India’s master of fabric and fantasy, Rohit Bal, talks about breaking conventional barriers

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Known as India’s master of fabric and fantasy, designer Rohit Bal showcased his first-ever line of traditional wear for men in 1990.At that time, being a designer in India meant having to battle myriad stereotypes and taboos. It’s been an interesting two decades of witnessing paradigm changes in the attitude towards the industry and being an instrumental part of the evolution itself. Rohit Bal speaks on his unique journey and much more with Trendspotters.TV. Here are the excerpts:

Rohit Bal: The biggest challenge was really to create a market with an Indian label, with an Indian designer label in India and it didn’t exist at that time. So basically, it was extremely difficult to break into this kind of market which we had to create ourselves as designers. We had to market the concept in Indian fashion and Indian designer labels. It was a very glamorous industry that some people in India were not used to so we had to actually break through a lot of barriers to actually, you know, give value to what we were doing. It was something that people thought was just not really a profession. It wasn’t something that would get you either money or fame or you know… success. So it was something that was looked down upon by people. We do live in a very conservative society.

Having spent more than 23 years in the fashion fraternity, Rohit reveals what he feels are the quintessential qualities one must have to become a successful designer in the country today. Talent alone, he confesses, is not the only criterion.

Rohit Bal

Rohit Bal: To be able to succeed as a designer, you’ve got to have the whole package around you. The first and foremost is you’ve got to have a certain amount of talent, the more the better. If you’re hugely talented, it’s better but if you don’t have the ability or the know-how to sort of market that talent then it’s of no use… If you are lucky enough to have a business partner, it’s great. Otherwise, you’d have to do your own business. You’ve got to be a designer, you got to be an entrepreneur, businessman, marketing person, a PR person. You’ve got to be able to talk well, present yourself to people, look good to people. It’s a never ending list of things. It’s essential for you to have all these qualities if you really want to make a mark.

And having made an indelible mark in India’s fashion industry, Rohit admits that the trend of roping in celebrity showstoppers is detrimental, not only for the collection, but also the designer. He is, however, quick to point out that most of the fashion shows are sponsored by corporate houses and designers have to give in to their demands of roping in a celebrity.

Rohit Bal: It certainly certainly takes away from all the designers’ effort and hard work. No one really thinks about the collection and no one remembers anyone else. The only thing that is remembered is the showstopper. The press writes about the showstopper. The only picture they see are of the showstopper. So, on the one hand, it takes everything you’ve done as a designer, on the other hand it also gives in a huge essence and huge degree of drama and glamour of everything, a fantasy, a beauty. It makes people feel that if you have a showstopper of a certain calibre, then you yourself are the designer of a certain calibre. But doing a show, even at the level of fashion week, it’s just one of those things that have become synonymous with the show. If you don’t have a showstopper, it has started disappointing people… As far as I am concerned, in my show, my clothes should be the showstopper. The garments should be the showstoppers. I should be the showstopper which I mostly am!

Rohit Bal fabric and fantasy
When asked about his personal style and preferences this is what the designer had to say:

Rohit Bal: If I had my way I’d only use Mulmul and Khadi and nothing else and I’d only use ivory or ecru. I won’t even use a colour. On the other hand, there are certain elements in my clothes, in my collections and in my shows but are super dramatic very larger-than-life, very opulent, which is really not a part of me to be honest. I am very simple and very grounded but deep down inside somewhere, yes, that must be there because otherwise it won’t come out in the shows that I do. So I think there is a bit of this and a bit of that but mostly simplicity which is yes exactly what I am!

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