x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'Movies have given me everything'

Bollywood's favourite designer, Manish Malhotra, talks about his life in fashion.

The designer Manish Malhotra opens his show at Dubai Fashion Week last month.
The designer Manish Malhotra opens his show at Dubai Fashion Week last month.

As a child, I remember telling my mum what to wear and what not to wear, and she'd keep asking: "Why is he telling me this?" I used to always comment on my relatives' saris. At six I'd be saying, "What is this sari she's wearing? It's not nice." My mother found it amusing at times. She likes good clothes, but I wouldn't say she's a diva. She has taste but it's simple; we were an ordinary middle-class family.

My fascination was always clothes and films. I was a very bad student and I was not into sports. The only thing I liked was Hindi film and Bollywood film. I used to see one film twice or even five times. I know by heart what each actress or actor was wearing in a lot of 1970s films. I would read film magazines more than my school books. I used to hate Monday morning: Saturday was watching a film, Sunday I would watch another film, so Monday morning would be awful.

I think I loved film so much that, in return, it's given me everything. I've travelled the world because of movies. I've met some great friends, made my name, money, fame - everything. And clothes are something I've always been fascinated with. I used to paint and sketch well - that's how I passed my exams - and at college I did modelling, so basically I'm a student who knows nothing. If you asked me a science question I wouldn't know it at all.

When I came out of college in 1989, the design culture was just starting, and in Bombay there was no fashion course for men. But I'm not really a person who can sit at a desk. I'm restless, and a hands-on person. Theory is not what it's about for me. It's the method. I worked in a boutique for a year and I loved it. I was a sales boy but I took care of designing and talking to the clients. That was quite educational because I could ask the tailors how they cut and what they do.

In about 1990, there were big Bollywood movies but clothes were not really spoken about, so I thought to myself: "I don't have the money to go abroad and study fashion; I don't have the money to come up with collections; if I want to make a name, why don't I enter Bollywood? Even if I make just a 30 per cent change in the way things are I'll be able to make a name." At that time they were not used to a guy being a designer, but because I could sketch I got a lot of work. It was different then. Producers were not very good for designers. The cheques would bounce, nobody would relate a story to a costume designer, and I had to do styling, the hair, the make-up - before me no costume designer did that, because it was something nobody got extra money for.

I've always been associated with contemporary glamour. I feel like this old aunt who's called to dress up a young girl. But I'm happy with that because I like doing things that are casual but reflect the character. It's more difficult than with heavy clothes where embroidery takes over. I was the first costume designer in Bollywood to launch a label. Today, every mainstream Delhi designer who thought films were downmarket gets a Bollywood star to walk on the catwalk. It's been about five years since I had my own label. I think I'm quite a restless person. And since I'm self-taught, I can think out of the box. I'm someone who can't even be tied to my own office from nine to six. I have to move on.

For my own style, I go through phases. Sometimes I care about what I wear, and sometimes I get so engrossed in work that I put on weight and I don't care what I look like. Work takes its toll: I do costumes, I do bridal wear, I do so much. Colour excites me and that's what my brand has gone on to represent. Strangely, for menswear I don't like that much glitz. I think for a guy it's about his personality. I like more vintage or textured garments for a guy than shine. I also feel that because I'm a designer I don't have to have these harem pants or whatever. Recently I saw Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and they were wearing blue jeans, white shirts and black ties, and I thought that looked really cool. I think it's so important to be the person that you are. I don't need to be flashy. I like good things, though - my Prada kicks, my Vuitton bag. I work hard for it and I sit back and enjoy it all. But I don't want to be a wannabe. That's the worst thing anybody can be.

* Gemma Champ