'Mrs Gandhi was the last man in this country'

Published: 07 November, 2011 09:50 IST | piali.dasgupta |

... says designer James Ferreira, who'll create a fashion history of sorts in the city this Sunday by having his first ever show in Bangalore. The affable designer speaks to MiD DAY ahead of his visit to Bangalore

... says designer James Ferreira, who'll create a fashion history of sorts in the city this Sunday by having his first ever show in Bangalore. The affable designer speaks to MiD DAY ahead of his visit to Bangalore

He's the grand old man of Indian fashion, who made the humble sarong fashionable for a generation that was just waking up to the hippie culture.

Over the years a lot has changed about the designer. But a lot hasn't. While he isn't the red head party animal any more, James still wears his sarongs with pride and lives in his quaint abode in the Khotachiwadi heritage village in Bombay.
Here the designer talks about finding himself amidst the clutter, why India is on his mind and Bangalore.     

For Bangalore, you will show your Delhi Fashion Week Spring summer 2012 collection featuring Khadi clothes and Gandhi topi.
Yes. I have added a few satin dresses for the show besides the Khadi ensembles. There are sarees and a few evening gowns in colours like mango, green, grey, white and pink with subtle embroidery like Badla and Pita work forming geometric motifs.

I started weaving khadi six months ago for this collection called Khadi incorporated. As I went on, I found the whole patch work revolution entering the country before. I truly love this country and we really need to love it more. Besides, if you're cutting Indian clothes out off your collection, you're shutting yourself away from 70 per cent of the clientele in India.  I like to take India to a new place. Although my clothes are western, they are all based on India. So there are Indian elements like the Gandhi topi, embroidery on yokes, kali ghagras,  chiffon kurta shirts etc. I tried to present India to the younger generation in a fresh way. I have printed satin with khadi weaves for the pantsuits, churidars and jumpsuits inspired by the dhoti.

What are the accessories like?
I have used wooden wedges and platforms  in gold and silver and bags made by me. I have also given all the models the Indira Gandhi streak in their hair which I thought was fun. I'm a  great admirer of Indira.  She was the last man in this country. Now we have got women all over the place.

Your attachment to Khotachiwadi is legendary. Why have you never contemplated moving out of there?
I don't leave my little village, I love it so much. I have lived here all my life and trying desperately to save what's left of it. It's my inspiration just like the books I read. Life inspires me. I just take a different aspect for a new collection. It's like a little Goa in the middle of south Bombay. It's like living out of Bombay in Bombay. Everyone goes to sleep by 9 pm. It's laid back, relaxing - like a holiday. There used to be 67 bungalows, and now they are down to 27. The rest have been replaced by ugly dirty multi-storeyed buildings like the rest of Bombay. It's so sad that Bangalore is also going the Bombay way. Actually, the whole of India. They are just destroying our character. Greed has overtaken everything.

You have strong observations on Bangalore.
That's because I come here often to buy silks. I used to come there to stitch my suits. I love Bangalore, its people. but it's sad that the waterbodies of Bangalore being sacrificed at the altar of urbanisation. It's all about short term planning with no vision for the future.

You are one of the few designers who cuts his clothes himself.
I love working in my workshop at home with my tailors. I didn't go to any school to learn cutting. I went to a lady who taught me the craft. I can sincerely say that I hate selling my clothes as I'm so attached to them.

You recently lashed out at designers turning fashion weeks into a Bollywood circus.
In the 70s, I designed for most of the films like Shahenshah, Disco Dancer etc. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't mix fashion with Bollywood.They are two separate entities. Fashion is about aspiration  while Bollywood is about perceptions. It's sad that Bollywood has taken over. It's a wonderful industry, but it shouldn't have been such a major influence on fashion. Now I think fashion is slowly growing away from Bollywood, which I think is really welcome. But fashion's dependency on Bollywood is something I totally hold the ad agencies responsible for. They are a totally incompetent lot. The last innovative ad was The Mint with a Hole by Freddie Birdy and Naved in the early 90s. Post that, it's only been about Bollywood. But who dresses up like Amitabh Bachhan in real life?

So what's the way out?
It's all a big round vicious circle. Celebrity showstoppers get media coverage. If I had my way,  I would stop Bollywood showstoppers. I would invite Bollywood for my front row and start making the front row important. It's so much more elegant. Look at Chanel where you have Freida Pinto and everybody else in the front row. But filmstars don't walk for their shows. 

You took a sabbatical from fashion for decades, reappearing in the arena only two  years ago. Didn't you miss fashion?
It's taken a long time for me to find myself. Besides a series of personal tragedies about 20 years ago put me off fashion for a long time. I was shattered and took a long time to recover. I made  mistakes and learnt from it. I battled the demons am happy right now and enjoying myself. I truly love my work. My business has grown over 100 per cent after participating in the two fashion weeks. But I was too scared to participate as I wasn't sure about my work.I took two fashion weeks to consolidate myself. I need to do lots more.

Do you think the young lot of designers are in a tearing hurry to make a name for themselves?
Young designers should work with people for at least 10 to 15 years unless they are exceptionally bright. A lot of them come from rich families that push them into the design business immediately as a result of which we have so many bad clothes. Most design colleges don't emphasise on the importance of cutting your own garments. We don't have the right infrastructure to train cutters or embroiders. In five to 10 years, embroidery will no longer be something that we play can  with as it'll become unaffordable. Embroidery and carpet training are two things one has to be introduced to at the age of seven, else they will   never learn. But none of my workers want their kids to be in the same business as we don't give  recognition to textile and embroidery designers. So how will the future generation of designers find embroidery?

What's your USP as a designer?
I like to make wearable clothes that a lady can wear forever, a classic. I feel Indian women,  unless they're emancipated, look best in a saree.You need to wear western garments in a particular manner - thrust your breast forward, square your shoulders and tuck in your tummy. Indian garments are the most comfortable in the world. Everyone says the bias cut was invented by French designer Madeleine Vionnet. But bias cutting was used by Indians for centuries in their churidars.

In India, couture is synonymous with bridal wear, something fashion puritans have a definite issue with.
We have misused the word 'couture' completely. The true meaning of 'couture' is hand made. Unless you're joining your stitch with hand, it's not couture. The Chamber of Haute Couture in Paris denies couture that way. With the couture shows doing the rounds all the time, designers are showing more elaborate and ghastly pieces.

Who among the younger designers do you find promising?
Savio Jon, Kallol Dutta, Arjun Saluja, Anshu and Jason.

And whom do you admire?
Karl Lagerfield. He does four collections a year and doesn't have an assistant to help him. He does everything including the photography of his collection himself. He's insane. I admire his versatility and body of work. He designs for Fendi and Chanel. And the best part is that he's completely clean - doesn't smoke, drink or do drugs. My greatest wish is to be like him.

Film critic Khalid Mohammed is writing your biography. Would it be made into a film?
He's just written two chapters. He approached me and said, 'Can I write a book on you?' The  book would speak about myself as frankly as possible considering my reputation. I'm always putting my foot in my mouth. There are so few people who're doing it today. I try to be the same with everyone, whether it's with my workers or my maids at home. But I won't be comfortable with the book being made into a film as I hate films. I'm not a movie fan because films are  another person's interpretation of a story.

You are in a content space in your life. Is there anything you wish for?
I wish I had better skin. It's terribly pockmarked(laughs).

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