Masaba Gupta Curated
Indian Fashion Designer
CURATED BY :
What do you have to say after being the brand ambassador of ITM Institute of design and media?
How do you keep the artist in you alive?
How are you going to convey the message to the young minds as a mentor in ITM?
Does your Mother play a vital role in building up your career as a designer?
Who according to you is the best dressed personality in Bollywood?
What do you have to say about your designs for Game of Thrones?
What made you do the collaboration with GOT?
How did you feel while working for GOT?
After studying music in London, what was the turning point in your life that made you decide to study fashion from SNDT University?
The topmost thing was I always wanted to be a singer. I studied music in London. I also learnt dance and lots of other creative stuff. But after coming back to India, I didn’t want to do singing any more and the only course open at that time was Fashion. So I literally enrolled because I had nothing to do.
At 19 years of age, you presented your first collection ‘Kattran’ at India’s most prestigious Fashion show – Lakme Fashion Week in 2009. How did you get that opportunity?
It happened because, I remember, I was showing my line in my college graduation show and my mentor was Wendell Rodricks. After seeing my collection, he told me that I am ready to take the next step and should apply for Lakme Fashion week. At that time, auditions for Lakme Fashion week were open and I had a feeling that I should apply. I applied the same collection which I showed at my graduation show and I was in the second year of my college at that time.
Tell me more about your ‘Kattran’ collection?
I liked patch works and Kattran means scraps of fabrics. So I collected all the scraps of different fabrics to cover the cost of unused fabrics and wanted to make my line cheaper.
How did you decide to start your own label at such a tender age of 20 without having any entrepreneurship knowledge?
It was a very natural progression. I don’t think I have ever given a thought because the way my line was displayed at the Lakme fashion week and looking at the number of people and buyers having interest in it, I think that it was something very expected of someone who likes to do things when they are red hot. I like to do things at the right time when they work most. So I started my label at home. I didn’t have set-up then and that’s how it all started.
Unlike the ethnic/bridal wears of other Indian designers, you are known for your unconventional prints and silhouettes and being fearless to experiment, defining the new persona of a modern Indian woman. Where did you get the inspiration for your designs?
I focus on doing variable clothing lines catering masses as well as classes. Unlike 10 years back, designer ethnic bridal wears used to be very expensive in India but now Indians want value for their money. Few of them have tight pockets and budgets for spending on bridal/ethnic wears. I try to provide affordable clothing line that ranges between Rs. 5,000 – Rs. 30,000 (approx. 75 USD – 450 USD) for all budgets so that everyone can wear my label.
How do you select the materials you use?
It’s an organic process. We do silk and cotton. It depends on which kind of fabrics work for which printing technique. We do focus on that.
How would you benchmark Indian fashion industry globally?
I don’t think that the world has realized the potential of India yet as a fashion destination. But we would emerge among the top five players in terms of buying power in the upcoming years. Whatever the impression of India about fashion in the world was, it has moved far ahead. Thanks to the internet, it is prudent to know what is happening globally in the fashion industry and world leaders in fashion need to understand the importance of India, not just as a manufacturing market but also as a buying market. If you want value for money, India is the place.
Tell us about your few favorite projects that you did?
I designed the line of shower gels for Fiama Di Wills, which was my first time in Product designing. Secondly, I started the line for kids wear which is something very close to my heart. It is something which I am really good at and enjoyed doing it.
What is your favorite part about being a fashion designer?
The fact that I am my own boss and you get to sell whatever you put your name on.
How do you keep work life balance in your life?
I think that it comes naturally to me. I don’t have a problem in maintaining work life balance. I am someone who comes home and knows when I have to switch-off my mobile and when to switch it on and do my work. So I am very balanced at that. I don’t take on more than I could do.
How supportive is your husband and his family in your career?
My mom is amazing and she is very active in my business. She takes care of my accounts when am designing. My husband is more of a silent adviser. He is someone who always pushes me to do things. He is a good motivating factor when ever I am feeling low.
Do you have stores in the United States?
No, but we have recently signed up with a design hub in North America which is ‘House of Sonia’ and they will be exclusively retailing our saris and designs in North America.
Who are your favorite designers?
I am a huge fan of Karl Larson and I am a huge fan of Stella McCartney. I like Anamika Khanna back in India.
What advice will you give to young girls and boys who want to pursue their career in Fashion Designing?
There is no trial and tested formula. Some people work so hard but they lack talent and some people who have talent but don’t work so hard. It is important to be fresh and have a signature style and then do the rest.
Half your collection from the very recent one was sold out in a couple of hours! How did you feel?
Last time also we did well, but this is phenomenal! I did not expect to be sold out so soon because I haven’t got as specific pieces as everybody else. It’s kurtas which you can wear to a cards party or Diwali, but it’s good.
Calcutta really loves Masaba Gupta. Don’t you feel so?
Yeah! It looks like it. There were people who had especially come for me. That is a big deal.
When will you open a store in Kolkata?
Soon! Now that I have seen the response, soon. I’d probably have to get a franchise. For me, Bombay and Delhi are where I have my own people and my workshop. Calcutta is totally new. There are people interested in collaborating with me and opening a store.
How is Calcutta different from other cities?
In fact the funny thing is when I started to design, everyone thought that I was Bengali because if you see the prints that I do… the eyes that resemble Durga Ma’s eyes, the colour combinations.... I love white, red and gold. Obviously, everyone thought that I was probably on the lines of a Sabya (Sabyasachi Mukherjee) or Anamika (Khanna)… all those who are Calcutta-born and brought-up. I think Bengali women have the most eclectic sense of dressing... the way they wear their saris, the drape and the colours. The red-bordered sari… I think it is beautiful. Every bride should wear that. I also like the way they do their make-up or the way they carry themselves... it is something very surreal. And no other city has it. Bombay is not up there when it comes to dressing up. It is very brand-conscious. Delhi has a certain pocket which dresses very classy. Calcutta has its signature. They understand Indian textiles and weaves. I noticed a lot about Bengali culture when I worked on a Bengali film, my first film as a stylist, Bhorer Alo (directed by Prabhat Roy). We did the traditional Bengali saris and dhotis.
Calcutta does seep into your collection . Why so?
At a subconscious level… I was probably Bong in my last birth! If you’ve noticed, even my mother (Neena Gupta) has that. The way she wears her clothes, there is a strong influence… maybe it’s the hair. I haven’t had the chance to go around Calcutta, but I will go to Anamika’s store because I love her work. I also want to see Kallol’s (Datta) workshop.
Only four years in the industry and you’ve made a mark. How does it feel?
I honestly don’t feel that. I know that I have made my mark in the sense that people are really copying my work all over the country and it is making me sick! Today somebody walked in wearing my fake! In that sense, I have arrived. But there is so much more to achieve in terms of versatility. Right now, it is all about the prints, the colour and the ikat. It needs to move forward, of course keeping the signature.
Fashion was your third career choice. Why so? You are so good at creating .
10th! (Laughs) I wanted to be anything but a designer. I was not willing to enrol into fashion school. It is just because that was the last resort and there was nothing else, I had to do it! There was music, there was dance, tennis and even acting at one point. And then there was a point when I just wanted to study.
You wanted to design a bridal line too. So when are you heading to do that?
I have come to the conclusion that I cannot do bridal line because I cannot stand what half the brides in India wear. They cannot even walk in it! So, I want to do trousseau and if I ever do bridal, it will be my style. Obviously, if it is a Sabyasachi lehnga, then it is worth even 10kg! I don’t understand intricate embroidery. I have grown up seeing prints, Kanjeevarams and kantha saris.
You’ve had an unconventional upbringing, haven’t you? Did it anyhow help your career?
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 , but it gave me the right balance I needed in terms of ethics and creativity.
Was fashion something you always wanted to pursue?
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.
You had a rocky start. Tell us how you coped up.
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.
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?
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.
Colour and bold design have become your signature. How does it come through in your new collection?
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.
Who is your ideal person to design for?
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!
You’ve proved yourself to be a strong and successful entrepreneur. What’s your advice to young people starting their own businesses?
Learn to say no. It’s important to stick to your guns and build your brand by choosing your opportunities carefully.
Your strong convictions appear to extend to social media too—you seem unafraid to go beyond the glamorous and get real out there.
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.
I 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?
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.
What are your plans for the future?
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.
You are a talented designer. Has your mother contributed actively in honing this skill in you?
When my mother was younger, she developed this unique way of dressing up. She would go around picking stuff from a bunch of stores, and then mix and match and change things around. She would add a patch on something, or a border... Whatever it was, she would never wear a garment the way it looked when she bought it. I think watching her do this, living with it, became a part of my design aesthetic. It it only natural. I too use the kind of organic fabrics she prefers and cottons and silks. If she had worn a lot of synthetics and bling, maybe I would have also only used that in my work.
Inspite of not having a formal education in fashion designing, how was it possible for your mother to guide you through ?
Fashion was a big part of her life. It de-stressed her to design her own clothes, create cuts for her blouses. She did it secretly, in the privacy of her own home, for herself. She never wielded a sewing machine, though I am told my grandmother did. But she told me that she would buy fabric and get her bell b0ttoms and tops stitched at a tailor's, so they would be different from off the rack stuff.
Did your mother convince you to be a designer?
No...she believes in letting one find one's way, learning from one's mistakes. Her own life has been led that way, and she thinks if it has worked for her, I should also be allowed to make my choices. I wanted to be in the limelight, to take shortcuts to get there. I think she might have worried over this, but she gave me rein. But when we were going to Anupam Kher's school to register... SNDT which is next door had this big board saying admissions open. Mom pressed on me at that moment, said why not take a chance? I agreed, we took a turn into SNDT, and two days later I sent in my form just before entrance closed.
Did your mother play a role in shaping your career as a designer?
To cut a long story short, yes, and no. I hated SNDT, once in the course, I was stuck, could do nothing individual, only toe the line. In my second year, my collection was noticed by Anil Chopra and Wendell, my mentor, who suggested I apply for Lakme Fashion Week. My mother was not quite so sure. She said should you not get your degree, finish what you began, before taking a jump? You have tried so many things and are leaving them all unfinished. Her way is to methodically complete everything she undertakes. She consulted Wendell, who said, Don't let her intern with anyone, she will lose the style she has. I think Mom, with her own individual sense of style, understood that. And I realised that now I had to prove myself. I worked really, really hard for Fashion Week. It made her glad to see me finally working hard.
How did your instant success at Fashion Week affect your mother?
She was of course very happy...orders started pouring in. Then she panicked. For her, an Aza placing an order for my clothes was HUGE! She shopped there herself! And suddenly she realised that she was not prepared for this. And I was not either! It was a tough time for us. She told me, you know nothing about pricing, you don't know the drill. She took things in hand. We took each day as it came, Mom set about looking for cutters, for a work space. We suffered a lot, she spent sleepless nights worrying, working, ensuring we met the deadlines. We would have to send 30 outfits to one store. It sounded very grand, but we soon realised that the outfits were on consignment, and when they were returned, we had very little earned from the exercise except a lot of dead stock. But Mom was a manager par excellence. Though she had no experience of the fashion world, she set up the unit for me, managed the workers, the financials.
How do your parents influence you in your career now?
Dad helps with advice. He has had a big role to play in my success. And Mom is always there with support, real and emotional. I learnt from her not to do things that are not natural to me. In her career she stopped acting because television serials went in a direction that she saw herself not part of, she said I don't want to go there, better not to compromise. The same way, when people tell me the real money is in bridal, why am I doing pret, I don't hear it. I know bridal is not my style, I don't want to go there. And Mom and Dad do discuss me, I know that, and sometimes her advice for me is guided by her conversations with Dad.
When you were first time collaborating with an online portal, What drew you to Stylista?
Anjana Sharma (COO and Fashion Director, Stylista) is a good friend and she told me about this concept a while back. I thought that it’s really interesting that somebody is taking some initiative to make designer wear affordable but still not tamper with the quality. I loved the whole idea and the fact that they are producing the garments as well is perfect. And they have a great team to work with.
Who do you see wearing the ranges you create?
I see a lot of college going girls and teenagers wearing it – not just because of the pricing but also on account of the way the prints and colour blocking has been done. But apart from these young girls, I also see a lot of middle-aged women as well as working women wearing the garments particularly the shirtdresses and the kurtas, which go well with leggings.
You’re showing at the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) that starts soon. Trends you predict?
A lot of quirky prints and since it’s festive wear; I think we will see bridalwear becoming less heavy and instead, see more emphasis on beautifully- cut clothes rather than embellishments. It will be more sober and more classic. Given that neon is on its way out, I think we will see more pastels. Lastly, about 10 years ago, we never saw such heavy Ready-to-Wear lines on the runway. It was mainly opulent clothes and eveningwear. Now we see basic clothes from shirts to shorts – regular wear – which I think is amazing. And this trend will continue this year.
You’re opening the LFW this season along with Amit Aggarwal. Tell us a bit about your collection.
My collection is called ‘Wanderess’ and it’s based on Roman Payne’s novel, The Wanderess(about the notorious adventurer Saul and his passion for a mysterious young orphan girl). The beautiful Saskia from Payne’s work is whom the collection is centered around. It’s about this free-spirited woman and she’s a gypsy at heart who loves to travel the world, food and exploring and has a beautiful, free mind. It has a Mediterranean feel and it’s like a travellers curated collection as it’s something you can wear in any part of the world. It’s got a bit of a 60s influence as well in terms of the silhouettes and the cuts so you see a lot of bell bottoms, a muted palette with beige, white and black.
What is your take on e-commerce in India?
It’s the future of Indian retail. Physical stores, in this day and age, are really expensive to manage and they are high maintenance. Everything is already online and people are buying online but I do also feel that it’s a phase because at the end of the day, people want to touch and feel clothes. As with everything in fashion, it’s a cycle. You don’t have any one thing that always works or that doesn’t work. For me personally, I’m going to be collaborating with online portals but at the same time, I do think that it’s very important to have a physical store and to meet your customers. I think it has to be a bit of both – you have to have a balance.
You’ve already worked with Satya Paul as fashion director for the brand. Is there an international designer you would like to collaborate with now?
Chanel – I’d love to work with Karl Lagerfeld!
A fail-safe item you think every girl should have in her closet?
A really nice swimsuit. I feel that most Indian girls rarely invest in swimsuits, as they are too shy to wear one. But everyone should have one a designer one that’s beautifully cut and complements your body type. I personally wear Shivan & Narresh as I love their work. Internationally, I think Dolce & Gabbana and Topshop do really fun ones.
What is the best fashion tip you’ve been given?
Rather than a tip, there’s a quote I love by Chanel where she says, "Fashion is made to become unfashionable." Basically, whatever you make will one day go out of fashion, so go ahead and make it anyway – and that’s what I follow.
One piece of clothing/jewellery you’d like to borrow from your mum’s closet?
She has these antique dupattas and these lovely hand-embroidered pieces from Bhopal, Gujarat and wherever she travels that she has patched onto blouses. They’d make for a nice fusion ensemble. I like pencil skirts so I’d use the pieces to make a pretty patchwork pencil skirt.
You’ve experimented so much with saris with fun prints and adding pockets to them. Is there anything more you’d like to either do yourself or see someone else do to a sari?
I want someone to eradicate the pleats as they keep opening out. I was at a wedding once where someone came upto me and pointed out that my whole sari was behind me and I was happily walking around in my petticoat as I had no idea. But jokes apart, I think the sari should be worn in its traditional, conventional way and I don’t think people should tamper with it. I would only like it if someone found a way to make it less bulky and instead, sleeker. It’s complicated because if you’re heavier and you wear a thin one, it clings to your body while a stiff one makes you look like a bag. I think the key is to be able to make it less hectic as a silhouette. I prefer satin, crepe and chiffon for saris over organza or cotton.
Is there any other item of Indian clothing you’d like to experiment with?
I love the dhoti and think it’s so dynamic. You can make dresses, jumpsuits or even wear it with a t-shirt. It can be festive, casual and cut in so many different ways. I’m doing something with them in my LFW collection too. Anamika Khanna does some brilliant work with them.
You’re known for your funky prints. Is there any Indian embroidery/weave you plan on working with?
I actually started my career working with ikat. I love woven fabric and am in the process of working with the weavers of Banaras.
One designer item you’d advise every teenage girls to save up and buy from your collection?
A sari as you can wear it as it is or even later, turn it into a kurta or even a crop top. Basically, you can use it in so many different ways.
Do you feel time playing any role in your success?
First, it’s the pricing which has really clicked and I made my debut at a time when there was a need for a fresher and younger take on fashion. Maybe if I would have done it 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have been as big a rage as it is today. Earlier people were far less experimental when it came to fashion. Prêt was never a concept but times have changed.
How do you feel when you see your designs being copied?
I used to feel bad earlier but then I read a quote by Sabyasachi: ‘The power of a brand lies in the strength of its copy market’. If people think you are a mediocre designer, they’ll never copy your work. The copies have made my brand stronger in reality. We really wondered that sales would suffer but they really shot up because people could tell the difference.
The youngest director of Satya Paul. How do you feel? Weren’t you scared?
I was really nervous initially till my second show – the demi-couture show. The first show was a huge success and I didn’t know I could keep up. I have never been the kind to sit and think that ‘Satya Paul is a 28-year-old brand and I’m only 25’. My image of the brand was of the young Satya Paul which made beautiful fun saris of the 90s which I saw my mother and her friends buy. I decided to go back to the brand’s history. Once we dug it all out, we decided this is all we need to do but with a new, revised energy
How much has the success of Satya Paul helped your personal brand?
I feel I have become a much more mature person because it is a corporate structure and you have investors to please. I learnt to be a people’s person. Earlier I used to be very selfish. With my brand I am still like that. It is like an internship for me.