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On the Roman runway
Kiran Uttam Ghosh with models at Ogaan in Delhi for a preview of
her collection for Rome Couture Fashion Week

It has been a busy month for designer Kiran Uttam Ghosh. She is jetlagged, yet elated, and just back from Rome after making her debut at the Rome Couture Fashion Week.

It was a short notice invitation for the designer who worked round-the-clock for five weeks to finish the 60-piece collection that she showcased in Rome. But in hindsight, it was worth the sleepless nights as the designer got a standing ovation from her European audience at the end of her solo show at Tempio di Adriano. “I was thrilled and almost zapped by the response. But deep inside I somehow knew that I would walk away with appreciation. But it still seems like a dream,” says the highly- spirited Ghosh whose label Kimono sells in eight countries today.

It’s been a busy time for Ghosh especially after the success of her Flapper Girl collection at Lakm' India Fashion Week 2005. So much so, that she had no time to participate in the two fashion weeks in Mumbai and Delhi earlier this year and she almost turned down the prestigious Roman invitation as well.

But the event was too tempting to turn down and she changed her mind and hustled a line together for Rome that introduced a masculine dimension into an otherwise feminine collection. Ghosh’s collections usually speak of a theme or flaunt a distinct storyline and this time was no different. With this collection she decided to tear apart the gender divide.

Her inspiration she says was something she believes in: what is most beautiful in a man is something feminine, what is most beautiful in a woman is what is masculine. “I believe that women are the new men,” she says. Ghosh, who was looking for a Katharine Hepburn feel for this collection watched about 15 of her movies before settling down to the drawingboard.

So pinstripes and checks of all kinds ' usually associated with menswear ' dominated her line. “But not in a manner to overrule the femininity of the garments,” Ghosh says. What Rome saw was a collection replete with high-waisted, pleated and turn-up trousers, churidar pants, angrakhas, jackets with bold collars and three-quarter sleeves, empire waistlines and boat-necks, shirts that were worn with saris, brooches as cufflinks and Kolhapuris chappals that came with wedge heels.

Designing the collection proved to be a Herculean task not just for the extra effort and the time constraint, but because she was playing with an entirely new colour palette in this collection. Known for her penchant for bright hues, she knew that she had to appeal to more subdued European tastes this time. So she needed to work magic with blacks, browns, whites and greys with mere touches of rose and bright red.

Looking back from her current vantage point, Ghosh has just one thought: had she more time on her hands than just the given five weeks she could have done even better with the garments. “We had practically no time to put the ensembles together. I’d have loved to spend some six months to work the look out better in this line,” says Ghosh.

The designer has come a long way from the time some nine years ago when she went armed with her collection to designer store, Ogaan. She had the disappointment of a lifetime when told that Ogaan wouldn’t be able to sell her clothes because they were too bright. But fate had a surprise in store for Ghosh. When she returned dejectedly in the evening to retrieve her garments, she discovered that four of the pieces had already been sold. There was no looking back after that and Ghosh has been a regular at Ogaan ever since.

Designing has always been a part of Ghosh’s life. The inclination to work with fabrics and designing was, she reckons, genetic. “It’s a gene that skipped my mother but passed on to me. My grandmother and all her sisters were very much into fabrics and garments. In their time, if they had the opportunity, they would have become designers. Since they didn’t have the opportunity, they stitched for their family and friends,” says Ghosh.

From being a pesky back-bencher in St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, she morphed into a serious fashion designing student of Mumbai’s Sophia Polytechnic. “At Sophia, I was the nerd of the class. Once I prepared a wrong paper for my exams but managed to top it simply because of my love for the subject. Had it been economics or political science I wouldn’t have survived,” she reminisces.

After graduating from Sophia Polytechnic, next on her agenda was to sharpen her skills under the tutelage of designer Jasper Conran in England. After one month’s training with him she returned home and joined J.J. Exports where she worked for a year. “But I burned the midnight oil conceptualising my own label,” she recalls. And Kimono was born soon after.

Though the fashion capital of the country is Delhi ' with Mumbai hot at its heels ' Ghosh feels at home in Calcutta and wouldn’t trade it for any other city in the country or the world. She says, “This may sound clich'd, but there is no better place than Calcutta to work out of. We have the infrastructure, and importantly we don’t have power problems.” Her vote clearly is for Calcutta.

Fabrics, designer cuts, her design studio and workshop are an integral part of her daily life, just as much as her husband Gaurav, who she met when in college and subsequently married. Married for 12 years now, Ghosh doesn’t think it’s a big deal that Gaurav has ‘never’ attended her fashion shows. “To him the world of fashion is a frivolous one. He rarely comments on my collections and does so only if he thinks they are very good or very bad,” says Ghosh. And she keeps out of his way when he spends hours at the golf course.

She’s a workaholic who can’t stay still but, at the moment, she has a full plate. So, further forays into the foreign and even the domestic market must wait. But she has managed to open her third office in the city and soon she’ll have her hands full in shifting to a new home. “I think I need a little breathing space and it’s time to take it easy,” she says. But, given that she’s on a high right now, that’s going to be tough.

Photograph by Rupinder Sharma

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