Fashion professionals talk about dressing the stars
A career in fashion could give you the chance to dress Bollywood’s biggest stars while travelling to exotic corners of the world, and work on fashion features in magazines and on websites. We speak to three fashion professionals who are responsible for designing the look and feel of what stars, and even people like you and me, wear. They tell us that behind all the glamour lies the ability to work incredibly long hours, be tactful, and master Microsoft Excel.
I still sometimes get asked why I didn’t play cricket,” jokes Tanya Ghavri, daughter of former India cricket team player Karsan Ghavri. Today, she styles Bollywood stars like Sonam Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, and manages The Dhoom Dhaam Weddings, a fashion event company.
How she got here: Ghavri studied design at the Parsons School of Design in New York in 2003, but had to return to India midway.“My parents were getting divorced, and I had to come back. But I knew by then that I wanted to specialize in fashion,” says Ghavri. She couldn’t complete her bachelor’s course, but got a one year associate’s degree. Eventually, she joined the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai in 2007, to do an apparel manufacturing and design course. She began her career assisting stylist Pernia Qureshi on the film Aisha, in 2009. She then began working as a personal stylist for celebrities.
Big leap: In 2015, Ghavri co-founded The Dhoom Dhaam Weddings. “We have one event in Mumbai every September, where we select stylists from all over the country. It’s very different from personal styling, where you are working with one person. Here we have a team managing the event, we have to learn how to do event marketing and how to grab people’s attention,” she says.
Daily duty: The day is full of meetings, of trips to stores to shop and source clothes for clients. These include stars like Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Karisma Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Ghavri works on films as well and has to be on set, to help dress the actors, during shooting. On other days, she could spend hours researching. “Of course I am on Instagram, there are blogs and websites I go to on a daily basis, like Vogue Runway, and fashion blogs like Olivia Palermo. That’s how I keep up,” she says. There is also The Dhoom Dhaam Weddings-related work—for the annual event, for instance.
Inspired by: “Travel. It keeps me alive,” says Ghavri, who is just back from a trip to Spain.
Proudest of: Working with multiple stars and being hands on. “I remember I had styled Katrina Kaif for an award function and the outfit weighed 9.5kg. We zipped it up and the zip split. She said, ‘What am I going to do ?’ I said, ‘Nothing. Just stand still for 8 minutes and I will stitch you up,’ which I did,” she says.
What you need to succeed: “Be available. Always call back. Never be late for work. And be honest with your clients. If they look fat, you have to tell them tactfully. That’s your job,” she says. Ghavri believes her internships taught her a lot. “I used to work in the supplementary special editions at Vogue, which involved a lot of research, including the latest trends, the latest ins and outs. I remember when I was doing it I used to be exhausted because it involved looking at collections 13 hours a day. At that time I felt that I don’t want to do it but now when I look at it, I feel that it taught me a lot.”
What you love about your job: “The travel,” says the stylist, whose most recent trips were on film shoots to London and Los Angeles.
What you’d change about your job: “The timings. It’s a 24-hour job sometimes.”
Compensation: As assistant to a designer, you will get Rs25,000-30,000 a month. Top stylists in the country make about Rs2 lakh a day.
I get my inspiration from craziness, by being rebellious,” says Nitasha Gaurav, who styles actors like Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana and Parineeti Chopra.
How she got here: “My parents separated when I was 3, and my mother, whom I lived with, wanted me to become a doctor. I took my medical exams but I had no aptitude for it and I did not clear anything,” says Gaurav. Instead, she joined Lady Irwin College in Delhi university for a BSc and MSc in textiles and clothing (1991-96). She then began working in export houses Sewa International (1996-97) and Impulse International (1997-98), and export and knitwear manufacturing house Orient Craft (1998-99), all in Delhi. “I hated working in factories, they were the worst three years of my life, but I learnt a lot in terms of understanding fabrics and selling,” she says.
In 1999, she got a job teaching the history of fashion, textile studies and fashion journalism at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (Nift), Delhi. “I loved it. It was creative and interesting. While I was there, they sent me to New York University to study fashion, and subsequently I went to London to study fashion communication in 2003-04,” she says. In 2007, she joined Femina as fashion editor and worked there till 2011. Since then, she has been working as an independent stylist.
Big leap: “Going to the London College of Fashion was an important decision because it helped me focus and I always loved writing. Leaving Nift and coming to Mumbai to work at Femina. Then quitting Femina to start my own styling business. They are just a leap of faith. They could go in any direction. But they worked out well for me,” she says.
Daily duty: “It is not a 9-5 job. Some days you are just sitting there making phone calls, going to stores,” says Gaurav. On days when there are shoots, the hours are long, sometimes even 22. Gaurav is just back from a shoot in Kerala, where they woke every day at 3.30am to reach the location by 5am. “We used to start shooting at 5.30am and used to work till 8pm. We’d return and then do fittings for about 3 hours and sleep at 1.30am and get up again at 3.30am.”
Inspired by: “Anything that is really over the top or exaggerated is something which excites me. There are a number of times I have picked up stuff from the women’s section for men. I find lines based on genders ridiculous.”
Proudest of: “The Elle Fashion Award last year was a big honour, for my work in dressing Ranveer (Singh). My partnership with Ranveer is successful because he does not want to follow any trend, he is not a people-pleaser. Everyone goes to the International Indian Film Academy Awards (Iifa) wearing a black suit and looking proper, and in 2015 I gave Ranveer a three-piece red suit. This is what he expects from me and this is what I am happy to deliver,” she says.
What you need to succeed: “You need to be creative, you have to be a people’s person, you need to know how to get things done, you need to know how to not take no for an answer,” she says
What you love about your job: “You work with some really talented people, you get to see new places, you are pushed to do things one never does.”
What you’d change about your job: The pace of work. “Sometimes you work continuously for months and it gets to you physically,” she says.
Compensation: “When you start working, you should not work for money. You should work to learn, to imbibe, to make contacts,” she says. Once you become an established stylist yourself, you can earn crores.
When I joined Amazon, they had taken bets on me. ‘This man is not going to last even four months. He is a designer, he’s never going to fit into the corporate mentality,’” says Narendra Kumar, who has now spent four-and-a-half years at Amazon India as creative director.
How he got here: Kumar always wanted to be a designer. In college, when he would alter his own clothes, his friends would ask him, “You mean you want to be a darzi (tailor)?” But Kumar had seen Pierre Cardin on a visit to Mumbai and knew men could make a career out of designing clothes—fashion schools then were only for women. There were no co-educational courses in fashion designing in the early 1980s, so Kumar ended up with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Elphinstone College in Mumbai. After graduating in 1983, he got a job selling photocopying services for Modi Xerox. Six months later, he moved to become a sales manager at Ballarpur Industries, selling glass bottles to the government.
In 1987, he saw an advertisement for admission to the newly opened National Institute of Fashion Technology (Nift) in Delhi. They wanted a year’s work experience in fashion. “I resigned that day,” says Kumar, who then moved to whatever jobs he could find in fashion, doing stints in packing and matching dupattas with kurtas, at a fraction of his sales manager pay. He got admission to Nift the following year, in 1988.
Thereafter, he worked in design for a few years, then began his own design studio. In 1996, he started working as fashion editor at Elle magazine, working there till 1998, and even took up part-time teaching at Nift (1997-98). In 1996, he also started designing under his own brand, Narendra Kumar, and would spend the next 15 years working on opening his own studio (2000), styling and designing wardrobes for films and television shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati. In 2013, he joined Amazon India as creative director.
Big leap: “I had never worked for a corporate before, and suddenly to go into the world’s biggest corporate house was a huge leap,” says Kumar.
Daily duty: Kumar is on a plane every Monday morning to Bengaluru, where he spends Monday-Wednesday working at the Amazon office. He works on advertising, online marketing, analytics and forecasting for the fashion vertical. While the work at Amazon doesn’t involve designing, Kumar has designed clothes for Amazon’s chief Jeff Bezos. “You interact differently when you design clothes for someone. I got to see a different side of him, both during his visits to India and in the US,” he says.
He spends the rest of the week in Mumbai, where he works at his studio in Lower Parel—designing for clients, setting up his own e-commerce site, and other projects.
Inspired by: “Art, music, and how the country is changing. My parents. I once did a fashion show on my parents’ love story. My father is a Hindu and my mother, a Muslim; they defied their parents to get married. At the end of the show, people cried. That day I realized that fashion is not only about making clothes, rather it is about telling stories that move people,” he says.
Proudest of: Being in the Esquire magazine’s list of 50 best men’s stores in the world. The list had names like Prada, Tom Ford and Louis Vuitton.
What you need to succeed: “You should be passionate up to the point of obsession, have conviction and the ability to evolve,” he says.
What you love about your job: “That I wake up every day to do something beautiful. That is what fashion means to me.”
What you’d change about your job: “Having to work on Microsoft Excel! Amazon is built on Microsoft Excel, everybody has to be an Excel expert,” he adds.
Compensation: There is no limit to earning money and there is no limitation on the ways you can earn your money. For a top designer, compensation can range from Rs60 lakh to Rs1 crore per annum
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three individuals at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at firstname.lastname@example.org