Kitsch as her calling card

Nida Mahmood (centre) with models. Photo: R. Ragu  

It’s 2007 and Nida Mahmood is a young designer in Delhi, trying to make her name. At a wedding party one night, a double-layered fuchsia skirt, with delicate embroidery and a brocaded border, catches her eye. Nida walks across the room, to the girl wearing the skirt and asks her why she bought it. The girl lists out all that she likes about the skirt, and Nida listens, beaming. “I designed this,” she reveals, barely able to contain her own excitement, only to be met by excited squeals from the girl in the fuchsia skirt.

“It was a funny situation and a great feeling to see someone wearing something I’d made,” she says giggling and blushing at the memory of it. Today, Nida is an established name in the fashion world. She’s designed for Marie Claire, Lady Gaga, Nike and Absolute among others. Her collections, which have received critical appreciation and seen commercial successes, have led to her being considered the Queen of Indian Kitsch. “A lot of water has passed under the bridge now,” she says.

Coming from a family where most youngsters opted to do medicine, it went without saying that Nida would choose the same. She realised, however, that the lab coat and stethoscope did not excite her as much as colour and form did. She dabbled in different types of art: painting, sketching, writing and orating; and when it was time for her to go to design school, she moved to Hyderabad to attend NIFT. “I was trained to be a fashion designer but today, that’s not all I do. I’m art-directing a film and working on costumes; I write for international publications; I do furniture, interiors, art installations… NIFT taught me how a creative person should think and I just took it from there.”

Post design school, Nida started working as a menswear designer at Sheetal Design Studio in Mumbai. “This is where I worked under three stalwarts — Manish Malhotra, Aki Narula and Hemant Trivedi.” A year later, at 22, she decided to get married. “He’s a lawyer and there was little chance of the Supreme Court moving to Bombay,” she laughs. It was in Delhi that she decided that she was ready to set out on her own and for two years, she didn’t know where she was heading, “I didn’t know my design philosophy or what my true calling was and then one day, things just fell into place.”

It was while she was showcasing her 2009 Autumn-Winter collection ‘High on Chai’ at the WIFW, that she found her identity. “I’m attracted to very boring, ordinary things and I have the capacity to spin them around, to make them really dramatic. I’m inspired by India — the colloquial things, the cultures and traditions — and I like to make it fun and quirky.”

So while showcasing her first big collection, she shocked the industry by bringing in paanwalas, balloon-sellers and chai-makers onto the ramp. Not only was it unheard of, it was also unacceptable; but it was a runway success.

In the years since, India has remained her muse and her latest Spring-Summer 2015 collection ‘Good Luck Irani Café’ is inspired by the Irani cafes of the 1940s and 1950s. In Chennai to launch the collection at a star-studded event, organised by Maalgadi and The Red Kite publications, and curated by Vivek Karunakaran, she fusses over the tea cup perched on her showstopper’s head and urges her to have fun while she’s on the ramp.

The presentation is dramatic with larger-than-life origami installations, offering an old-world charm punctuated with splashes of colour, set to quirky, upbeat music. The models dance, tease and show off the designs they wear and the crowd is in high spirits, applauding and cheering.

The collection features neutral-coloured western and Indian silhouettes with pops of bright shades and floral patterns. “When I first broke out of the mould of designing a saree and started draping it around jeans, people laughed at me. It’s created a huge statement though; there’s always a market for quirky things.”

“For someone who didn’t know what her design sensibility was, I’ve managed to come a long way and defined Indian kitsch in a lot of ways,” she says. But what her future holds, she chooses not to define.

“At the risk of short-changing myself, I prefer to not define anything. I’d like to look out for something bigger and better and keep growing as an individual. I don’t know where I’m headed and I prefer it that way.”

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 9:23:30 AM |

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