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I don't fear change: Manish Malhotra

He started his career as a costume designer at the age of 23. Today, Manish Malhotra’s fashion label is a company with a turnover of over Rs 100 crore. Deepali Dhingra speaks to the fashion designer about his love for the movies, his dislike for wannabes and why he calls himself a true Saggitarian 

He started his career as a costume designer at the age of 23. Today, Manish Malhotra’s fashion label is a company with a turnover of over Rs 100 crore. Deepali Dhingra speaks to the fashion designer about his love for the movies, his dislike for wannabes and why he calls himself a true Saggitarian

In the middle of our conversation with Manish Malhotra, we can’t help but notice how his eyes keep straying to the mannequin placed in the middle of his store. Suddenly, the fashion designer gets up from the sofa and pulls away the scarf that is draped across the mannequin’s hand. “That’s been bothering me ever since we started talking,” he says, returning to his seat.

Manish Malhotra
An optimist by nature, Manish Malhotra, seen here at his store in Khar, feels that single-minded focus and patience shuts out any negativity. PIC/PRADEEP DHIVAR

It’s a small gesture, but one which goes a long way in giving us an insight into the mind of the man, who’s one of the most renowned fashion designers this country has seen. “I like things to be in order. I also like my life to be in order and when that happens, there’s so much one can do,” he smiles.

Malhotra may have changed and evolved over the years in many ways, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is his single-minded focus on work. “Even while growing up, I was never one those guys you see hanging around at the street corner with friends,” he reminisces. The Punjabi boy who grew up in Bandra might own one of the biggest fashion labels in the country today, but in his college days, Malhotra modelled and even worked part time in a boutique. “I was very fond of watching Hindi films and was fascinated by the costumes the heroines would wear, especially in Yash Chopra’s movies,” says the self-taught designer, who still loves going to the movie theatre. “I’m like a kid who loves going to theatre with a tub of popcorn in my hand,” he says.

We’re sitting in Malhotra’s 6,000 sq ft store, his second one in Khar, and everywhere you look, the designer’s love for the good things in life is pretty evident. Right from Anoushka Shankar’s enchanting Traces of You that plays softly in the background to the rich, embroidered lehengas in hues of reds, pinks and oranges — that tempt us enough to keep stealing appreciative glances at them — the store is a luxury statement. “What interests me is how everything is displayed. I have very neat sensibilities. I like ornate clothes, colours and embellishments. I can’t stand clutter one bit,” Malhotra tells us. Even when it comes to his professional commitments, it is this single-minded attention to details and clutter-free nature, that spurs him on. “I’m very serious when it comes to my work. I don’t understand designers who come late for their own fittings or have drinks minutes before the fashion show is about to start. I cannot understand peer pressure of smoking or doing drugs. I’ve never been a wannabe and I’ve never done what I don’t want to do,” he says. Calling himself a true Saggitarian, the designer says he has a simplistic approach towards life. “For me, something is either black or white. I don’t like shades of grey,” Malhotra adds.

For somebody who started his career as a costume designer 24 years ago, Malhotra’s name is synonymous with movies and makeovers. Think Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela, Karisma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani and Kareena Kapoor in Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham among countless other top actresses he’s designed outfits for. “I think the film industry has given me everything — a platform to evolve and learn my craft, work to look back upon, my lifestyle, opportunity to travel, and some lengthy associations. I’m still friendly with Urmila and I’m regularly in touch with Sridevi, Karisma and Raveena. I did two movies for Dharma Productions even before Karan (Johar) joined it and till now, I’m doing movies for them,” he adds.

But now, it’s the very same industry that he’s taking a break from. Not because he wants to lessen his workload. On the contrary, the designer has huge expansion plans for his label and is devoting all his time and energy into the same. “Somebody once asked me whether I became the Manish Malhotra I had set out to become and my reply was, I became that a long time ago. I wanted to become a costume designer, work with the top directors and actors and travel the world.

Then as you evolve, things change. Next year, I complete 25 years as a costume designer and 10 years of my fashion label. I’m very clear that I want to do only two movies a year. My mind is on expansion, growth and bettering my craft. I’m focusing on the fashion week and couture week and trying to take the collections to another level altogether,” says the man, who embraces change in his life. “I love change. I’m fearless that way. I’m the kind who will jump in the water first and then learn to swim,” says Malhotra.

Any unfulfilled dream? “I live with my parents and I love what I do. I think I’m blessed,” he says. It’s the right cue for us to conclude our conversation. But not before we turn back and take in the sight of those gorgeous clothes on display once more. No wonder Malhotra’s always inspired. He doesn’t have to look beyond his own work.

My Favourites
Magazine: Vogue India, Filmfare
Film: Kabhie Kabhie, Love Story
Book: The Alchemist
Destination: New York
Brand: Tom Ford

Inside Track
Born: December 6, 1966
Education: Bachelor in Arts, Elphinstone College, Mumbai
First job: Salesman in a boutique
Fitness Mantra: Early morning workout
Best advice I ever got: To not wish anyone ill and to focus on my work

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