then. Playing on the strengths of Indian handicrafts, the sisters believe there is no need to look beyond the abundant indigenous crafts of the country for sartorial inspiration.

They believe they have lasted this long only because of their originality. In Bengaluru to participate at the 13 edition of the DF Silverline Bangalore Fashion Week, the sisters get down to a chat with MetroPlus.

The fusion wear they brought to the city was steeped in linens and handlooms in ivory and black, interwoven with blues, pinks and reds, embellished with jute, zardosi and gota work on hand-painted motifs and discharge prints.

Recalling how they gave up their other careers — Mona was a teacher living amidst tea plantations, and Pali was a lawyer who worked in a bank in Singapore — they speak of how they wanted to start off in the world of fashion simply because they were brimming over with ideas. “In our time parents didn’t indulge us in new clothes for every party. With the kind of money we would get, we would go to every shop in small gullies till we found what we wanted. We would go to the printers with our mother’s old saris. When we started making clothes for ourselves, friends and family asked us to make for them…so we thought, why not?” says Mona.

They say they can claim several firsts to their credits, at the time when they started off — “We were the first to put Bengal’s Kantha embroidery on the ramp. No one had tried Shibori before us. We even did embroidery on gauze fabric that is used to tie bandages!” says Mona. “Even prints. We used to do Madhubani prints also. We combined embroidery, hand-painting and block printing, torn fabric strips,” adds Pali. And together their eyes light up when they say they were the first to use folk and tribal motifs. “We even did a series of paintings and had garments coming out of them!” Their clothes have always featured an unconventional mix of mediums — be it textures, textiles, prints or embroidery — and an elegant coming together of various elements. Even their embellishments in ceramic, cord, terra cotta, mouli, ropes, wooden and shellac have earned them a distinct space. They admit that India still suffers from the mentality that ‘everything from the West is best’, agrees Mona, and therefore Western wear is still what everyone aspires for. Moreover youngsters want what they watch on TV and in films. But when it comes to textiles, can anyone beat us, asks Pali. “Handlooms are back in a big way,” says Pali of the latest trend. And Mona adds: “ Jhatang is out. People want understated, comfortable, wearable stuff.”

Punjabis who call Kolkata home, the sisters say their inspiration has always been the rich heritage of the country and their strength has been to stay rooted in it. “We do keep it trendy and contemporary. You can’t continue the same thing always…” concludes Pali. They have a couture line, a diffusion range, and a pret collection. They have outlets in Kolkata, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and also have a presence in Ffolio, Ensemble, Elahi, 7, The Design Lounge, Westside and Kimaya across the country. They’ve done several successful seasons for Italian fashion house Max Mara, but say Europe as a market over the last few years has been pretty dull. Having been in the industry for over 25 years, they’ve seen it all — their designs being blatantly copied, the explosion of computerised embroidery adding to the influx of designers, getting Aishwarya Rai to walk the ramp for them with a no-makeup look, dressing everyone from the Birlas to the Ambanis.

Pali studied design in Singapore, before they set off on this venture, but the sisters believe that you must have some instinct for things.

“If you have a diamond inside you, a fashion school can polish you up,” says Mona. “You may know the alphabets A,B,C,D, but that doesn’t make you a poet,” pipes in Pali.

“You either have it in you or you don’t,” the sisters conclude. “Unfortunately today, it’s more about marketing and money power. A talented designer who doesn’t have these won’t come to prominence,” says Pali.

The duo also believes in a personalised approach. “People don’t like to buy expensive clothes online. They want to touch, feel, wear the clothes, and interact with the designer, ask for variations for themselves,” says Mona. They are sticklers for “wear what suits you”. “You can’t wear something just because someone else has it,” says Pali. “It’s better to hide what’s not right with you,” says Mona.

“And show off what is beautiful in you,” concludes Pali. And the one dress that can enhance every kind of person is the sari, they conclude. “Unlike a stitched garment where you worry about fitting into it or not!’ says Pali.


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 4:48:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fashion/designer-sisters-mona-and-pali-talk-of-what-got-them-started-almost-30-years-ago/article7470514.ece

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