Representing a fascinating cross-section between entertainment, film and fashion, Hollywood costume designer and two-time Oscar nominee, Arianne Phillips, and Manish Malhotra, the Indian couturier who redefined and modernized Bollywood glamour and also caters to India’s burgeoning wedding market, talk to Imran Amed founder and editor-in-chief of The Business of Fashion at the Mint Luxury Conference 2016 about their inspiration and the challenges of working in these industries, among other things. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us about your personal journeys?

Arianne: To be honest in my wildest dreams I never thought I would be here in India meeting so many wonderful people, having this cultural exchange through esteemed colleagues and it’s a privilege to be here. For me I am completely a product of the 70s, my parents were bohemian artists who encouraged me to find my creativity. They had come from the 50s, American mentality of picking the practical and traditional road. We didn’t have TV, so I wasn’t raised with that popular culture, but was raised with the popular culture movement, which was 60s and 70s generation of creating a new world. I did not take the traditional route. I was exposed to a lot of art in film. I am a college dropout, I am sorry to say I don’t sew, I do design, I found my way intuitively. Working for fashion stylists for editorials and traditional fashion, being on sets with Bruce Webber, among others and learning from great stylists. Then working with Lenny Kravitz, we are the same age and had the same influences growing up whether it was Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix or the Jackson Five, so it was freeing to work together, with music as an organic expression of the music he was creating. Through that experience I learnt about narrative filmmaking, music videos, where the clothes and fashion became the illustrative characters.

Manish: I loved movies as I child, so much so that I would cried endlessly for films. I was obsessed with movies, Meena Kumari the legendary actress would dance on a broken mirror and I wanted to do the same. Every weekend, I would be in the theatre, watching maybe three shows a day. I grew up with Hindi films, and was very influence by actresses of 70s and 80s, and their clothes. I was a bad student, in fact, I was terrible in studies. I loved sketching, and the only reason I passed my science exam was because I could draw well. Once older, I continued with my passion for sketching. I started modelling, and my mother was so worried I would become an actor, and I said no I want to become a film director, because I love movies. I started working in a boutique as a sales boy and I would sketch away, and practice on the designer’s sketches. At the time Tina Tahiliani started Ensemble, and I didn’t have the money to come up with a collection. At that time, in the late 80s and early 90s movies were not so fashionable. So I thought to myself if I could change the styling in these movies I love so much, that would be something. And with that vision I got into films and at the time no designer was working on these films. It was my pure love for movies, fascination with actresses and clothes which drove it to me. I would walk up to the director and ask for the details of the script, and they would be furious with me and ask me to focus on the costumes. I would sit with the tailors on the sets and ask them about how they would cut their garments and would ideate with them. Also, just travelling for work, going to New York, I was working, shopping and observing, going to all these places that I had never been before. So my journey with movies have been quite incredible.

One thing that ties you together is that you are great at multitasking. What are you working on now?

Arianne: Right now in London, I am designing for the sequel of a film I worked on, Kingsman 2. And along with Kingsman the first one, we launched the first ever merchandising costume to collection in partnership with Mr. Porter the online men’s luxury retailer. It is an experience for me, where we have global reach with an online e-commerce, the same global reach we have with the film. A person in Mumbai, or a person from all over the world, if they love the suit Colin Firth is wearing they can buy it online. One thing I will say, that as costume designers, we work on hire, and don’t see any compensation for it. This is the first time there has been an authentic product has been developed in tandem. I am working on a short film in New York with Alessandro Michele for Gucci. And the new collection for Kingsman. Madonna just wrapped her tour, so we have a bit of a break there, while she rests.

Manish: I have worked with every film actress, I have worked 18 hours a day, so if I can handle that I can handle anything. It’s movies, my stores in Delhi and Mumbai which are doing quite well. So it’s about weddings, and fashion shows, which I love putting together. I am working on Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, a film by Karan Johar, featuring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anushka Sharma. There’s a film coming up with Kareena and Arjun Kapoor, a film with Sridevi and another with Aliya Bhatt. What ties it all together for me is focus. I love what I do. I’m not one of those designers who thinks of himself as a great artiste, or genius. I am as much of a newcomer as anyone else, and I want to continue learning and bettering my craft. Every day I will do a film fitting, and then go meet a bride and I am happy to do that. What I am proud... exceptionally proud of is that in the last 25 years I have risen above the critique, I do what I love to do. I have an audience there who love my clothes and buy them. The next leg of my journey is about working with artisans and weavers, across the world.

What is you biggest challenge you faced, especially as a costume designer?

Manish: Since I don’t have formal education in these aspects, I have not studied design, (garment) construction or business, I think it took me time to get it right. I made a lot of mistakes initially. I was diligent and focused, and I would wake up each morning and try and get things right. But I do wish I had that I had studied the business of fashion, fashion designing or construction.

How do you build trust with the stars?

Arianne: I have learned incredible lessons from Madonna. The great thing I have learned from her, is to not invest in the outcome of what other people think. The reason why we’ve worked together for so long is that we come from similar sensibilities. Trust is built over time, it’s my longest consistent creative relationship, which I don’t take for granted at all.

Manish: Top stars can sense sincerity... and know that ultimately it is about them and that I am doing what I am doing to make them look better. At least for me, I was not intimidated by the stars. When I came into movies nobody would enter Sridevi’s room. I was so focused on the outfit, that it never even occurred to me to be intimidated. If you are honest about your work, people appreciate that.

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