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BELA PAREKH: SURVIVING SANS SENSATIONALISM

— Meher Castelino

Meher Castelino is recipient of The Young Environmentalist Programme for Excellence in Fashion Media and External Examiner for Pearl Academy of Fashion while indulging her passion for writing on fashion.

Can a fashion designer survive in the garment rat race without aggressive Public Relations, holding fashion shows, participating in fashion weeks and being present on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and websites?

Impossible will be the answer if one goes by the hard core publicity and self-promotions that 21st century designers resort to. Yet for over 30 years, Bela Parekh, creator of the Belle Robe label, has been in business dressing the elite and celebrities without resorting to New Age promotions.
 
With artistic talent but no formal training, Bela hasn’t done too badly. Her first exhibition in 1982 was successful and her modus operandi was to hold three to four exhibitions a year and the rest of the time she retailed through her residential boutique in Mumbai’s suburb, Bandra. Soon her fame spread through word-of-mouth and since she designed with handlooms like Maheshwari cottons and Kutch hand block prints with vegetable dyes, stores like the ethnic Chetana Art Gallery, Eternia and Bombay Bazaar in Mumbai stocked her creations. 
 
Travelling in India mainly to Gujarat and Kutch, Bela picks up interesting items that are later converted into garments. She has used Kutch bedspreads and styled them into lehengas and was the first to introduce the fusion of churidars/kameeze and chaniya-choli which were her hot sellers. 
 
“Many girls from conservative families who do not like to show their legs while dancing the dandiya raas and garba just love this style,” informs Bela. Adding Warli paintings to her kurtas and traditional leheriya fabrics, Bela also ensured that the crafts are created by women who play a prominent role in her workshop so that they are independent and are able make a living. Capitalizing on the typical Kutch and Rajasthani mirror work embroidery so typical of that region, Bela adds this to her creations. One of the interesting embellishments are the traditional torans (long panels with scallops hung as a sign of welcome on doors frames in Gujarat) to create skirts teamed with mirror work blouses or kanjris. Bela set a trend for ethnic garments way back in the 1980s not only for women in India but also the West where the Indian diaspora exists in large numbers. 
 
Participating during the OSEC Fashion Fair, Zurich in 1996 and the CPD Fashion Fair in Dusseldorf in 1997 Bela created quite a sensation when her collections were featured on the ramp. Foreign buyers from Switzerland, Sweden, USA, UK and South Africa loved the very fusion rustic look of the garments which were ideal for the summer season and soon orders poured in annually. Coaxed to hold a fashion show in Mumbai by her many clients from all over India and abroad, Bela finally held just two – one in 1995 and the other in 2007. Both these were hard core trade shows with her regular clients marking out the garments they were interested in on the cue sheets. At the end of both shows they rushed back stage to grab them. Bags full of ensembles were carried away by the eager ladies with some arguing over the creations.
 
Extremely low profile and totally reticent it is difficult to make Bela talk about her collections or her celeb clients. “For me all my clients are celebrities. I do not distinguish between them. Whether it is a Bollywood star or a lady who likes good clothes; they are all given celebrity treatment by me since they appreciate my work and come to me.” 
 
In 2008 Bela’s daughter Simoni joined the business after completing a fashion designing course at the Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic in Mumbai. Simoni adds a fresh fusion look to the collection catering to the trendy younger buyers. Her clients include Bollywood stars like Amisha Patel for whom she created a wardrobe for the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. “I follow the style and fashion directions that our label Belle Robe is well known for but while my mother designs for the mature fashion conscious lady my garments are created from organic handlooms but with a modern twist.
 
Saris with rustic stylish cholis, kurtas, churidars, lehengas, blouses and off beat ethnic wear have given the Belle Robe label a typical identity. Along with apparel the mother/daughter duo also designs, batwas, potli bags, scarves, dupattas along with household linen like curtains, cushions, etc. which follow the style of the pair and are in great demand for export as well as the local market. With no advertising or publicity but just loyal customers who have been wearing their creations for decades, Bela and Simoni Parekh’s success has been due to personal touch and very indigenous Indian creativity which has enable them to last out in the fashion circus when many new comers have fallen by the way side. 
 
BELA AND SIMONI PAREKH
 
BELLE ROBE
 
THE BELLE ROBE LOOK
 
04-NOVEMBER-2013
 
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4 Comments
 
29-SEPTEMBER-2014 Christina
I know Bella madam. I have worked for her company, and also i have seen her designs; it's awesome. Happy to see her daughter i have seen Simoni when she was just 2 years old. All the best and god bless you.
 
 
07-AUGUST-2014 Anonymous
I have personally known both Bela and Simoni, and I must say - they are both hard working ladies. With Bela now retired - I am confident Simoni will make a name for herself - with people referring to Bela as Simoni's mother and not Bela's Daughter is Simoni. Good Luck Guys!
 
 
09-FEBRUARY-2014 Aparna Parikh
This is so awesome. Their work is absolutely fantastic, and if I ever wear an outfit not stitched by them, I miss their fitting, perfection and style!
 
 
05-NOVEMBER-2013 Nayantara
Hats off to her! While everyone aggressively self-promotes here is a lady who's doing well without technology!
 
 
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