Bespoke Bollywood

He has dressed the best of Hollywood and Bollywood. Manish Malhotra shares his look book for the leading ladies of tinsel town

Asmita Aggarwal

It was in the nineties when a young Manish Malhotra realised that if he wanted to make a transition from modelling to designing he had to have the resources to launch his own line. Not only that, it would also mean competing with well-established stalwarts like Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal and Abu-Sandeep. Manish took the road less travelled --- he decided to start costume designing for films, something none of the other designers had done.


Today 1,000 films and 23 years later Manish says it has been a journey well travelled, with many milestones achieved. There is no other designer who works with almost all the top leading ladies --- Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Sonam Kapoor to Deepika Padukone and even Alia Bhatt without anyone telling him not to work with the other. Manish is converting a vintage haveli in Mehrauli into the biggest ever-designer showroom in India. He has met and dressed Michael Jackson and Hollywood celebrities like Demi Moore, Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss and Reese Witherspoon. He is launching his nephew Puneet Malhotra and is finally getting accepted by couturiers as a true trailblazer especially for his efforts in contemporising and reviving the forgotten crafts --- Chikankari, Phulkari and Kashmiri embroidery.


“I try to keep away from politics and I never get into gossip sessions. I wake up early in the morning to start work --- designing for films, weddings, red carpet events, finalising two stores in Delhi and in Mumbai and trying to get three more going by the end of this year,” he says. For Manish, the biggest thing is sustainability, to be able to survive in an industry where many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside.


Rangeela starring Urmila Matondkar may have been the turning point in Manish’s career when Filmfare, for the first time, recognised a designer for his contribution to film costumes, but it was in 1989 that the Mumbai boy started his career in films with a costume designed for Juhi Chawla for a song in Swarg. “Ritu Kumar may have restored the Kareena’s wedding outfit, but she wore my creation for the Walima (marriage banquet). I prefer to do my work quietly. Karishma and Kareena, both enjoy my fits and trust me implicitly. I’ve been close to the girls for over 20 years now and our friendship has survived the test of time,” he adds.


Manish feels that Kareena wears her clothes with great panache. “She was the coolest bride ever --- no tantrums, no cold feet, she knows what looks good on her, and let me decide colours, cuts and fabrics for the D-Day. I feel my biggest achievement is that I can win people’s trust,” he smiles. And talking about trust Manish says he shares a special bond with Karan Johar as “I started working with Dharma Productions, even before he was in the fray, with his father Yash Johar. I value his friendship.”


Amongst the younger lot, Manish is delighted about working with Ranbir and Deepika Padukone in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, where he has dressed both stars. “They meet after eight years and the chemistry is captured on screen. The movie also showcase a lot of hiking gear as they go on these picturesque treks, but Deepika has such a phenomenal body that everything looks amazing on her. The sangeet sequence has some fun Indian wear, the colours are brighter --- I particularly liked the mulmul ghagra (long skirt made of muslin) I gave her with oxidised jewellery as well as the indigo blue sari that makes a great first impression,” he admits 


Moving beyond the Bollywood tag, retailing from Pernia’s pop up shop or dressing royalty in Riyadh, Manish has come into his own in the last three years, by collaborating with Mijwan, Shabana Azmi’s NGO and by giving old crafts a modern appeal and thus a new lease of life. “I’ve launched my nephew Puneet. I urged him to work with Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor in I Hate Luv Storys. And I am working with Kareena and Imran in Gori Tere Pyar Mein. So it feels good to keep the family together and see Puneet grow,” he smiles.


Hard work and single-mindedness have got Manish where he is today. “I simplified fashion, made it real, believable, now what film stars wear becomes a rage. In the end it is the trust factor that counts --- money, fame and power are all transient,” he concludes.

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