Carpet couture

The rise of red carpet fashion is the ultimate style statement for Bollywood babes, says Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

LAVISH parties, celebrity endorsements, glitzy premieres and highprofile award shows promising instant flash bulb nirvana — the cult of red carpet dressing is fast becoming a burgeoning industry, particularly for the image-makers. “The trend was initiated by 80s divas, like Sridevi and Juhi Chawla. But, today, our stars are part of the international film fraternity. Naturally, their public appearances are as intently viewed as their onscreen personas,” states Mumbai-based costume designer Neeta Lulla, whose list of patrons include just about every Bollywood belle — from Sushmita Sen (at TAG Heuer promotional drives), Shilpa Shetty (during the UK celeb show Big Brother and on her visit to the House of Commons, UK), Rani Mukerji (Filmfare awards) to Aishwarya Rai (Cannes). Vikram Phadnis, Salman Khan's loyalist designer, adds, “India is waking up to a full-blown celebrity culture. Actors are global icons now. The overwhelming paparazzi presence has catapulted both the designer and his muse to the centre of world attention.” The pressures (read ego tantrums, gruelling shooting schedules and frequent overseas trips) are high. Lulla points out, “Sometimes, we've had to prepare four-five ensembles for Ash overnight, once we're informed by her to put together a complete wardrobe for an event. Time constraints create pressure.”

Designer Anita Dongre, responsible for Mallika Sherawat's bootylicious Cannes appearance for the Jackie Chan film The Myth confesses, “I didn't realise the greatness of the opportunity, till calls poured in.” Even menswear designers like Narendra Kumar Ahmad (who's designing for Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion) are betting their bucks on their boys. “Heroes today are leaner, meaner and exude sporty zest,” says Ahmad who's designed for John Abraham and Saif Ali Khan for the Filmfare awards. “Women prefer adventure in terms of colours and cuts, while men like sharp fits, dark tones, shorter jackets, slim pants and avant garde accessories, like ties, watches and shoes,” adds the designer whose macho line-up covers Rahul Bose, Irfaan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vivek Oberoi and Akshay Kumar.

The branding game has witnessed new entrants too in the form of Delhi designers. Like designers S h a n t a nu - Nikhil who're styling actress Dia Mirza for Sanjay Gupta's upcoming flick Acid Factory. “New age girls like Kat r i n a Kaif and P r i ya n k a Chopra are more or less the same body size (US 4/UK 8) and they love experimenting with their looks. That's where we fit in,” says Nikhil. “Dia has eternally borne a delicate look, but for IIFA in Bangkok, we created a yellow satin gown with a plunging back and a fitted centre, to flatter her body like a luxe sex siren. Inversely, for Bipasha, to compliment her new bob cut, we designed a flouncy, romantic gown with Puerto Rican chandelier embroidery at the bust for a magazine cover shoot. It softened her sharpness markedly,” adds Nikhil.

The nine-yard is albeit receding. The look in B-town has tilted towards “sharper cocktail dresses and floor-sweeping gowns,” state Delhi designers Gauri and Nainika, who have been roped in to create Katrina Kaif's look for her next Subhash Ghai film. “They want easy-to-carry, no fuss, form flattering, glam garb which is devoid of overthe-top bling,” feels Gauri.

New style sensibilities are here to stay. And yet, the old are not completely depleted. Phadnis reinstates, “In this industry, personal relationships still rule as stars share a certain comfort level with their film designers.” Designer Manav Gangwani who's dressed Sophie Choudry, Zayed Khan and Raima Sen at the IIFA functions, however asserts, “One wrong style move, and the celeb attire will be shredded by the media.” Vanity is star property. And, dressing up stars the ticket to an elite dress circle where business and pleasure lock lips. In Nikhil's words, “Once your dress becomes a style statement, you've arrived.”

As designer Suneet Varma says, “To be seen, to be photographed, to be recognised, to create a trend or a flutter — there's no perfect paradise than the red carpet.”

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