Why buy Rohit Bal?Jun 14th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Fashion, Lifestyle, Opinion, Viewing News
After 10 years of writing about fashion in India, I am still shocked how most people I know have never worn anything by an Indian designer (actually most of them can’t even name an Indian designer).
So I have decided that I will take 10 top fashion designers and write a series of “Why Buy” pieces on them in the next 10 Affluenza columns, explaining why the designer is important, what you should expect when you go to buy them, why you are paying high prices and, of course, what are the things that could be better about their work and brand.
The Hindu not being a fashion magazine will allow critical comments which means I will not have to do lap-dance writing.
I thought of beginning with Rohit Bal. These days the golden locks designer rarely speaks to the press and his days of burning up the dance floor, at least to the tune of shutter bugs, seem to be over. So, who is Rohit Bal? Is he merely famous for being famous? What is his unique talent and why does one pay a premium for his work?
When you buy Rohit Bal — the eponymous label or the ready to wear range Balance — remember that there is a brand premium that you are paying. In a sense, he is that rare Indian designer who can command a mark-up for his name.
Most designers claim a mark-up for an attribute — Sabyasachi for revitalising classicism, Manish Arora for vibrant vision, Tarun Tahiliani for opulence, Manish Malhotra for a touch of stardom but Rohit Bal is perhaps the only Indian designer who can charge more money for his name.
So it isn’t the style or the comfort or the chic-ness, it’s because it is a Rohit Bal.
Why this is true is not easy to explain but allow me to attempt. In fashion, either the work is the brand like that alternative, quirky ideas of Manish Arora or the designer is the brand.
In America, for instance, if you look at the beginnings of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, it is clear that Ralph created a woody, outdoorsy, upper-class look and feel which became his brand, whereas Calvin Klein, with his drug-tinged edgy living and ambiguous sexuality, was the brand. The world of Ralph Lauren was the brand for this one time tie-salesman, while Calvin Klein, the man and his life, lent the edge and appeal to the brand.
The brand of Rohit Bal stems from, more than anything else, the man. How did Delhi and indeed the world get to hear of Rohit Bal?
In the late 1990s, Rohit Khosla, barely into his 30s and the pioneering talent of Indian fashion, was, tragically, dead. Ritu Kumar was the grand dame of reviving textile traditions but clearly not someone who could introduce the sexiness and sassiness of young fashion into the country.
Rohit Bal, blonde and brazen, often uncorking the bubbly, swung into the flashlight of the new Page Three circuit of Delhi. If Mumbai had film stars, Delhi wanted to show that it had the designers!
Gudda, as he is called by everyone who knows him and as it so happens by everyone who does not know him, therefore, became the enfant terrible of Delhi, shaking off some of the city’s sanctimonious, prissy hypocrisy.
There was, and is, an attitude that is unique to him, a damn-care dare devilry that has created the lustre of his brand.
This, of course, does not mean he is not talented. In fact, after Ritu Kumar, in his generation, and he is around 42 now, Gudda has perhaps the greatest interest and insight to reviving Indian textiles and craftsmanship.
And it is not so much what he has revived as how he has revived that highlights his importance as an artiste. Indian craftsmanship and indeed Indian fashion needed rapid spring-cleaning from years of heritage mothballing and Rohit Bal was the right person for this. Remember this was the time when sexual freedom was also beginning to seep into India.
Rohit Bal brought to his work unique vision of what the glamour of India could be. He made some of the most exquisite bridal wear. He is one of the first designers in India to use craftsmanship not only for beauty but for ethereal flamboyance and glamour.
In a sense, he is Vivienne Westwood meets Tom Ford for India. The saucy cheek, the sexiness, the lip-smacking giggle, it is all an integral part of the Rohit Bal repertoire.
After 10 years of seeing his shows, two epochal moments stand out:
- In 2003, he made a line of skirts for men, sending out male models in swishing skirts and sindoor in their hair parting
- In 2006, a year when Mumbai’s Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla claimed they were deigning to participate in the fashion week (the underlying theme being that they would do the stellar show on the fashion week) and then showed a pretty all white collection, Gudda did an all-white show too with the Kill Bill whistle as the theme music and overshadowed everything in the fashion week.
This is a man who once said, correctly, that his shows “kill the fashion week”, meaning no one wants to see anything else after that.
But don’t go to Rohit Bal if you are looking for Western chic. He does that of course in Balance but, like Ritu Kumar, his market first and foremost will always be India. Even now his biggest market is north India and because he is so good at revitalising Indian ideas and clothes, he has never really ventured out in the way a Rajesh Pratap Singh or a Manish Arora has.
Go to him if you are looking for a unique taste of India. Among the new things he is a looking at — a men’s inner wear line called BALLS, a long desired venture into kid’s clothing with a line called Bal Bacche and a perfume, which I have tried and can say is quite engrossing, simply called Rohit Bal.