Trumpeting a fashion line

Vanessa Meister Varma sports one of her creations from the Goonda collection Photo: Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Swiss fashion designer Vanessa Meister Varma is a big fan of the popular film ‘Best Actor'. It was not the performances of Mammooty, Lal or Nedumudi Venu, that impressed. But the rip-roaring parade of colours onscreen that enthralled her. “There were these goondas (actors) wearing shirts and lungis in impossible colour combinations and they looked so cool,” she says. For instance, in his opening scene, Lal appears wearing an electric pink shirt over a fluorescent green vest clubbed with a lavender lungi wrapped over a pair of red shorts!

That was the spark for her ‘Goonda Collection' Spring/Summer 2012, a range of garments and accessories in psychedelic blue, green, yellow and pink with miniature “goonda faces” and other goonda paraphernalia printed on them.

Designed and produced in Kerala, Vanessa's emerging international label ‘Trumpet' is already creating a fashion buzz in Europe, especially Switzerland. “The Swiss are known for their conservative colours. So these seemed strangely interesting to them,” she says, taking me around her studio— a verandah tastefully converted to a working space at her husband's ancestral house in Tripunithura. Married to architect Krishnan Varma and settled in Kochi, Vanessa feels very much at home in Kerala. “For a fashion designer, India throws up pleasant surprises. And I have no prejudices about fabrics. I just let myself be guided by my visual instincts,” she says.

Kitschy inspiration

Inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of things. From the flashy opera masks of Beijing to a ‘chechi' wearing an unusually blue polka-dotted blouse, Vanessa finds her design impulses in people and objects often written-off as loud or kitschy.

“In this part of the world, you find colours that are usually never worn together.” Sample a union worker's electrifying blue shirt with a brick red lungi. Those who sport this style might just be picking up what they lay their eyes on first. “But I would like to think that these ‘chetans' take pride in wearing them,” she says.

The Goonda Collection, which includes shirts, trousers, shorts, travel and laptop bags and small pouches made from fabric block-printed in Jaipur, was previewed in Switzerland and it received a warm response. Vanessa markets her label mainly in Europe. She feels her designs wouldn't have an appeal here. However, if there is demand, she would retail in India, too. She is also planning to set up an online store.

Her love for chaotic, unorganised medleys comes from her 90-year-old grandmother, Juliette who has an “uproarious” sense of fashion, says Vanessa. Her Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, titled ‘Juju' is dedicated to her.

She travels all over India sourcing fabric—even took a 40-hour train journey from Kochi to Jaipur. The garments, however, are made by local tailors in Tripunithura. “I make use of the skill and workmanship around here, and give a good remuneration,” she says, laughing.

The labour may be cheaper than in Europe, but working around the system can be quite taxing. That includes innumerable delays, hartals, haggling with the fabric sellers, thwarting advances from men. “You need special social skills to survive in a system like that,” she says.

Vanessa and the tailors

Vanessa, however, has learnt her way around. “The tailors here have a creative mind of their own. Sometimes you tell them something, but the product would look entirely different,” she says. “But they, too, have got accustomed to a ‘madamma' shouting Malayalam at them.”

Shortlisted in several international fashion competitions within the first two years of her work, Vanessa's Spring/Summer 2011 collection, ‘Hide and Shade', made of organic fabric, won the second prize at “Ethical Fashion Days”, an event held in Geneva in October 2010.

Fashion was “definitely not” on her mind when she was doing her industrial design course in Switzerland. But even in college, most of her designs had something to do with fabric. Vanessa has also interned for British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

Her first official collection for Spring/Summer 2009 was more like creating a portfolio. By then, she had come up with the name ‘Trumpet' for her label. “Young designers have to make a lot of noise to get noticed. It's a bit like you have to blow your own trumpet,” she says.

Vanessa first came to Kerala in 2005. She came back again the next year. Upon her return to Switzerland, she posted an ad on her university website saying she wanted to learn more about India. Krishnan Varma, who was also in Switzerland at the time, responded. The acquaintance gradually grew into a friendship and the couple tied the knot in 2010, with the full support of their families.

Now, she can speak a few words in Malayalam and according to Krishnan, “makes excellent kaalan”.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 7:15:10 AM |

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