Varun Bahl is a master of excess


Varun Bahl is a master of excess

Wedding design, décor and a new diffusion line – the couturier is hard to miss this year

By Deepa Menon  April 19th, 2016

"I am away from the rat race,” says designer Varun Bahl, who has just returned from a series of holidays. “I do things at my own pace. In the last four years, I’ve done only one show a year.” He’s conspicuous by his near-absence at the many Indian fashion weeks, it’s true. The scene is a bit overheated for him. Referring to Burberry’s recent decision to junk the seasonal calendar and just do two shows a year, he says it’s time we followed suit. “Everyone is fed up. We have two womenswear shows and two menswear, across four cities — 16 fashion weeks a year, really? I mean, there’s much more to this world than fashion!”

It is a sensible world-view, especially from someone whose own life has been pretty fashion-obsessed. As a child, he says, he would pick out his mother’s outfit, down to the shoes and bag, for an evening out. Bahl’s father worked in garment exports, so he grew up surrounded by the thing he loved. But the tipping point came during his brother’s wedding. “The family was getting clothes stitched by designers like JJ Valaya, and I went with my brother to meet them. I was in awe. I met Rohit Bal one day and thought, what a rock star.”

It’s fitting that this bridal couturier’s initiation into the world of fashion should have been through a wedding. Over the course of a decade, Bahl has become known for his fabulously feminine, deliriously floral lehengas and saris. Embellishment in Indian bridal wear is hardly a novelty, but there’s a lightness to his touch, a studied symmetry that sets Bahl’s creations apart. He doesn’t believe in weighing the bride down like a bejewelled anchor. “People are a bit shocked when they see just how light my outfits are. I believe in delicacy. I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable in my clothes, because then they won’t  look good.”

With his show at Amazon India Fashion Week, though, Bahl took a break from the festivities and showed western wear. “It’s my real love and what I started with. Ten or 11 years ago, prêt in our country was still at a very nascent stage. It was an overrated market and you couldn’t really build a business around it. Now is the perfect time.” There’s greater confidence now in Indians designing western wear. What’s changed, apart from price points, is perception. As Bahl puts it, “I’ve always firmly believed that the problem in India is not [lack of] talent, the problem is the consumer.” His collection for AIFW is an all-season one, he says. “Doing a fall/winter collection in India really doesn’t help; it’s only the north that sees extreme winters.”

He has something for the season that passes for winter in a Chennai or Mumbai, too, Bahl promises. Besides that, there’s a diffusion line out now, an extension of last year’s couture collection. “There are a lot of surprises coming up. My Mumbai store will open this year. My carpet line just got launched. I’m getting into interiors. And Aurum takes up a lot of my time now.” His wedding design label launched at Amazon India Couture Week 2015 in classic Varun Bahl style, with pomp and ceremony, chandeliers and roses.

“Aurum makes me go wild. My partners are always very scared that I will overshoot the budgets… which I do. Like, just before the Couture Week show, my partner called me and said, ‘Did you just order seven trucks of red roses?!’ I’d decided two days before the show that I wanted to cover the sides of the ramp.” It wasn’t just the ramp; roses hung in bunches from the ceiling and crept along the walls of the 2,500 sq ft venue. “We went a bit overboard there. But we got our first wedding within three months of the launch and it was spectacular.”

 

While he may cause some heartburn over the accounts, Bahl’s partners can rest easy about the work itself: this man knows weddings. More specifically, he knows the Indian bride. He knows how she shops, who accompanies her, what influences her decision and how far he can steer her from the comfort zone of red lehengas and heavy embroidery. He sold his first black lehenga two years ago; the bride wore it to her sangeet. Not just brides but Indians as a whole, he finds, are more confident of asserting their individuality now. “Weddings in India used to be all about showing. Now it’s all about [being] who you are.”

While bridal wear is a big part of his oeuvre, Bahl’s passion is couture. In this country, the difference can be hard to spot. “It doesn’t have to mean a lehenga — even a pair of trousers could be couture. I wanted to change that misconception in my small way,” he says about his last Couture Week outing, which had capes, jackets and floral menswear. Not to mention, lots of festive black. “Mr Sunil Sethi [of FDCI] said, ‘What are you doing?!’ But I’m a firm believer that bridal wear is a part of couture, it is not [all of] couture.”

Bahl’s decision to sit out so many fashion weeks is not a strategy; it’s just a function of the pace at which he works (“Either I’m very lazy or super hectic.”) But it’s allowed him the time to question norms and push back in his own way. How would he like to be remembered? “As a true artist who has not, in any way, bastardised the art of fashion.” No, Varun Bahl doesn’t cut corners. Seven trucks of red roses don’t lie.

Photographs: Nayantara Parikh; Styling: Arushi Parakh; Make-up and Hair: Sonam Kapoor

You may also want to read: Good Earth milestone #267: Their first store in Jaipur

"I am away from the rat race,” says designer Varun Bahl, who has just returned from a series of holidays. “I do things at my own pace. In the last four years, I’ve done only one show a year.” He’s conspicuous by his near-absence at the many Indian fashion weeks, it’s true. The scene is a bit overheated for him. Referring to Burberry’s recent decision to junk the seasonal calendar and just do two shows a year, he says it’s time we followed suit. “Everyone is fed up. We have two womenswear shows and two menswear, across four cities — 16 fashion weeks a year, really? I mean, there’s much more to this world than fashion!”

It is a sensible world-view, especially from someone whose own life has been pretty fashion-obsessed. As a child, he says, he would pick out his mother’s outfit, down to the shoes and bag, for an evening out. Bahl’s father worked in garment exports, so he grew up surrounded by the thing he loved. But the tipping point came during his brother’s wedding. “The family was getting clothes stitched by designers like JJ Valaya, and I went with my brother to meet them. I was in awe. I met Rohit Bal one day and thought, what a rock star.”

It’s fitting that this bridal couturier’s initiation into the world of fashion should have been through a wedding. Over the course of a decade, Bahl has become known for his fabulously feminine, deliriously floral lehengas and saris. Embellishment in Indian bridal wear is hardly a novelty, but there’s a lightness to his touch, a studied symmetry that sets Bahl’s creations apart. He doesn’t believe in weighing the bride down like a bejewelled anchor. “People are a bit shocked when they see just how light my outfits are. I believe in delicacy. I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable in my clothes, because then they won’t  look good.”

With his show at Amazon India Fashion Week, though, Bahl took a break from the festivities and showed western wear. “It’s my real love and what I started with. Ten or 11 years ago, prêt in our country was still at a very nascent stage. It was an overrated market and you couldn’t really build a business around it. Now is the perfect time.” There’s greater confidence now in Indians designing western wear. What’s changed, apart from price points, is perception. As Bahl puts it, “I’ve always firmly believed that the problem in India is not [lack of] talent, the problem is the consumer.” His collection for AIFW is an all-season one, he says. “Doing a fall/winter collection in India really doesn’t help; it’s only the north that sees extreme winters.”

He has something for the season that passes for winter in a Chennai or Mumbai, too, Bahl promises. Besides that, there’s a diffusion line out now, an extension of last year’s couture collection. “There are a lot of surprises coming up. My Mumbai store will open this year. My carpet line just got launched. I’m getting into interiors. And Aurum takes up a lot of my time now.” His wedding design label launched at Amazon India Couture Week 2015 in classic Varun Bahl style, with pomp and ceremony, chandeliers and roses.

“Aurum makes me go wild. My partners are always very scared that I will overshoot the budgets… which I do. Like, just before the Couture Week show, my partner called me and said, ‘Did you just order seven trucks of red roses?!’ I’d decided two days before the show that I wanted to cover the sides of the ramp.” It wasn’t just the ramp; roses hung in bunches from the ceiling and crept along the walls of the 2,500 sq ft venue. “We went a bit overboard there. But we got our first wedding within three months of the launch and it was spectacular.”

 

While he may cause some heartburn over the accounts, Bahl’s partners can rest easy about the work itself: this man knows weddings. More specifically, he knows the Indian bride. He knows how she shops, who accompanies her, what influences her decision and how far he can steer her from the comfort zone of red lehengas and heavy embroidery. He sold his first black lehenga two years ago; the bride wore it to her sangeet. Not just brides but Indians as a whole, he finds, are more confident of asserting their individuality now. “Weddings in India used to be all about showing. Now it’s all about [being] who you are.”

While bridal wear is a big part of his oeuvre, Bahl’s passion is couture. In this country, the difference can be hard to spot. “It doesn’t have to mean a lehenga — even a pair of trousers could be couture. I wanted to change that misconception in my small way,” he says about his last Couture Week outing, which had capes, jackets and floral menswear. Not to mention, lots of festive black. “Mr Sunil Sethi [of FDCI] said, ‘What are you doing?!’ But I’m a firm believer that bridal wear is a part of couture, it is not [all of] couture.”

Bahl’s decision to sit out so many fashion weeks is not a strategy; it’s just a function of the pace at which he works (“Either I’m very lazy or super hectic.”) But it’s allowed him the time to question norms and push back in his own way. How would he like to be remembered? “As a true artist who has not, in any way, bastardised the art of fashion.” No, Varun Bahl doesn’t cut corners. Seven trucks of red roses don’t lie.

Photographs: Nayantara Parikh; Styling: Arushi Parakh; Make-up and Hair: Sonam Kapoor

You may also want to read: Good Earth milestone #267: Their first store in Jaipur