— JASMEEN DUGAL
Varun Bahl, who balances indigenous textile craft, design innovation and global relevance with admirable ease, is renowned for weightless lehengas and saris detailed with floral embellishment. His loyal clientele swear each ensemble is a heirloom because of its classic sensibility as he continually expands the scope and boundaries of couture by combining tradition, painstaking craftsmanship and design innovation. In conversation with the couturier on the day of his showing at the phygital edition of Lotus Makeup India Fashion Week.
Varun Bahl believes in preserving the authentic couture craftsmanship that feeds into each collection he creates. How do you balance wearability with a two-pronged vision to innovate design and sustain indigenous textile craft, I ask him? ''This has never been a considered effort for me; I've always believed that textiles and crafts have to be innovated with, and presented as modern design solutions for today's customers. This is a simple approach that works, especially with the newly-informed consumer base of today.''
The hammer blows of coronavirus have rained down hard on fashion. What will indian fashion look like on the other side of the pandemic? Is an intelligent slowdown the way out for designers? He is candid, as always. ''While I'm in no position to advise anyone on their business and goals, I've personally restructured the way I work. I strongly feel that it will allow me to emerge stronger both in terms of my creative abilities and the growth of my business and brand.'' Do you feel digital editions should evolve to an industry transition away from the catwalk considering its reach and potential to incorporate e-commerce, I wonder? ''Fashion has a way of surprising us at the least expected times. And while digital or phygital is definitely the future, I feel there will always be space for a more tactile, real experience. After all, the final place where my output as a designer finds itself is the body of the wearer. As far as e-commerce is concerned, I think it is now a necessity and every designer should invest in it. I'm looking forward to a new way of engaging with more people and learning from this new way of interacting and conducting business. I'm certain that doing so will equip us better for the future.'' So, what is more important when showcasing for an online audience: brand values, concept or pure retail? He is clear in his vision. ''Every collection, while being an exercise in retail and generating profits so that the business can run, is also representative of my brand, my creativity, and my vision of the company as a whole. SO I have never found myself in the position of having to choose between the options provided. A collection has to take all these considerations and serve them well.''
What would be your advice to those who want to shop responsibly or build an ethical wardrobe, I ask as we wrap the conversation. ''I would ask people to learn about ethical fashion deeply by reading verified features and listening to renowned experts. If you have decided to be 'ethical' in your fashion choices, please do not do so in a performative manner. Sometimes, organic cotton can be more harmful to the environment than polyester. Get into some solid reading and research before you contemplate a complete change in your lifestyle.''
28 September 2019 5:32 pm IN CONVERSATION WITH VARUN BAHL