I absolutely love dressing Sonam Kapoor: Suneet Varma

The Delhi-based designer looks back at his three-decade fashion journey

By Saionee Chakraborty
  • Published 27.10.18, 8:51 PM
  • Updated 28.10.18, 12:46 AM
  • 5 mins read
The finale image of the Shining Star by Suneet Varma Couture 2017 Sourced by The Telegraph

When I think of 30, it freaks me out! I was reading somewhere that at some point in your life, when you decide which was the age you want to remain for the rest of your life — that depends on when you were enjoying your life the most — and for me that age is 35. I had the most fun, I was doing great work, I was thrilled, happy.

I was pretty much ahead of the game because I had been trained in Europe. I had worked with Yves Saint Laurent (YSL). I had a sense of how couture ateliers work, how they approach design, marketing and selling. And I always kept it like that. I had interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and worked very closely with Harold Koda and Richard Martin; people who were then setting up the costume expose. I worked with them for 11 years. I was a vendor there and would create beautiful products for them.

Of course I do Indian clothes because I am an Indian designer but the sensibility is more European — the colour, the art, the embroidery. I think I’ll be very bad at ethnic clothes. You have to stay true to yourself and do things from the heart.

Life is so much more important than either clothes or jewellery. That’s probably a big lesson I learnt over the 31 years. You will have a great year and you will have a not-so-great year. As long as all of those experiences make you a better person, you are still growing. I made lots of mistakes and I learnt from them. I have had an equal share of mistakes and triumphs.

But the great thing is I am still looking forward to the future. I am super busy! I think the success of the business is because we are very hands-on and we keep it quite tight and small.

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Made to measure

Couture, for me, has always meant made to measure for pleasure. A lady brought a jacket from my first collection, in 1991… my Greek collection. It was her daughter’s wedding recently and she said, ‘Can you re-applique it?’ I felt very nostalgic.

I’ll go to places and pick things which I never use and have no use for, but I am also desperately in love with them. I have a 17th century crown with hand-cut glass gemstones that I bought on the first day of my trip to Italy. I never let that crown out of my sight!

I have a galloping horse in leather which I bought for Rs 200 from a kabadiwala in Lucknow and I spent Rs 2,000 restoring it and now it looks like a million bucks. Anything that makes you feel that special is couture.

When I started out, India was going through that two-piece safari suit phase (laughs)! People were confused. They thought acrylic was the new thing. I call it bad style well done.

The people who could afford couture and they had absolutely no idea of how to approach couture. But the great thing is they were buying and spending. That kind of kept me in the business.

Model Gabriela Bertante in Suneet Varma’s Pirates of Couture 2010
Model Gabriela Bertante in Suneet Varma’s Pirates of Couture 2010 Sourced by The Telegraph

My current clientele

People who buy from me are also buying Balenciaga couture. I am big in the Sindhi community. We did a wedding in Phuket, and another in Monaco in March. Most of them are NRIs, so the girls will wear Suneet Varma for the sangeet, and Elie Saab for their reception. You have to find people who have a similar sensibility and I will, of course, never say I am an Elie Saab or a Balenciaga, but I cater to the same clientele.

Today I find that the Indian bride is extremely evolved. Very aware. At least 75 per cent of the girls who come to us come with a big file of printouts. ‘I want my hair like this. For my welcome dinner, I want to have flowers like this. I think this colour looks better on me.’ If they want to wear pink, you cannot put a purple on them. Some of them are also price-conscious. They realise that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on your wedding clothes because you only get to wear them once. And then there are also people who want to spend a small fortune. I think my USP has been that I have really tapped into the modern, young, sexy bride. And that space was absolutely wide open.

I absolutely love dressing Sonam Kapoor. She looks incredible in my clothing. I loved the way Sonam Kapoor dressed for her wedding. That red colour, the dupatta… it was pitch-perfect. Kiara Advani is quite lovely. Esha Gupta. I like bold, sexy girls. I always believe that women are much smarter and sexier. They should own that space and be that person. 

Tamara Moss in Suneet Varma’s Swan Lake collection — applique tulle sari with feathered headgear complemented by Suneet Varma for Judith Leiber Jali Bag in 2017
Tamara Moss in Suneet Varma’s Swan Lake collection — applique tulle sari with feathered headgear complemented by Suneet Varma for Judith Leiber Jali Bag in 2017 Sourced by The Telegraph

Beyond Couture

I love collaborations. I did Judith Leiber bags for six years. It was very Suneet Varma... the way I approach design, motif, colour and embellishment. They gave me the incredible honour of letting me design their 50th anniversary bag. There was a lot of love from both sides. I did my first collection with them called Jodhpur Bag. I sent a drawing… this beautiful princess sitting by the pond with her reflection, the moon and the reflection of the Jodhpur palace. And they interpreted it like that. A lyrical collaboration.

Then Arttdinox… whimsical and a little crazy. I learnt how to work with steel, how to mould it, where it can work, what are the other metals that can be combined with steel and what you cannot. Steel is a very humble material… your normal bartan. How to make it couture? How to take steel and make it luxury? That’s a big challenge, but a very interesting one.

I made a film for BMW recently. I curate evenings for them. BMW gave me the honour of designing the interiors of the new 7 Series. We did something with bidri, inlay and Swarovski. And look at the minds I am working with… Adrian van Hooydonk… he is a top car designer. I want to do more of home space, but more in the soft furnishings... furniture too, as opposed to steel.

The influencers

Martand Singh, my godfather designer who passed away last year, and Yves Saint Laurent.... I actually did the fittings with him for Prince Andrew’s wedding suit. I was 21. I was only allowed to pick pins from the floor. And not speak. I don’t think I spoke a word while I was there for a one-and-a-half years. Yves Saint Laurent was a master. Very private. But the French are like that, guarded… in a good way. The biggest learning from him was not to be afraid to use colour or embellishment; just create. Also Karl Lagerfeld. He is of the future, for me. He did the Missoni furs and the Fendi bag… he does a Chanel collection, a perfume.

Life at 50 is…

Fantastic. You feel very comfortable in your skin, your surroundings. You embrace your faults as much as you embrace your triumphs and I think the struggle is much less. It’s not the end… the story is still being written.

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez Sourced by The Telegraph

Suneet’s faves

Jennifer Lopez is just too hot! She is ageless. I saw her performing at the Hinduja wedding in Jodhpur and I wanted to take a picture of her backside! I did! She saw me taking it and she laughed! She did that Suneet Varma for Judith Leiber beautiful starburst clutch at the Met Gala (in picture). 

Sarah Jessica Parker. I think Sex and the City is too cool. I did all the bags for the international premiere of Judith Leiber. She told me what she was going to wear and we did an Indian clutch… . jaali, cut-out in that peacock colour (in picture).