Paris: A True Love Affair

Let’s walk you through a glimpse of Ritu Beri’s introspective journey in Paris

Mine is the story of a young Indian fashion designer who

dreamt and aspired to conquer the global fashion world. My

obsession with Paris and the desire to go beyond the usual is

what drove me on this crazy journey. Paris truly represents the

French capital’s illustrious past—it also stands for the grandest

that there is in the world of luxury. I would stare awestruck

at the breathtakingly stylish stores in Paris and feel completely

inadequate. The style, sophistication and presentation of

the fashion labels were far beyond anything that we in India

could hope to match. It was not that we lacked the creativity.

We Indians have abundance of that—it flows in our veins,

but we simply did not have the infrastructure, the machines,

the training and the marketing backup to help build designers

into global brands.

Each time I visited Paris I would feel more exiguous. But a

part of me would look at the styling of the clothes and whisper

to me, ‘Given a chance, I would design better than that.’ So,

while the whole packaging of fashion in Paris undermined my

confidence, my creative side would feel confident that given

the right opportunity I could match the same if not better it.

My heart would tug me towards Paris, but I was living in India

crestfallen at the impossibility of venturing on that path. On

one hand, I was doing shows all over the world from Sharjah

to Morocco, Vienna to Washington, yet I was fighting shy of

showing in Paris.

Meanwhile, my friend from Egypt, Kanwal Sibal, got posted

to France as the Indian Ambassador. Both Kanwal and his

wife Elisabeth are an elegant couple with refined tastes. They

are supporters of fashion and represented India beautifully

in Paris with a class that our heritage deserved. Together we

spoke about doing an Indian show in Paris. Thanks to their

initiative, it happened.

I don’t remember how but I also landed myself an invitation

to do a presentation during the Couture Week in Paris in

July 1999. At that point it didn’t quite sink in as to where I

was headed. That I was going to be the first Indian designer to

showcase in Paris, didn’t even occur to me. I found myself in a

mad frenzy. Paris—Good God! I had to now put my best foot

forward. This was my one chance to prove myself. The resources

were frugal. But I have always believed that lack of funds

can never stop a good idea from happening. I decided to give

France everything that India had to offer. To present to Paris

an India they had never seen. An India in all its glory—exuberant,

colourful, sensitive, but above all dramatic.

I worked like one possessed. My love for drama was

heightened by my level of hysteria. I was going to make it a

complete Indian experience for the audience. I will now make

them dream as passionately about my country as I did of Paris.

This was my moment.

The invitation cards were designed using Indian handmade

paper with dried rose petals. I decided to dress up the

venue with heavy brocade saris draping the entrance gates,

the staircase and the sofas. Silver thalis along with delicious

Indian sweets welcomed the guests. Diyas lined the walkway

and lit up the path. And, of course, there was the sound of

shehnai to fill the air with its welcoming notes. My models, 12

dusky beauties, set the evening on fire. I made sure most of

them were Indian. In ‘paradise’ there are no shoes so my models

walked with bare feet that were stained with red, just like

our Indian dancers. How the Parisians ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over

that! They found it très sensual. 2 Rue du General Lambert,

Paris 7, the venue of my show, looked like an Indian palace.

I think some of that magic reflected on my girls too because

they modelled like seductive princesses. They literally danced

through the rooms, swaying like exotic peacocks.

I showed 30 outfits that were gorgeously embellished

in exotic silks and brocades with gold and silver texturing

adorned with Swarovski crystals creating huge drama. There

were drapes and more drapes. The hair was done up traditionally

with exquisite classic hair-pieces.

The guests swooned. They were already in a trance, courtesy

the magnificent setting. Now the thunderous sound of

the applause together with the enchanting music created a

unique melodious symphony.

This show was about my greatest muse—India. In my

country nestles the most unimaginable beauty, and I think I

succeeded in showing her in all her glory in the world’s most

beautiful city at the most important fashion event.