My friendship with Masaba Gupta Mantena began over a shared passion for food, travel and beauty (we’re both skincare junkies). Though we had both attended the same high school and have a lot of friends in common, we didn’t really know each other until we met a few years ago, through Design One, a platform that showcases established and upcoming designers. Today, I count her not only as a kindred soul, but also as a talented designer and entrepreneur, who understands her aesthetic and her market better than many—something that has been integral to her meteoric success.
She has an all-India presence, has created a niche, young market for the modern sari, is regarded as an innovator by the fashion fraternity and with legions of followers online, is a bona fide digital star. It’s a joy to scroll through her social media channels—she keeps them glamorous and frank, and liberally peppers them with her singular sense
I am inspired by her sheer belief in herself—her drive, work ethic and dedication are empowering to witness. Which is why when ELLE asked me to interview her on the eve of her new store opening at Palladium Mall in Mumbai, I agreed readily. It’s only fair that the world gets to know her the way I do.
From left: Aishwarya Matthew and Masaba Gupta Mantena
Aishwarya Nair Mathew: Let’s start at the beginning—you’ve had an unconventional upbringing, haven’t you?
Masaba Gupta Mantena: My upbringing was pretty extreme. I had a single working mum [actor Neena Gupta], my father [West Indian cricket legend Sir Viv Richards] would come and go. Not a lot of people know this about me, but my grandfather was an important part of my childhood. He was a rather conservative, no-nonsense kind of a man; quite the opposite of my mother. The contrast between the two made for a very confusing childhood [laughs], but it gave me the right balance I needed in terms of ethics and creativity.
ANM: Was fashion something you always wanted to pursue?
MGM: Funnily enough, fashion was never on my radar. I was studying music and dance in London, and only dreamt about the glamour of being in front of the camera because of my mum. But I couldn’t act and I got lonely in London, so I decided to come back to Mumbai. At that time, if you had good marks, you could get into fashion school. So, I decided to try that, and luckily it worked out. A lot of the credit also goes to [designer] Wendell Rodricks, who was one of the first to tell me I had an eye for design. So, I ran with it.
ANM: You had a rocky start…
MGM: Yes, it was a struggle. I had a very kitsch sensibility—an aesthetic that no one was really subscribing to at the time. But I had decided that I would just stick to what I did best.
ANM: I remember you told me that a big media house didn’t like you when you first started. What happened there and do you hold a grudge?
MGM: I was asked to be part of a fashion show with 40 other new designers. When I refused, they blacklisted me for future press. In India, unfortunately, these international media houses tend to bully young designers, which is sad. But I didn’t succumb and I hold no grudge.
ANM: Colour and bold design have become your signature. How does it come through in your new collection?
MGM: It has evolved from people not accepting the last [Summer-Resort 2016] collection. They thought it was too abstract, and were looking for something bolder. So, for the new collection, I have used light denim to construct separates, dresses and layered looks, which are perfect for summer. I have also used black and white with polka dots and a few of my classic Tamil prints.
Masaba's Palladium Store
ANM: Who is your ideal person to design for?
MGM: I design for people like me, who don’t necessarily enjoy being too out-there, but are well aware of their own style sensibility. Like you, too!
ANM: Why, thank you! You’ve proved yourself to be a strong and successful entrepreneur. What’s your advice to young people starting their own businesses?
MGM: Learn to say no. It’s important to stick to your guns and build your brand by choosing your opportunities carefully.
ANM: Your strong convictions appear to extend to social media too—you seem unafraid to go beyond the glamorous and get real out there.
MGM: [Laughs] Yes, I was tired of seeing contrived, superficial social media feeds of celebrities. I wanted to talk about my life and how I experience it. I wanted it to be more real and honest. For example, my Instagram post about my struggle with acne is something we can all relate to.
It's taken me a LOT to put up this picture. But I felt like I had to. Ofcourse acne is common & weight problems are common and people deal with it and get over it with time. But what do you do when your bang in the middle of it ? Ive had terrible acne for 14yrs and by terrible I mean , most days it looked like I had a cigarette Stubbed in my face. Dark scars in my face & in my head. there were days I would refuse to leave home without putting powder on my face & refused to put any lights on in the room. Ive had men tell me they want to throw up when they see my face. Ive run out of my house to school with concealer on my face because I couldn't take it anymore. So many of you must be bang in the middle of this. Some extra weight , a whole lotta acne. The truth is .. you have to go with it. That also means you have to work at getting better. Better health,better skin. Better everything. It's wellbeing afterall. Don't live with what you don't like. Punch it out of your system! You have to cringe when you see yourself in the mirror , cry until you choke. DO.IT.ALL.but once your done with that you have to run your finger down all the clear,beautiful spots on you & you have to do it every single day. Brush your teeth. Practice confidence. Practice self-Estéem. Practice strength. Because we all know it will be knocked out of us 3 mins after we step out of home. Don't expect to read an article about 'beauty coming from the inside' and expect to wake up the next day feeling like your beautiful. Doesn't work like that. If beauty to you is stepping out with a face full of makeup then so be it. If it's about flaunting your scars. So be it. But when you come back home & the lights are out. And every tear has been shed with every remark that Hit you.. until you build your wall & you will be the biggest,bestest version of everything that has happened to you. Collect your scars & build them into something beautiful. #throwback
ANM: I too think that women need to hear more voices encouraging us to accept ourselves as we are. You recently embarked on a fitness journey—what prompted that?
MGM: I was always very athletic. I used to swim, play tennis, and because I used to play a lot of sport, I had a very defined body. Then around my wedding, I put on a lot of weight. I was too busy enjoying life, eating whatever I felt like and drinking champagne, which led to me not being able to fit into my Sanjay Garg wedding blouse (I had to make my own at the last minute!). I realised that that was not the best version of me. It wasn’t just about weight loss—I know people who are big and can run a marathon, and others who are skinny and can’t climb a flight of stairs. The idea is just to be happy in your own skin, while being fit.
ANM: Your new store at Palladium in Mumbai is a big milestone. What can we expect from it?
MGM: For me, it has been very important to be at Palladium. It is one of the few places that my mum and I frequent. So I’m thrilled to open there. Also, this time around, I am going to be doing a fun line of stationery, followed by a line of make-up including bright lip colours, in association with Lakmé.
ANM: What are your plans for the future?
MGM: I don’t think I have ever planned beyond two years into the future. Retail, trends and consumer behaviour change so much that we need to realign ourselves time and again. But I’d definitely like to have more stores, and fewer but more long-term collaborations. Personally, I think I’d just like to learn how to be more selective with my time and energy.
Photograph: Bajirao Pawar (Aishwarya Nair Matthew and Masaba Gupta Mantena), Hair and Make up: Nisha Gulati
Masaba on her latest beauty venture with Lakme: