"Fashion weeks mislead younger designers"

Apr 03, 2013, 00:32 IST | Ruchika Kher

In his 25 years in the fashion industry, couturier Suneet Varma, with his strong design sensibility and eye for detail, has carved a niche. To commemorate his silver jubilee, the designer is out with a book that not only charts his professional journey but also looks at the evolution of Indian fashion spanning two decades. In an email interview with Ruchika Kher, he gets candid and takes us beyond his love affair wi th the saree

Twenty-five years is a long time. Looking back, how does it feel? From interning with the Yves Saint Laurent label in Paris to design collaborations with Judith Leiber and many more achievements, is there anything left to be achieved?
Honestly, I don’t think about what I’ve achieved. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve achieved so much that I can sit back on my laurels. I started very young and even though I have completed 25 years with some wonderful collaborations and opportunities, I still feel I have lots to do, lots to learn and I am excited about what the future holds for me.

Model Sonalika Sahay struts down the ramp in a tie-dye applique chiffon saree, which belonged to the collection, The Eternal Lightness Of Being, 2012

Why did you decide to mark your silver jubilee in the fashion world with a book? How easy or difficult was the whole process?
I started to work on the book over a decade ago with Prabuddha Dasgupta (fashion photographer), who was one of my dearest friends and we kind of started our careers at the same time. He was older, wiser and I looked up to him. We inspired each other and had great synergy together. He started me off on the book, but after a few years of working on it I got nervous and felt I didn’t have much to say yet, felt my body of work was not worth a book yet, so I stopped. Then, about a year and a half ago Prabuddha started me off on it again. It was a very enthralling experience, yet a very difficult one, because I love books and some of my most gratifying relationships have been with books. I inherited my love for them from my father who collected first editions and rare books; and when he passed away I inherited his collection of over 2,000 books. If I was going to do a book, I wanted it to be not just about me, but have a much larger industry perspective, like a history of the first 25 years of Indian fashion; therefore, this book includes all industry relevant people and their views. Image selection was a difficult job as well as I’ve saved every photograph, negative, contact sheets of all of my work. So, I possibly, have over five thousand images; to select the ones that were relevant to each chapter heading was a task.

Designer Suneet Varma with models displaying his creations from the collection, Coronation, 2011. Pics Courtesy/ Suneet Varma

You stepped into the fashion world when it was not even a full-fledged industry. Do you ever feel that now is a better time to enter the industry or are you happy with how things happened?
I was very happy to enter the industry when I did. It was fresh and there were no preconceived ideas of what designers could or not do, so it was an exciting time.

The first page of your book says “For everyone who has dared to dream and follow their inspiration”. Did you ever see yourself being or doing something else? Was there ever a point when you wanted to change your path?
I think I’d be terrible at anything else. I was a very average student and even though my family was full of bankers, I knew from a very early age that I would work in the arts.

Long silk coat with thread and zardozi embroidery on Madhu Sapre and embroidered waistcoat and ruffled shirt on Milind Soman from the Madame De Pompadour collection, 1995.

Sarees have always been a very important part of your collections. What is it about the garb that fascinates you the most?
The saree is the most versatile garment in the world, because it’s a drape and not technically a garment, which allows it to be worn in many ways. I treat it like a large canvas to paint, embroider, appliqué or whatever my theme demands.

How important are fashion weeks for Indian fashion, considering we have so many now?
I think there are too many, and it’s very misleading for younger designers as they have to work hard, invest money and then usually they don’t get any substantial returns. It has become much more about the corporate sponsors who wanted to be associated with the fashion industry.

A model showcasing a pearl and thread beaded corset and silk tulle draped saree with lace and Swarovski elements embroidery — a creation from the collection, Coronation, 2011

Future plans? Any film projects?
Yes, I have trunk shows in Hong Kong, Dubai and London for the next two months; in between we open out our first ready-to-wear store in Delhi.

These are a few of my favourite things...
Fitness mantra > Work, workout and eat right. I have pretty much been the same size and weight all my life. It gets hard as you get older, but I like the feeling.
Personal style statement > Simple and fuss-free — suits for dress-y evenings, Indian clothes and jeans and T-shirts for the causal look.
Designers among the new crop > Many, actually — I like Nandita Basu, Namrata Joshipura, Masaba, Pankaj and Nidhi.
Stylish celebrities> Sonam Kapoor — she always looks great, fresh and youthful
Idols > Abraham and Thakore — I like them, their clothes, and everything about their lifestyle. They are smart, forward-thinking and a big inspiration.
Unwind zone > My bedroom!
Food or cuisine > Thai food — for the extra chilly
Film > The Great Gatsby, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Dev D.
Vacation spot > Goa in the rains
Book > In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. 

— Suneet Varma, Niyogi Books, Rs 4,500. Available at leading bookstores.

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