If there are two people who will never doubt the importance of being in the right place at the right time, it’s New Delhi-based designer sisters Gauri and Nainika Karan. The “Gown Girls” (as they are called by another “it” Delhi-based design duo, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna of Cue) have discovered Mumbai, and as a consequence, Bollywood has discovered them.
Earlier last year, Gauri and Nainika, already quite popular with Delhi’s fashionistas, started stocking their long, ethereal goddess gowns and fairy-tale dresses in many Mumbai stores (at last count, they were in nine stores, including Kimaya, Ogaan and Ensemble). They were noticed by film stylists and, soon, their dresses debuted on the Indian red carpet. “Earlier actresses preferred to stick to saris for award shows, appearances and premieres, but now they want a look that is in sync with international trends,” says younger sister Nainika, 29.
Gauri (left) and Nainika’s ensembles have been worn by Priyanka, Aishwarya, Bipasha and Katrina (Photo by: Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint )
The sisters attribute part of their success to the fact that not many designers work on the red-carpet look in India. “It’s a strong look—glamorous, elegant, formal and sophisticated at the same time—and it has caught on,” says Gauri, 30, as we sit in their private studio in Delhi, done up all in white (a white-pebble path leading to the studio with white-washed walls, white floors and white cane chairs).
Actors Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif have worn their dresses and gowns for public appearances, and some have worn them in their films as well. “A lot of the work I do for Bollywood films requires Western clothes, and there are very few who do Western wear without embellishment,” says Anaita Shroff Adajania, film stylist and fashion director, Vogue India (the magazine’s July issue has profiled the sister duo). “There is a classicism, yet theatrical element to their gowns and dresses,” she adds. Adajania says she uses the sisters’ clothes for films, ads and for the personal styling she does for actors.
When the duo started designing these glamorous outfits, they were told they would never work in India. “But we continued because we like such clothes. Also, when we put the tamer versions of the dramatic ramp looks on our racks, we always found takers for them,” explains Gauri.
The girls believe that their biggest advantage is the fact that they know the body of the Indian woman. “Women here are more curvaceous, and slightly broader on the hips. Our bodies are different from women in the West, and we know that. Women like our form-fitting styles and also the fact that we highlight the best part of a woman’s body,” says Nainika. Chopra, who wears their clothes, jokes that the mannequin which the designers use in their studio must be her size. “I never need alterations in their clothes. I’m really comfortable in their outfits.”
Chopra in her favourite Gauri and Nainika outfit at a polo match with Shah Rukh Khan (Photo by: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times )
In India, designers are still not asked to create exclusive gowns for red-carpet events. Gauri and Nainika say that not all actors call them directly to get clothes. “Sometimes, we don’t even know who is wearing our label. Recently, we met Lara Dutta in Delhi, and were surprised to see that she was wearing our dress. When we asked her where she got it from, she said she picked it up at Zoya in Bandra, Mumbai,” says Gauri.
Some, such as Basu or Padukone, have called and asked them to design for specific functions, but others, such as Chopra, who has been spotted in their gowns, have never spoken to them. “I wear a lot of Gauri and Nainika actually. I like that sort of semi-formal, minimalistic look with a great cut. I was very excited when I discovered them,” says Chopra, who says her favourite dress from the duo is an ivory gown with brown polka dots, which she wore to a polo match. Chopra says she has often asked her stylist to call them before events and check if they could send something over.
This month, the girls also got a chance to design for Rai Bachchan’s The Unforgettable Tour 2008 which will take place in the US. “We have designed some gowns for her to wear on stage for this tour and she has also picked up corsets,” says Nainika.
If there’s not enough time to create a new ensemble, the designers send outfits to stars, depending on the person and the function. When Katrina Kaif was visiting Delhi, she called the sisters and asked if they could show her some clothes. “We took what we thought would work and met at her hotel. She tried on everything, and took all the eight pieces we had selected for her,” says Nainika. Both say they have no idea if Kaif picked up these dresses for personal use or for a film.
For the fishtail gown that Padukone wore to the Filmfare Awards 2008, the sisters had a week. “Deepika told us she was looking for something for an award ceremony. She was fine with whatever we thought would work for her. We sent her swatches and few sketches and then made the gown.” The final gown was fashioned with a mix of organza, satin and velvet in navy.
Much as they love the fact that their clothes are being worn by some of the most stylish women in the film business, they don’t think they can design for movies. “If our clothes suit a character, we are happy to give our designs. But we cannot design outfits to suit a character. We prefer to see our clothes as we have conceived them.”