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IN CONVERSATION WITH NEETA LULLA

— Meher Castelino

After graduation from the Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic SNDT University in 1985, Neeta Lulla, also known as The Czarina of Indian Fashion, dreamt of becoming a choreographer when she assisted fashion doyen Jeannie Naoroji. But 25 years later, she is renowned as Bollywood's cool, composed and creative designer. She works as though there are 48 hours in a day, delivering clothes for blockbuster films within hours. In her modest studio in South Mumbai, Neeta is organised, efficient and a picture of tranquillity with a million deadlines over her head. 

 

“I never lose my cool as it doesn’t help my creativity or my work,” she states in her soft relaxed tone; while her thoughts wander to the perfect bridal creation or costume for one of her films. An excellent artist, Neeta who has been sketching since schooldays, can draw with a few pen strokes a glamorous outfit for her clients as they sit in her luxurious fashion store. In a business where everything has to be delivered "yesterday" and when the strongest have been known to wilt under tension; Neeta admits she is organised; that is what helps. “I plan my work as it’s been my nature since childhood.”

 

Her big Bollywood break was in '88 when she dressed sexy Kimi Katkar for 'Tamacha'. Her cover page look worn by Sridevi for film magazine 'Movie' in 1989 kickstarted her Bollywood odyssey. Soon Sridevi and Neeta Lulla were a team for her movies 'Gurudev', 'Chandni', 'Lamhe', 'Apsara', 'Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja' and more. Sridevi appeared on film magazines wearing only Neeta Lulla creations. National Awards came in 1992 for 'Lamhe', in 2002 for 'Devdas' and in 2008 for 'Jodha Akbar'. Creating sensational film costumes has been Neeta’s forté. She has used unconventional materials like chains, shells, pearls, metal foil, paper, metal bearings and even crow's feathers (!). At times she has worked 72 hours nonstop, dreaming up costumes for films. Having worked in over 350 films and dressed nearly 90 Bollywood stars, Neeta’s fame also spread to Hollywood when she created costumes in 2006 for 'One Night with the King' and 'Mistress of Spices'. She is also in demand for brides and has dressed stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on her wedding day. 

 

Neeta is also known to have changed the image of Bollywood stars like Juhi Chawla who had a rustic, rural look in films, which Neeta changed in 'Aaina' by designing for her, sexy off-shoulder sari blouses which became a hit. Neeta’s white kurta with a pastel dupatta for Sridevi in 'Chandni' was a hot selling item in Chandni Chowk, Delhi. Once again, her puffed sleeve blouses for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in 'Devdas' became a retro fashion trend. Many of her films require extensive costume research. “I like to understand the character and how the costumes will relate.” But designing for movies is quite different from fashion week collections. “The former is for a character while the latter is for real persons.”

 

Neeta’s latest achievement, which no other designer has probably done, is the setting up of Whistling Woods Neeta Lulla School of Fashion, which held its graduation show in July 2015 and the first batch of ten students completed the two-year course created by Neeta. “I partnered with one of my mentors and fantastic teacher, Subhash Ghai and Whistling Woods International to launch the endeavour. I desire to share my expertise with young dynamic aspirants looking to penetrate into the world of fashion.” The show was a slick, elegant presentation of nine collections to a very appreciative select audience of fashionistas. What was remarkable was the controlled creativity of the students, which did push the design limits, yet kept the aspects of commercial viability and wearability intact. Each collection was closely monitored by Neeta and the end result was garments that had glamour, style and a marked fashion direction. Unlike other graduating collections, Neeta ensured that students kept the saleability of the garments in mind. She also ensures that students get a comprehensive knowledge of the fashion business in the well-equipped institute. Making a great impact on the jury — which comprised Pria Kataaria Puri, Anjana Sharma, Nonita Kalra, Meher Castelino, Umesh Jivnani, Nikhil Thampi and Aparna Badlani — was Ticket-Ticket inspired by Mumbai’s BEST buses, a collection by Rashmi Singh which walked off with four awards including ‘Collection of the Year’. RawWar by Khushboo Rathi and Richa Shah was tailored to perfection and inspired by the series Game of Thrones while ColourCrush, a kidswear line by Bharti Sharma, was perfect for young dressers with its simple silhouettes and impeccable finish. 

 

Neeta Lulla is probably the only designer who has come full circle in the business… from student to star Bollywood bridal and couture designer to fashion institute pioneer who is giving back to the business what she has gained over the three decades.
 

A Neeta Lulla Presentation
 
Neeta Lulla and Meher Castelino
 
'Ticket Ticket' won four awards at Whistling Woods Neeta Lulla School of Fashion graduation show
 
23-JULY-2015
 
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