Chasing Lakme Fashion Week with Bandana Narula

From Bandana Narula’s Dazva collection, which hits the runway at LFW today, and the designer

From Bandana Narula’s Dazva collection, which hits the runway at LFW today, and the designer   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Lakme Fashion Week first-timer Bandana Narula on her journey, and how other aspirants can navigate their way to the runway

It is easy to spot the odd one out in Bandana Narula’s studio — there are rolls of pastel chevron fabric and mannequins wearing delicately embroidered lehengas, but there is also a wooden crib. “I often have to bring along my 15-month-old son; it’s easier to put him down for a nap this way. He’s so used to seeing colours and patterns now,” smiles the Chennai-based designer, as we meet 10 days before her début on the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) runway in Mumbai. The young mum leads me through to a meeting room filled with outfits from her latest collection, Dazva, waiting to be packed and shipped for a national audience.

Coming from a family in the textile business, she did her B Com in Stella Maris College, followed by a course in fashion merchandising at Pearl Academy of Fashion — both in Chennai. After working with two city-based designers, she and a friend started a boutique for customised bridal wear. Quite candidly, she says, “Sometimes, it felt like being nothing more than a glorified tailor, as I was merely translating customer requirements into outfits. To truly call myself a designer, I wanted to showcase my own designs.”

Runway dreams

That’s where LFW comes in. When Narula, 32, started the eponymous label in 2014, it was only about bridal wear. After outings at Chennai Fashion Week, she applied for LFW. Her staple fare of lehengas and gowns didn’t make the cut. Her second attempt also had a bridal theme, and met with a similar fate.

Apart from bragging rights, Narula has a strong business reason to showcase at LFW. “When trying to expand to multi-brand stores, everyone’s first question is if we have been on the LFW runway. If yes, everything else is smooth sailing,” she says. Going back to the drawing board, she started working on a prêt line, featuring chevron prints fused with florals and subtle embroidery, suited for ancillary wedding events, in the price range of ₹11,000 to ₹75,000.

Work for it

With hundreds of aspiring designers applying for each edition, Narula did a deep dive to find avenues that would help her stand out. This led to 6Degree, a platform that gives designers a leg up in the industry. “They had a #GetLFWReady workshop in June, with mentors like Amit Aggarwal and Gauri & Nainika,” she says. At the end of the three-day Mumbai session, designers presented their collection and concepts to the selection committee. Narula was one of four labels picked — others include Ambika Lal (Kolkata), Soutache (New Delhi) and Purple Feathers by Pinkey Agarwal (Hyderabad).

So does a residential workshop like this — with fees starting at ₹50,000 — offer easier access to an LFW or FDCI show? 6Degree’s numbers indicate quite a success rate: after eight editions, around 50 designers have been showcased through their programme. Co-founder Nikhil Hegde says the initiative was started in association with LFW. “To prepare them for the big league, we have sessions with designers, choreographers and industry veterans.” This is different from the other LFW platform, Gen Next, where designers are mentored after they are picked for the runway. Each of 6Degree’s workshops have no more than 20 participants. Although the first couple of editions had entries mainly from the metros, in recent years, there have been designers like Sanjukta Dutta from Guwahati and Abha Choudhary from Nagpur, who made it to the runway shows.

Money matters

Narula admits that LFW “wasn’t an inexpensive dream”. The total cost of the workshop, including travel and making sample garments, amounted to nearly ₹3 lakh. The runway show has made her wallet even lighter. “I’m doing 13 pieces for the runway (with showstopper Shibani Dandekar, who also walked for Payal Singhal earlier this week), and an additional 60 for the stall. Altogether, it’s come close to ₹40 lakh,” she says, adding that she took the hard path of putting in all her life savings and securing loans. “It would’ve been easier to borrow from family, but not having a safety net pushed me harder.”

For the cost of a studio apartment, or an entry-level luxury car, is the investment worth it, we wonder. She says that, in the bigger picture, it helps, especially when you’re a designer from the South. “Friends who were privy to the selection process have said that on some occasions, clothes from Chennai designers were set aside, because the perception is that we’re not fashionable or cutting-edge enough,” she says. Things have been looking up, though, with three designers from the city making it to the SS19 show earlier this year. “When you do make it, the pressure to perform is huge. You’re not just representing yourself, but the city as a whole,” she adds.

So what happens after LFW? Narula hopes to evolve into a brand that combines the best practices of her two design inspirations: “Sabyasachi, for his unmistakable aesthetic and approach to social media. And the retail marketing success of Anita Dongre.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:10:04 AM |

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