When we think of Manish Malhotra today, the instant association is larger-than-life glamour, unrivalled celebrity patronage and a designer nearly as famous as the stars he dresses. His work, whether on the big screen or on the runway, has been genre-defining. 2020 marks Malhotra’s 30th year of costume designing for Bollywood, with over 1,000 movies to his credit; including blockbusters like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Dhadkan (2000), Jab We Met (2007), Om Shanti Om (2007), Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani (2013) and more. His eponymous label too celebrated 15 years last month. “I am proud of the fact that I come from the movies and have been able to marry fashion and films seamlessly,” the stalwart tells Vogue.
So, what is the reason behind his success? “Success is a relative term. For me, it’s about focus, conviction, hard work and honesty. I’ve been willing to work 48 hours in a 24-hour day all through my career,” he says. “I work from my heart—I am very committed to my job, and it never tires me. My greatest virtue is that I mind my own business. I’ve only focused on my journey, which has helped me to cut through the confusion and stay relevant over the years.”
Malhotra’s current work is always in the news, such as his spring-summer 2020 collection ‘Tabān’ right now. But his illustrious journey is also packed with many interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes—like how he won the first-ever Filmfare award for 'best costume designer' for Rangeela (1995). Or how he turned down an offer to direct a film to launch his label instead. Malhotra throws it back to many such defining moments in this interview with Vogue India.On his 30-year-long love affair with the movies
“The first actor I ever dressed for the big screen was Juhi Chawla for a song in Swarg (1989). As far as makeover films go, there was Gumraah (1993) where I did the late Sridevi’s entire wardrobe and gave her short hair. For Rangeela (1995), director Ram Gopal Varma had a clear brief and Urmila (Matondkar) was all set to prove herself. There was a very strong creative energy and we did something completely new—crop tops, dungarees, T-shirts and jeans. It caught the eye of the youth and became what we’d call ‘viral’ today. Right after that, there was Raja Hindustani (1996), and Karisma Kapoor’s character was the first onscreen bride I dressed.
“I also remember the first time I shopped overseas—Los Angeles, to be precise—for film costumes was for Judaai (1997) in 1996. At that time, the practice was to stitch western clothes. But I started the trend of buying readymade outfits so that it looked more authentic. I would add my own tweaks to these purchases, so it was always fresh and unique.”On the cult chiffon sari
Urmila in Rangeela (1995)
“It all started with Urmila in Rangeela (1995). I remember proposing a sari for her character, and we decided to use it in the song Pyar Yeh Jaane Kaisa Hai, which is a romantic number between her and Jackie Shroff. Ramu liked it so much that we decided to do another black chiffon sari for her.
“For Raja Hindustani (1996), I was influenced by the ’60s and ’70s—in particular, Rekha and Rakhee who often wore patchwork saris. So I picked up different saris and joint them together using delicate embroidery. In the song, Pucho Jara Pucho, Karisma is in a blue chiffon sari with a printed chiffon pallu.”On the launch of his design house
“I launched my brand pretty late—15 years after my career in films. I still remember the endless knock-offs of the chiffon kurtas I made for Madhuri Dixit for Dil To Pagal Hai (1997). I wish I could have sold those, but I did not have my label then. I was just doing costumes for movies.
“I always had a fascination for design and colour. So when I was modelling, I also started working in a boutique. Then in 1999, I started a store called Reverie with Yash and Avanti Birla, following which I worked at Sheetal Design Studio for three years. In 2005, I was ready to launch my own label. My experience in mainstream cinema ensured I had a set-up, and access to the right tailors and craftsmen. The same year, I was offered a movie to direct but I rejected it for my label. I remember the first two tunics I took to multi-designer store Ensemble—they called me back for more in just two days! I had to rush to Bangalore for a movie but I managed to create the new pieces before I left.”On screen hits that are popular even today
Madhuri Dixit in Dil To Pagal Hai (1997)
“There are so many—Kajol’s peach lehenga in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Rani Mukerji’s ghaghras in Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001) and Preity Zinta’s skin colour lehenga with blue embroidery from Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003). While brides still ask for these, they also want to add their own personal touch to the design.
“I launched my label with ready-to-wear, and entered couture because of the demand. The popularity of Bollywood and the Bollywood-inspired wedding had grown even more powerful because of my on-screen creations. So, a lot of brides wanted me to design not just their bridal outfit but the wedding itself.”On the celebrity connect
“The idea of celebrity showstoppers and patrons which is the norm today, was started by me. I was bashed for it but then, but today, I get to have the last laugh. I remember having Urmila for my very first fashion show because we worked together in Rangeela (1995). The same is true for every celebrity I’ve worked with—it’s always been organic because I have relationships and friendships with these actors. It has never been a strategic move.”On the most iconic looks from his brand
“The recent sequinned sari has become popular, with every celebrity wearing it. Before that, it was our emerald green lehenga with the winged sleeves from the ‘Maahrumysha’ collection for Katrina Kaif. Similarly, Deepika Padukone’s blue lehenga with Victorian sleeves was the first time royal blue was introduced as a bridal colour. The venge brown coloured lehenga and short jacket we dressed Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in, instead of burgundy, was also a defining moment. Katrina’s high-slit floor-length anarkali paired with a lehenga is one of our most trending silhouettes. I can safely say that all these outfits, in their own way, revolutionised the fashion framework in India.”On the road ahead
“The coming phase for the label will focus on expansion, versatility, innovation and wider appeal. I ventured into it so late but as a costume designer, I always dealt with make-up and jewellery. So, Manish Malhotra Haute Couture Make-up was started in 2018 in association with MyGlamm. Then there is Manish Malhotra Jewellery, launched late last year in association with Raniwala 1881—at present, I just curate the collection but we will introduce our designs soon too. Manish Malhotra Home and Manish Malhotra Productions are also slated to launch in the near future.”
Preity Zinta in Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)
Alia Bhatt and Ranveer SinghAlso read:
Manish Malhotra: How to become a fashion designer
All the times Bollywood celebrities stepped out in Manish Malhotra lehengas