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Bal is back

Delhi boy Rohit Bal will present the grand finale of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. The collection, he tells SHALINI SHAH, revisits his 19-year-old journey


I like people with eccentricity. People who have their idiosyncracies and quirks


Photos V.V. Krishnan, Shiv Kumar Pushpakar and S. Subramanium

Models in outfits from the line

Many, for want of a better cliché, call him the “Bad Boy of Fashion”. Gudda a.k.a. Rohit Bal is almost two-decades-old on the fashion scene and, more often than not, doesn’t like talking much about his clothes, leaving it to the judgement of taste rather than verbal exaggeration.

Now, when he’s back for the grand finale of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2010 show, it is with some matter-of-factness (“not my first time at a grand finale”) and obvious excitement over an effort collection. Bal’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection is, in his words, “a journey of all that I’ve done in the last 19 years.” Titled ‘Yasas’ (Sanskrit for ‘glory’), the line is a putting together of indigenous designs, fabrics and techniques. A tribute to the Golden Peacock. “India was known for its grandeur, craft and luxury. My collection is more about revival rather than just fashion. It does have its whimsical moments though… The line is an ode to Indian craft and our incredibly rich heritage. An ode to India.”

Pointing to an ornate sleeve of a cream coat a model is wearing, he says, “See, this embroidery”. “It is the kind of work done on 1,000-year-old fabrics, something that adorned coats of royalty. And it is extremely expensive. A dress like this could take 20 people three months to make.”

The Mughal era is a conspicuous influence, as can be seen on the brocade and threadwork on off-white fabric, very akin to the time’s marble paintings and murals.

“A soft, light fabric like mulmul has been combined with a heavier luxurious material like velvet. Each and every piece of fabric used is unique. There is chanderi, Banarasi, silk from the South… Every thread is Indian. I have designed Western clothes in the past, but it’s all a been-there-done-that now.”

Bal is a Delhi boy — he graduated in History from St. Stephen’s College. Not an obvious subject choice. “College was basically a learning experience. I met a lot of incredible people with whom I’m in touch even now. I loved being in college, loved the campus. I didn’t achieve much in terms of History though,” he says.

Are his friends surprised seeing him in his present field? “Not at all. All of them thought I’d do something out of the ordinary. In fact, I started working with clothes when I was in college. I used to finish college during the day and rush off to my brother’s export garments factory. I became a part of fashion even then.”

“Fashion designing was a spontaneous occurrence in my life. It was something I had a strong connection with, one of those things that are just meant to be.”

His fashion moment

Though a 19-year-old career must have a fair number of highs, Rohit Bal’s ‘the’ fashion moment came way back in 1989. “It has to be my first show. It was, in fact, a combined show, where I was one of the designers showcasing. That was the first time I saw my name on a garment. The thrill that it gave me! A Mumbai boutique had just womenswear then and they asked me to do the menswear part, as menswear was what I was doing then,” recalls Bal.

Photos V.V. Krishnan, Shiv Kumar Pushpakar and S. Subramanium

IN ALL GLORY Rohit Bal pays tribute to the Golden Peacock in his new collection.

Rohit Bal has always loved volume in clothes – metres of cloth draped and stitched, many times in gravity-defying shapes.

“If most people don’t use volume in clothes, it’s because they find it difficult to handle. Handling 50 to 100 metres of cloth is a challenge to any designer,” he says.

“I love volume. It’s extremely luxurious. It makes the woman who’s wearing it feel grand. I love the movement that volume brings.”

Comparing the style sensibilities of Delhi and Mumbai, he says, “Both are, by and large, diametrically opposite. Mumbai is very Western and Bollywood-influenced, while Delhi is still going through an Indian sensibility. Mumbai’s in-your-face, Delhi’s subtle.”

Interior design is another passion — Bal has done the décor for five restaurants already, including Veda and Cibo in Delhi, and he’s hoping to do “many many more”. “I love doing interiors for any kind of space, be it restaurants, stores, weddings. It’s something I enjoy, like a holiday. When I want a break from fashion, I take up décor.”

An already-crowded platter also includes a newly-launched line of men’s nightwear, his cologne and fragrance range and a collaboration with leather brand Hidesign. “It’s going to be a high-end range of luxurious leather bags and it’ll sell under the ‘Rohit Bal’ label.” Add to this three to four weddings to design for and two more stores in the pipeline in Mumbai, and you get a very busy Rohit Bal. “I don’t know where I’m coming from or where I’m going.”

Favourite clotheshorses? “I like people with eccentricity. People who have their idiosyncracies and quirks. Johhny Depp would be an incredible, fantastic challenge to dress up. For sheer beauty, it would be Penelope Cruz, and Sarah Jessica Parker because she’s such a style icon,” says Bal, adding, “A little earlier, I would have loved to design for Cleopatra and Alexander. In India, it has to be Arjun Rampal. He epitomises what a male body should be like.”

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