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A CONVERSATION WITH NEETA LULLA

— JASMEEN DUGAL

The story of how Neeta Lulla became one of the most recognisable in Fashion is folklore of sorts. She is one of the few designers who has come full circle… from design student to costuming and couture to launching a fashion institute to give back to the business. Soft spoken and humble, the designer has won National Awards for films 'Lamhe', 'Devdas' and 'Jodha Akbar’ and carved a niche in Hollywood with 'One Night with the King' and 'Mistress of Spices’. She is in demand with brides after dressing Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for her wedding and made headlines for setting up Whistling Woods Neeta Lulla School of Fashion. In conversation with Neeta Lulla on her belief in sustainable fashion and the importance of staying on a learning curve.

 

As Fashion grapples with its status as one of the most polluting industries, I ask Neeta Lulla how it feels to hear people suddenly talking about longevity of design. Can fashion keep its cool… and help save the planet? ''I am aligned,'' she explains. ''We are all trying to find solutions, trying to provide something that is sustainable. It’s important that we become the leaders of change. In the past we fought for all sorts of causes. Now we have to fight for sustainability. It is the need of the hour considering so much fabric is wasted, so much of polyester and plastic is being involved. It is our moral responsibility to ourselves and to our future generations to cut down on the pollution we are creating through mills and the use of chemicals. However, it is not a simple task! It is easy to tell a designer to pick a sustainable fabric and use it to create garments but what about the different aspects of construction and using labor instead of machines? All of this comes into play. My advice — begin by using different techniques which involve labor instead of machines; create a better ambiance for them, guide them, educate them. It will go a long way towards sustainability…’’

 

I love the thrill of shopping but I care about the planet too. Where do I begin, I wonder? ''Be it charity or responsibility, it always begins at home. Try new things and get into the zone of sustainability! Buy less and choose quality ensembles that are made as ethically as possible. To build an ethical wardrobe, focus on looks that work from morning to evening even if it means buying coordinated garments. Rebuild your wardrobe with existing garments by adding accessories that make it look new and fresh. People who want to be more sustainable should make clothes last as long as possible by learning to mend them. Or take clothes and sarees from elders wardrobes and style it differently. What this gives you is a style that is personal to your sensibilities and a completely new look! At the same time you are creating a wardrobe that works with the format of sustainability!''

 

So, is there a difference between the Indian market and the rest of the world when it comes to the acceptance of sustainability? ''I think the entire world is waking up to the fact that sustainability is most important today considering that everything we discard — even a T-shirt — takes at least a hundred years to disintegrate! Polyesters and certain chemicals create pollution in the waters and in the atmosphere. This is why it's so important for designers to look at how we can create a sustainable philosophy in our production. The world is waking up and talking about sustainable fabric and work culture and rights for labourers, to create a better work environment, and Indians are at par. I look at a sustainable format of fashion catching speed. I think of creating a heritage of Indian fabrics and weaves. I think we should be able to imbibe our heritage and culture into our garments and create a landmark within the global fashion industry. That is something that we can sustain and bring to life again.''

 

Though haute couture is beyond the budget of most consumers, the underlying principle — replace seasonal binge-shopping with ensembles that express care — is the same. Yet, it is about creativity and self-expression, and that is more challenging and rewarding. ''Change is at the forefront; the future of haute couture and bespoke is also on the rise because people are looking at bespoke bridal and occasion wear… they want an ensemble that nobody else has! This involves intricate detailing in terms of made-to-measure and made-to-fit; considering the kind of fit and hand detailing people aspire for, couture and bespoke is the way forward as it involves a lot of work in each aspect of construction be it fabric, finish, cut, embellishment or embroidery. Personally, the challenges involved give me an adrenaline rush because I'm pushing my boundaries of knowledge, of technicality, of garment construction beyond what I know and beyond what I've done so far. For me, this creates not only a challenge but a beautiful learning experience!''

 

Neeta Lulla loyalists rhapsodise about her design, claiming it is current even after years of purchase. The secret to this, she says, is research and its application. ''A designer must be upraised of the cyclical pattern of fashion and the history of costume design — within a constant design philosophy. The way a designer applies their philosophy to a new concept or trend is what creates newness. My influence is Indo western and Edwardian yet Indian at heart — steeped in my design philosophy, yet taking inspiration from something millennial. It is how I keep my design aesthetic current.'' Acclaimed for flexibility of vision in couture and costume design, she changes gears and design aesthetic between the two dramatically different fields. Which begs the question: how does she do it? ''This comes from education and experience. I keep an open mind and understand that every time I work on something new and different, it teaches me something, and I use that experience to push my knowledge beyond boundaries to create something new. As a designer I am greedy when it comes to grasping different concepts, formats and techniques; utilising that in costuming or couture comes with experience. Also, the flexibility of vision comes when you keep your mind open and do not think of yourself as someone who has achieved it all and knows it all. You have to keep yourself appraised of current trends and think of yourself as a student who is learning something new every day — that is what gives you newness in vision.''
 

Neeta Lulla
Neeta Lulla
 
05-DECEMBER-2019
 
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