Suneet Varma remembers friend and mentor Martand Singh


Suneet Varma remembers friend and mentor Martand Singh

Remembering the man who changed the Indian textile industry

By ELLE team  April 28th, 2017

“He called me Mr Varms. I was never sure if it was ‘W-O-R-M-S’ or ‘V-A-R-M-S’. He told me that I have to figure it out myself. I never quite did,” recalls Suneet Varma, when asked about his relationship with Martand Singh, the Indian textile revivalist who succumbed to cancer earlier this week.

 “I met Mapu 30 years ago, in April. I was introduced to him by my mother, who was a friend of his,” says Varma, adding, “I was one of the few lucky people who he took under his wing. Not just in terms of guiding me in work, but also on how to be a disciplined person, how to live and how to be generous.” Mapu’s generosity, the designer explains, was his best quality. “I met Rohit (Bal) at the funeral, and he recalled how all his earlier influences in textiles came from Mapu. I don’t think anyone came back from meeting him empty-handed.”

“He thought I was exceptional in some way, I still don’t know which way,” Varma recounts, laughing, “Very often, when I was young, I used to doubt my abilities or whether I was taking the right decisions. He used to tell me ‘You have no idea how enormously talented you are’ and that I need to keep working despite my doubts.”

“The thing with Mapu was that most people just know him because of his work. Most people don’t know that he was one of the finest human beings that you’ll have the fortune to meet in a lifetime. He touched people at all levels. When I told my driver, who has been with me for the past 30 years, that Mapu passed away, he cried as well.”

Martand Singh 1

Varma acknowledges Mapu’s tremendous contribution to the fashion industry, “If he hadn’t brought about the revival of traditional Indian textiles, there would’ve never been any change. He was the first person who said we need to go back to our Indian textiles. A lot of designers and master craftsmen got a new lease of life through him. He used to send new designers to them; he was developing the market and showcasing their textiles to the world. The landscape of Indian fashion industry would be a lot different from what it is right now had he not pioneered the movement.”

While Mapu’s mark on the fashion industry is indelible, his influence on Varma’s life was far deeper and profound. “He used to advise me on everything. If I was doing a show or opening a store, I could never do it without his advice. When I did my book, he wrote the foreword to it. When the first copy was printed, I took it to him when he came over for dinner that day. He said ‘Okay, wonderful’, he kissed it and he put it in the mandir. Then he said let it lie there and get the blessings from God, we’ll eat and open it at dessert.”

One of the greatest lessons Varma learn fro his mentor was maintaining a professional work ethic. “Mapu once told me ‘You must get to work at 9 and be the last person to leave’, and I still follow that,” he says, “He had a structure and discipline to his life that was very necessary to be successful in a country that had no fashion movement. I think I was very fortunate that I got this from him.”