— Jasmeen Dugal
The fashion calendar is hard to predict, but if one thing can be counted on season after season — Rohit Bal will always take things up a notch. Creative, uncompromising and romantic with modern sensibility, deep respect for tradition and sustainable ethics… these are all elements that describe the man, who Time magazine in its Special Report on India profiled as 'India's Master of fabric and fantasy.'
Bal completed formal education before stoking his passion. On graduating from St. Stephen's Delhi with a first-class degree in history, he learnt the craft at NIFT. Beginning his professional life at his brother's export house, he launched his label in '90 and encapsulated couture, pret, accessories, eyewear, fragrance and, recently, a denim line.
Theatricality is the name of Bal's game. His most iconic showing at FDCI Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week was preceded with a dramatic presentation by a dance troupe whose leader dressed as Lord Krishna. The electrifying experience tapped into a sense of feeling the land, of imbibing tradition… and charged the show as models walked the runway in his collection. In another season, his guests were awestruck by the haunting beauty of the couture and the creative presentation—it's not every day the poolside of a luxury hotel is transformed into a fashion fantasy with supermodels taking a bow with the designer — inside a swimming pool! The experience was inclusive of the craftsmanship, the element of fantasy, the energy of youth. And, who can forget male models on his catwalk with sindoor in their maang as a tribute to the secure alpha man?! Whoa!
Although he makes his mastery of the craft appear effortless and wears his accomplishments lightly, integral to Bal's aesthetic is juxtaposition between traditional techniques, rare Kashmiri hand embroideries and modern design, in collaboration with weavers and karigars. His kindness manifests itself in many ways. Last year, Bal joined hands with Usha Silai to collaboratively design a collection, 'Guldastah', stitched by karigars from Kashmir — all profits from sales of the collection were given to these underprivileged female karigars. While each one of them got mentorship by Rohit Bal and the opportunity to understand craft techniques, silhouettes and fit, their biggest takeaway was financial empowerment. Bal and Usha Silai are now working on a second collection.
He is not just a creative powerhouse. Bal revealed his business acumen with diversification and collaborations. The designer launched restaurant chain 'Veda' and fine dining 'Cibo'. He further diversified into Rohit Bal Luxury Weddings and forged alliances with Omega, Aditya Birla Group's Linen Club, Chivas Regal, Mitsubishi, Ege Carpets from Denmark, Reid and Taylor, Titan Nebula, Oriflame and several others. "These collaborations are not limited to me being a public face of the brand. It involves utilising my ideas to create a certain look for the product," he says.
As I finish penning the profile, I can't help but wonder… there's no question Rohit Bal's vision is crystalline, the desire he builds around his collections brilliant and his commerciality indisputable. I wait excitedly for his next masterpiece.