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.