It is early evening in festive Delhi. The cold winds of winter are inching closer, as are the glittering big-ticket weddings that are ready to unveil their magic starting December. A graciously adorned, sprawling couture atelier in Delhi's Mehrauli Village is alive with action, every nook and corner of the space abuzz, as an army of merchandise assistants carefully attends to one pretty bride after another. They are helping them drape their delicately tasseled odhni, slip into an ornamental lehenga and get the gown look going.
Amid all this bustle is a handsome man, sporting an athleisure look of jeans and a sweatshirt teamed with a chic quilted jacket, a shiny silver leather satchel casually tossed over his back. Manish Malhotra, the couturier, is busy doing what he loves most: styling his brides into celestial divas, as dazzling as the many iconic looks he has created for the silver screen.
How do you define a legendary designer who has completed 31 years of his career? Who recently signed a much-revered merger with a retail giant and is raring to steer his label into a structured, corporate entity? Whose mantle at home is stashed with awards won for costuming in cinema? Whose myriad iconic looks in films have inspired not one but two generations, with many more to come? Who is as much at ease styling the stunning Janhvi Kapoor as he was her mother, the late Sridevi, his eternal muse?
The one word would be inimitable. But if you know the designer well, you would add a few more adjectives like humble, sharp, intuitive, progressive and highly aesthetic to describe him.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
To create a cameo of this enigma, a flashback is a must—to a typical Bandrabred childhood set in a gracious Punjabi, middle-class home, where the mother played cards, held tea parties and looked after hearth and home perfectly. Manish grew up in this much-loved environment, "obsessed with movies and all things beautiful”.
"I would keep 'styling' my mother, redecorating the home, dancing before her friends to the reigning filmy tracks of the time and saving money to watch Hindi movies," he recollects, bemoaning the lack of theme and belonging in costume direction in the films he saw.
Manish recalls trips to the cinema hall and working for a boutique while studying art at Elphinstone College. “My mother suggested I join NIFT, but I did not want to live in Delhi," he says. Instead, he began working at a boutique in his beloved Bandra, "where
I happily toiled for 10 hours at a stretch, doing up the windows, styling the mannequins and adding my own touch to the designs".
And voila! The love affair with design began.
Manish also got drawn into modelling, and his family was convinced that acting would be a natural progression. “Isn't that what everyone did then? Step into acting after modeling?” he asks.
Manish, however, had his eyes trained on creating characters through costumes. Already making inroads into the world of fashion, he got invited by celebrated photographer Rakesh Shrestha to style Sridevi's looks for photo shoots. Her beauty and wisdom hit a deep chord in Manish's heart, and she became his eternal muse.
"I learnt so much from her. Above all, humility and a grace that reverberated from her soul.”
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