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The Masaba way

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Designer Masaba Gupta finds inspiration in everything: from a table fan to a table tennis table

A flair for innovation and a design sensibility rooted in Indian ethos define Masaba

Gupta.

When big players were busy rooting for bridal wear and writing esoteric press releases, she refused to join the bandwagon; she kept her creations simple and functional, yet with a twist. Her aim was to conquer the untapped Indian market that wants designer-wear at an affordable price

“When I made my debut,” she says, “easy-to-wear garments were not easily found in fashion-wear. The focus was on bridal wear and couture. No one showed a simple kurta on the ramp. Everybody had started to look the same. I brought some freshness with colours and prints and that’s what really made the difference.”

Path to success

Gupta emerged as a promising designer at 19, and by 26 she was a fashion director at the designer label Satya Paul. Among the first to notice her talent was Wendell Rodricks.

Rodricks, Gupta says, “is also very minimalistic. I asked him if there was a market for such things and he said there was. He mentored me in a way that he said, ‘Do what you want to do and not what the trend dictates. If the trend says bridal, and you are not good at it, you are anyway going to fail.’”

She calls her eponymous label a bridge to the luxury segment; a diffusion line that is both affordable and high fashion. “It is not street fashion. It is something you pick from the runway and wear on a daily basis.”

For years, she says, there was no link between what many designers showed on the ramp and what they displayed in their stores. “Now the trend has changed because they have realised that people who are coming to watch the show are the people who are buying. They better aspire to wear the clothes shown on the runway, otherwise there is no business. For me fashion is not art, it is commerce.”

So is Gupta going the Anita Dongre way?

“No, I want to make my own path. But if you want me to pick one inspiration, it would be Anamika Khanna.”

As to other inspirations, Gupta says she doesn’t borrow from the outside world. “It could be as simple as salt-and-pepper holders, table mats, vintage music system or some poetry. I keep track of mundane objects in and around the house like a camera, table fan and even cow and engineer them into a print. I want to see people in a different light.”

Citing the palm prints that worked well for her designs, she says they came from her own experience. “My mother used to take the imprints of my hand and put them on the wall. I grew up seeing them and it became part of my aesthetics. It is my daily life. The TV shows I watch reflect in my work.”

Quirky design

It is hard to fathom how Tamil script or a table tennis table with racquets would make it to an outfit, but Gupta makes it all look effortless. She says the challenge lies in making the mundane not only quirky but also functional. One remembers how she made chillies stand out in her saris. Gupta ranks her pocket saris as the wackiest yet most functional idea so far. “I was worried but it was well-accepted. For years, women had to worry about the bag!”

An avid traveller, Gupta is a firm believer in the need for the eye has to travel. She says, “I have experienced a lot of Africa, the Caribbean islands and Greece, and have unconsciously picked elements from all these places. In the Masai Mara, I noticed the way the dark skin of the natives look against all those bright colours is amazing, and married the idea to Indian khadi print.”

Branding design

After injecting new life in Satya Paul, Gupta has become the go-to designer for brands that want to reinvent themselves. She has worked with brands like Tata Nano, Budweiser and Fiama Di Wills. “For me it is an opportunity to prevent myself from falling into a rut. And for them, it is a burst of freshness that every brand needs. It has helped me in taking my fashion aesthetic to a larger audience.”

She would also like to work on a larger scale with civic authorities. “In Mumbai, Bollywood could be an interesting metaphor in public places. There are pockets like Lower Parel where graffiti has been used to good effect, but it’s time governments take designers seriously. They look at fashion as a very privileged business.”

Parental legacies

Gupta talks freely about what she’s inherited from her famous parents.

She credits her mother, actor Neena Gupta’s sense of saris for the way it is an intrinsic part of her. About her cricket legend father Vivian Richards, she says, “My father has a great sense for colour. He is very good at matching colours without looking garish.”

Gupta sounds relieved that inquisitive folks no longer ask her about the relationship between her parents. “The only concern [I would get] was how much interest people had in my upbringing. Even today people ask me [about it]. On second thought, I don’t think it will ever get over. It is very interesting how people perceive you. In their head many people [thought] that I had a terrible childhood. I had to reassure that it was perfectly normal. For 27 years, they remained interested in my personal life, let’s see what do they ask in the next five years,” says Gupta, who married film producer Madhu Mantena last year.

The way forward

Gupta says ‘athlesiure’ or sports wear used as daily wear is in demand and that’s why apart from a lingerie line, she is launching a sportswear brand next year. “Also, collections inspired by TV shows likeGame of Thrones,VampireandHouse of Cardsare the next big wave, I think.”

Favourite colours

“I like to work with black and white, but my all-time favourite is hot pink. It is not the Barbie pink, but a bolder shade.”

Body conscious

“Indian women are accepting their bodies as they are. The whole size zero phase has passed. People prefer to be healthy [rather] than thin.”

Mass appeal

“The online business in not for anybody who sees it as a means to reach out to numbers. I don’t have it in me to do a bridal line, it is the same endgame. So you go into the massy space only if you truly understand what the masses want.”

I brought some freshness with colours and prints and that’s what really made the difference. If you want me to pick one inspiration, it would be Anamika Khanna