We have known her as 'Shanti', who ruled the Indian television in 90s. She then made her mark in Bollywood and subsequently turned into a glamourous anchor in the cricketing field. Now, Mandira Bedi has made herself known as a fashion designer as well. Excerpts from an interview with Aparna Mudi where Mandira spoke to her about her journey from being a fashionista to a designer, her show at the Lakme Fashion Week and much more.
How has the journey been from being an actor, then an anchor and now a fashion designer?
Well, none of the journeys has ended because acting, anchoring and being connected to cricket (due to the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2015), it all carries on. In the middle of all that I am designing a collection. These journeys are all interlinked.
How did you get into designing?
One Diwali I made a couple of sarees for myself, because I have been wearing a saree for many years, I think I understand the garment. I like what a saree does for me. They turned out to be quite good and I got a lot of positive feedback after that.
My husband encouraged me and put my name in for an exhibition and literally he then just told me that you have to make 100 sarees for an upcoming exhibition. I ended up selling 81 of those 100 sarees. Then I took 70 sarees to Singapore for a day-long exhibition and that was a full sell out. That basically gave me the confidence to open my own store. My first stand alone store opened in October 2013. (In September, 2013, I did this exhibition which was a sell-out.)
When you open your own store and are not operating out of your home or a garage, suddenly people start taking you a little more seriously. I was invited to the Lakme Fashion Week last year. I took part in it, and then I participated in the Kenya Fashion Week and now LFW is round the corner again. It has been an interesting journey. It is a different kind of creativity and learning process.
How is the experience different from acting and anchoring?
With acting and anchoring, it is somebody else's dream and thought that you are playing out. You are playing a character. Even if you are an anchor you are playing a character, but it is actually somebody else's vision. Being a designer is all your thought, all your vision and it is you conjuring things out of your own imagination and creativity. So it is a different creative outlet.
Are you nervous about your show at the Lakme Fashion Week?
It was all very scary to get onto the Lakme Fashion Week platform, because it's huge. Many designers aspire to be a part of this platform and to get an opportunity like this is really something special (and you know) and you are up for praise as well as criticism. That is the scary part.
But here I am, an absolute newbie as far as the design world is concerned. I wear a saree well, but that doesn't mean that it will always work. It has its ups and downs. All in all, I am very happy that in my life and the work that I do – not one thing is like the other.
Not one day of mine is like any other day when it comes to design. When you start putting the fabrics, and the colours together, it is a many step process.
Do you enjoy designing more than you enjoyed acting or anchoring?
When I started out in the acting industry, I was picked up from nowhere. I did not have any kind of training. I was an assistant director before that and somebody saw me and offered me a role. It was intimidating for me to begin with, but now there is no nervousness because I have years of experience behind me.
Designing has also come to me like that and it is scary. Maybe, when I am many years into designing, I will have a certain air of confidence. This is an absolutely new world for me. As a newbie I am nervous, but I also know that every saree that I make is what I would want to wear. I wear them to all sorts of events, special occasions, red carpet or parties. But I would never put anything on the shelves that I wouldn't have bought myself.
You have been a fashion icon for so long, how does it feel to be on the other side of the spectrum?
It is one thing to be fashionable and wear chic clothes and completely different to be working as a designer and getting into the business side of it. There is a lot of work that is involved in this process. You need to know which product is working, how the production is going, and many other details that you don't think about as a consumer. I am still learning.
How did you get your inspiration for the current collection which you will present at the Lakme Fashion Week?
As a designer you have to make a trip to Varanasi, as that is the Mecca of where all the good fabrics of the country come from. The fabric itself inspired me. The butis that you see on the Banarasi fabric is my inspiration.
My sarees are based on construct. I have a one-third saree, a chessboard, and a variety of different sarees based on construct. I have used Banarasi fabric in conjunction with a lot of light fabrics like net, georgette, satin georgette and other nice summer fabrics. This collection is not heavy and unwieldy. My sarees are light and wearable with an element of Banaras in them.
Young women of today are not excited about wearing a saree as before. Do you think the saree trend will come back?
I don't think the saree trend has gone anywhere. So many designers who are into western wear are taking to the saree. There is a gown saree, pleated stitched saree, and so many others. You wear a traditional saree for a traditional occasion, but many have taken to wearing a saree as a gown to the red carpet events as well.
Do you think young designers have more opportunities today?
There was a time when there was only one fashion week in Mumbai. Then it expanded to Delhi. Now there is a plethora of fashion events all over the country. There are fashion weeks in Goa, Kolkata, Rajasthan, Pune and so many other cities. There are a lot of avenues in India and abroad to start your fashion career. A lot of Indians living abroad are eager to buy designer brands as well. This is a great time for designers because there is a huge platform for them to showcase their designs.
Plus, there are so many exhibitions in India now. Like I started with an exhibition, I was riding on other people's clientèle. The selling opportunity is high as that is where the people are buying your product. Exhibitions are a wonderful way to test the market. I have learnt through them that Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad have been great markets for me.
Who do you think is the most fashionable star in Bollywood? Who would you love to dress up?
Since I design sarees, the lady who carries the saree best is Rekha. If she would take a detour from her Kanjeevaram silk sarees, then I would love to have her wear one of my designs. No one can beat her as far as sarees are concerned.
I think Shilpa Shetty has the most amazing figure. She can carry off anything that she wears. She looks beautiful in sarees, gowns as well as western wear.
I would love Deepika Padukone to wear something of mine. I think Deepika has got this statuesque body and she too looks great in whatever she wears. I think she is one of the most fashionable stars in the current young Bollywood brigade.
What are your future plans?
I have my plate full. I have been swamped with work, because of constant travelling between Delhi and Mumbai. I am doing anchoring for cricket shows in Noida and so many other things, all this along with working on my fashion week collection. I hope it does well. But after the World Cup gets over, I want to go on a holiday as I need to unwind.
Any message for young aspiring new designers?
I am new to design myself, so I don't have any message for others. I am trying to find my own footing. It is a tough business and there is a lot to learn every step of the way. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing.