A Chat with Varun Bahl, Delhi

{Written after reassessing everything in my wardrobe in New Delhi}

Models draped in the finest of India’s Fall-Winter 2016 collection roamed through the elite gathering at the Taj Palace Hotel. Bollywood celebrities had graced the event the evening before to support their favorite designers, stirring all of fashionable Delhi’s interest in the Vogue haute couture event for the season. I was admiring the rich embroidery on an haute couture lehenga, when the girl next to me tapped my shoulder urgently and whispered, “I think the designer is standing behind you!”

And sure enough, there in the midst of the glittering stalls at the Vogue India Wedding Show 2016 was Varun Bahl serenely greeting fans and clients at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. A few weeks later, I was fortunate enough to interview one of India’s top designers, a true game changer in the fashion industry. Join our conversation to learn about Varun Bahl’s travel wish list, how he sees Italians as European Punjabis, and the inspiration behind his Couture 2016 Collection, “Vintage Garden,” along with so much more.

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Varun Bahl Couture at Vogue India Wedding 2016 (PC: VarunBahlCouture)

Varun: Thank you for having me on #nikitalyfe!

Nikita: Was there any moment where you just knew that fashion was it for you? You grew up in a house that exported clothing, but what fuels your passion to follow your dreams?

Varun: I think it’s my passion for fashion, and that’s pretty much it! It’s a dream I wanted to turn into reality. My passion drove me to get it done. I was born in 1976 and when I was in my teens, the first lot of Indian designers were getting talked about. One day I was lucky enough to meet Rohit Bal and that was a turning point for me. It was one of those moments where I just thought, “This is who I want to be.”

Nikita: What was it about meeting Rohit Bal that changed things for you?

Varun: He was the top most designer: he was just all over the press – just absolutely amazing at his craft! He was basically everything that I wanted to be.

Nikita: So then after that you went to study at NIFT; what did you specialize in there?

Varun: Yes, I actually specialized in hand-embroidery, crafts, and colors with fairly simpler cuts. I go for a balanced look. Menswear is a part of what I do, but I focus on women’s wear.

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“Song of the Flower” Varun Bahl Amazon India Couture Show 2015 (PC: The Maharani Diaries)

 

Nikita: If you had to choose between menswear and women’s wear, which would you pick?

Varun: I think menswear is more challenging, because men are very restrictive in their ways of dressing. Women’s wear allows your imagination to go wild. But at the same time you have to still keep it wearable; I don’t think there’s any point in creating something that nobody wears.

Nikita: What do you think inspires your design creations? You make such beautiful things for women!

Varun: Thank you! I think inspiration changes from time to time, but for the last few years it’s been predominantly nature. Currently it’s flowers. The latest season’s collection is Vintage Garden. I think my whole brand is being based around florals and unique ways of putting together colors at the moment.

 

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Mumbai Trunk Show Poster (PC: VarunBahlCouture) Aug 2016

Nikita: What would the ideal woman wearing your designs be like?

Varun: I think she’s definitely someone who knows quality, she’s very fashionable, believes in equality, and has a discerning eye. She is a very well travelled woman. She is traditional in her own way.

Nikita: You often say that about your look: that you want to take tradition and put a spin on it.

Varun: Yes, what I do is modern vintage clothing: a lot of modern silhouettes with a lot of vintage details that are relevant today.

Nikita: What is it about vintage fashion that peaks your interest?

Varun: Old is Gold. Everyone derives inspiration from the past. There’s nothing in fashion that hasn’t happened already. It’s all about new permutations and combinations that you bring together in your own unique way.

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Varun Bahl’s Muse, Pernia Qureshi in a Vintage Garden design (PC: VarunBahlCouture)

Nikita: You’ve worked with so many people who are iconic in the fashion and film industry. Is there anyone who was particularly memorable to work or interact with?

Varun: They’re all very interesting to work with in their own different ways – all very creative people. Though we didn’t really work together I would say my interaction the late Isabella Blow was quite amazing…there was a growing friendship there but unfortunately she passed. I also had a brand with Karan Johar for menswear, which was a very nice experience to work on.

Nikita: Is that collaborative brand still ongoing?

Varun: No it’s not, some things are just meant to be for a short while. But everyone’s been amazing to work with in the industry.

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Karan Johar+Varun Bahl Show at Couture Week 2010 with Amitabh Bachchan and Hritik Roshan. (PC: bharatstudent.com)

Nikita: I believe that you’ve also an online couture store? Do you see that as a mass commercialization of high fashion?

Varun: No, not really. I’ve got a prêt line and couture collection available online, which are the same prices as they are in store. The thing is that online has made the world such a smaller place to live. If I make something here in India, but someone in London or New York wants a bridal outfit, they should still be able to have access it even if I don’t have it available in store there.

Nikita: You’re a big believer in bringing and incorporating luxury to everyday. There are some people out there who believe that high-end fashion should be kept as exclusive as possible, on the couture ramp for example.

Varun: Bringing luxury to a daily life is basically just doing prêt with couture level detail. Why not bring it into the everyday? Couture should be available to people over the world.

 

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“Rose Bloom” Vintage Garden 2016 (PC: VarunBahlCouture)

Nikita: Apart from nature is there anything that really grabs your attention?

Varun: Nature has so much to offer, and of course I love travelling. There are so many details you can pick up from travelling to even just different parts of [India], that you can only notice about a culture while travelling. Those are all things that you can incorporate into your designs. You mix and match, then mix again, and you come up with something really unique.

Nikita: I believe you used to be very interested in Italy at one point?

Varun: Oh Italy! I think they’re European Indians – European Punjabis, really: they’re loud, they’re colorful, and they love enjoying life. Their attention to detail is unparalleled and their fashion is known world over. I’ve sold my ideas for designs to so many brands and that’s how I had started as an embroidery designer. I used to sell my embroidery ideas to the biggest French and Italian fashion houses. Going to Italy feels like home when I go there: everyone’s loud and having fun. They get angry and then happy again in a minute. They’re just like Indians.

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Model walks the ramp in the Vintage Garden Collection (PC: VarunBahlCouture)

Nikita: So what about dreams for the future?

Varun: There’s so much in store! I’ve got the new wedding company; I also really want to get into designing spaces seriously. I want to travel to nice new places provided a get a break from this hectic schedule. I haven’t been to the eastern part of the world – I’ve done the west extensively – but not much of the Far East.

Nikita: What would be your top three on a travel destination wish list?

Varun: I want to do New Zealand, Australia…Can you believe it: I’ve never even been to Turkey? So Turkey too.

Nikita: How did you get interested in interior designing?

Varun: Well, I think it’s an obvious next step for a fashion designer. I’ve done a couple of projects; they’re very interesting to do, but a bit lengthy…very patience testing [he laughs]. But either ways, it’s nice to see how what you can do with your wardrobe transfers onto your walls and couches.

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Varun Bahl’s “Vintage Garden” Couture Show 2016 (PC: VarunBahlCouture)

Nikita: Are you very house-proud?

Varun: Of-course I’m very house-proud! But right now what my house needs is extensive refurbishments, which I’ll be doing myself soon.

Nikita: And you’d continue with your couture and prêt lines along with interior designing simultaneously?

Varun: Oh yes! Those aren’t going anywhere. These are just added things on my to do list. I’m also working on the interior of a restaurant in London at the moment. That should open by the end of 2016.

Nikita: That’s a lot!

Varun: I like to keep busy. I don’t like sitting idle…I like deadlines [he laughs]

 

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Varun Bahl FDCI Show 2013

Nikita: So in the next five years we can see the Varun Bahl brand in our clothes, our homes, and our weddings! How about movies? Would you ever style an entire film?

Varun: I do clothes for Bollywood actors and actresses in their personal lives, and sometimes my clothes show up in films but no, I haven’t styled a full film yet. I’m not saying that I won’t, I just haven’t done it.

Nikita: How do think you influence the world of fashion?

Varun: Oh! I was in the GRAZIA India’s list of 100 of Most Influential in Fashion [he chuckles]. I think I spread quality and attention to details, to bring lightness to an outfit…I bring balance to a look.

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Varun Bahl on the July 2016 GRAZIA India Magazine

Nikita: You also brought in some very daring colors into the bridal palette in India

Varun: Yes, I brought in ivory, black, sage green, and duck-egg blue and midnight. Those are all very daring steps taken by me.

Nikita: How did you feel these were received? I’m especially curious about the black.

Varun: Black did fairly well actually! My whole point was to show the world that couture in India is perceived as bridal wear, and what I wanted to say was that bridal wear is part of couture – it’s not the only thing. That’s why I dedicated one of my shows to the color black, and that shocked people. Fashion is also about shocking people from time to time.

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Varun Bahl at his fashion show in 2013

Nikita: So do you enjoy taking risks?

Varun: Yes, from time to time [he chuckles]. It depends on my mood.

Nikita: And what’s your mood these days?

Varun: I think the mood hasn’t set in yet! It hasn’t even been a month since my annual couture show.

We concluded our interview as Varun Bahl kindly walked me to my car. But though my time with the impressive designer had come to a close as I drove out of the sweeping driveway, I found that my enchantment with his creations was only just beginning. Every glimpse at the detailed work on his Vintage Garden 2016 Couture Collection is a testament to his passion for fashion. It’s no surprise why countless Bollywood celebrities and brides vie to be a part of Varun Bahl’s movement as he takes the modern vintage silhouette to new levels of elegant drama.

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Yours Truly with Varun Bahl at the Vogue Wedding Show 2016

 

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Varun Bahl comes out for a bow at the end of his “Vintage Garden” fashion show 2016

 

 

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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