Masaba Gupta on being a millennial with an old soul
Masaba spoke about the digital boom in fashion and her Game of Thrones collaboration
- Published 3.12.18, 11:46 PM
- Updated 4.12.18, 2:06 PM
- 8 mins read
Dressed casual-chic in a long kurta paired with roomy pants, Masaba Gupta looked relaxed when t2 met her recently, on the sidelines of her bridal showing at Shaadi by Marriott — a wedding curation — at JW Marriott Kolkata. What followed was our usual adda, laced with candour.
You are travelling a lot! Tired or enjoying it?
Tired yes, but enjoying it. I love being on a plane. I am a little upset because I haven’t had the time to really design.
You are in Calcutta after a long time...
I actually got a bit thrown off when my Calcutta store (Quest mall) shut. I got a bit confused because every city we have gone to, almost always we’ve thrived. Nothing really came my way in Calcutta… I haven’t really known Calcutta. I haven’t had the opportunity to go out and touch and feel it.
When you started the label, did you think you’ll ever do bridals?
Hmm… no (smiles), because my idea of bridals, personally, is just very different. Sometimes, I look at brides and just want to fall off the chair. I don’t know how they are picking themselves up in that outfit! So heavy! I see they don’t really enjoy that. Why would you want to be tired and uncomfortable and look frumpy?
I never thought I’d be able to do it because if I did bridals, I would do a plain white shift and a skirt and a string of pearls. My mum (Neena Gupta) said it’s never going to fly… it’s not a funeral!
But then my taste evolved over the years. I started doing fusion wear, which was occasion wear, but not bridal. People really took to that. Our colours really worked. Also, tastes changed. So, I thought I could fit in. I still don’t think I can fit into real bridals. I am for the bride’s trousseau and for her friends and family.
Was there a particular trigger for getting into bridals?
It was after one of the collections failed really badly… the chilli print collection. It set us back by two years in retail.
After that, I felt that there is a segment of people out there who don’t mind gold and silver, but done in a subtle way. No gota patti, no embroidery, just gold foil print. So, we tried that, around 2015-16. We tried a new take on something festive. That’s when the horse and peacock prints came out. That was the turning point for the label. And from then on, we never looked back.
I didn’t need her as much because my setup got bigger, I had a business head, got married… so, she had free time.... She used to manage my business and hold fort when I would be travelling. She’s incredible like that. I miss her for the advice she used to give creatively because she’s got a great eye— Masaba on mother Neena Gupta
Also, the pricing was correct. So, people said ‘we can wear this multiple times, pass it on to our kids’.
The brand’s USP is occasion wear. I loved that Sonam (Kapoor) wore our sari when she went to Delhi for the first time as a bride. It was a mint, lotus-print Chanderi sari and she wore it Sonam style. That’s who the new-age bride is. She wants to be comfortable. But I don’t see that big shift in places which are traditional. I find Calcutta very traditional. In Bombay or Delhi, it’s still more chalta hai. Also, Hyderabad, south (India) are still very traditional.
So, many firsts for you this year — bridals and then menswear…
Bridals were in the month of August-September. Menswear is literally a 20-day-old launch.
How did menswear come about?
Ranveer Singh! He did a Switzerland Tourism ad and his stylist called saying he has to wear a really jhatak outfit and dance with these Swiss girls. So, we had these gold foil matkas on hot pink and we made him an ice blue kurta with a bandhni dupatta. I saw it and thought it looked great.
For menswear, designers are doing drapes. They are making them look like women. For what? Why can’t we just simplify and make basic, straight kurtas that they can wear with their salwars, pyjamas or even their jeans, in bright colours? Men are wearing colour suddenly. So, we did a hot pink, parrot green, ice blue, some blacks and whites… just eight or 10 pieces… denim, foil, some in Chanderi. It flew, because they were affordable, easy-to-wear pieces. It’s done so well, we might open a menswear store. Indian ethnic is the focus at the moment.
Do you not want to revive your signature prints?
That is still the core… the khari print, the tribal mask, coconuts, the cow. The face of the brand has become more occasion wear. We’ll be 10 years old next year. I also had a lot of pressure three years back to do something new. I realised that’s the signature of the brand. You can do various interpretations. The crux will always be very tribal, earthy and organic. I love using muslin. We did an embroidered sheep, but this is new energy. After a point, how many versions of the palm print can I do? Also, how to break away from the fake?
Any collaborations in the pipeline?
Game of Thrones. We have the official licence for merchandise. Clothes, jewellery, home…. We have a Benaras collection coming up next year. Then a line of eyewear and jewellery.
What’s happening with kidswear?
That’s not going to happen again. It did well, but I felt we burnt our fingers a bit. It took a lot out of us. Kidswear, by the way, is much more complicated to produce than adultwear. We struggled with the fabric and we were doing it at a time when we were expanding everything else and we couldn’t really focus on either. From that perspective, I wouldn’t do it. It is not my expertise. Also, people are not going to pay a price because they think the kids will grow out of it quickly.
I feel as a label, we haven’t really cracked womenswear either, frankly speaking.
Why would you say that? You are quite popular…
Popularity is one thing and then there are many loose ends. Sizing is something I wish I could crack better. Till today, we struggle with things like in this style should we make a small, medium, large or a medium, large, XL… should we call it free size…. Women don’t like clothes which have, say, XL on the label… it is dealing with a different psyche.
Has the psyche changed more with social media coming in?
You know, we moved to doing four collections when earlier we would do two in a year, because people don’t want to repeat clothes now, thanks to social media. We don’t realise but these are small things which have brought about a huge shift in fashion.
It is insane because it is not sustainable. And, it will go from four to six collections, let me tell you. Earlier we would do three-four good prints. The festive collection went from 30-35 to a 100 pieces. Next March, we’ll be launching 100 pieces of festive wear in assorted styles. The digital boom has made things so fast-paced, fashion is being consumed like mad.
We have a WhatsApp store, a number where you can send the screenshot of an outfit and there is a girl sitting and responding, and people are buying. There was a time when if you were going for a wedding, you had to go try the clothes with your mother and sister, then try the jewellery and then buy it. But no more of that now, even for brides.
It’s a game changer and it is going to make things tough. But a lot of people are now going back to artisanal stuff, which is beautiful.
So, what do you tell young girls who come to you? It’s okay to repeat?
The problem is that I am that young girl who is also mad! (Laughs) The problem is I am the millennial, but I am also a bit of an old soul. So, I am stuck in the middle. I am confused. I have 75 nude lipsticks across brands, but I will still go buy one more in the same shade. It’s disgusting! I am like, what’s the new eyeliner in town, what’s the new pair of jeans in town… that damn Gucci shoe with those two stripes… everyone from 15 to 60 has them.
But my question is, why are these girls trying to dress like everyone else? It is the Kardashian curse. (Smiles) Girls are starting to look the same… big lips, big eyes, eyebrows done, straight or tousled hair and contour. Everyone’s Instagram page looks the same.
With the young girls, there is also a lot of money now… people have more access to brands. There used to be a time when in New York or London, when you would walk the streets, you never saw a girl below 25 ever carry a designer handbag or shoes. Today, it’s the norm.
So, where do you see this going?
It will crash and burn like most things. It’s scary. We live our whole lives on display, including me. Imagine an Instagram shutdown! The whole country would be unemployed!
Are you sometimes fed up of social media?
I am. I took a break recently for a whole month. It gives me anxiety. You see how fast things are moving, you read negative comments. People would lie if they say it doesn’t affect them. I took a break because I wanted to realign and see what happens if I am not constantly connected.
Weren’t you much more in peace?
I was, because I didn’t have anything to think about. It helps you as a creative person. I was going through some beautiful, vintage jewellery. Think about it, design in the past was so much more intricate, thought through, practical and so well done because there was no reference. Today, we are just a mess.
Your mother (Neena Gupta) recently surprised us with Badhaai Ho...
I have seen it twice. So real, you felt you were sitting in that house. A lot of north Indians would connect to it more because they have the daadi in the house.
I was the one who pushed her to do Saans again. I didn’t need her as much because my setup got bigger, I had a business head, got married… so, she had free time.
She is doing Panga, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s film with Kangana (Ranaut)… she is playing her mother. She is also doing two or three short films and then The Last Color, directed by chef Vikas Khanna (based on the eponymous book by Khanna). That’s on the Benaras widows.
You don’t miss her? She has been a great manager…
She’s not my manager… she cannot manage me! She used to manage my business and hold fort when I would be travelling. She’s incredible like that. I miss her for the advice she used to give creatively because she’s got a great eye.
Does she give you advice on life in general?
I have been giving her a lot of advice! Both of us talk about one thing: Is it good to be naive or not? Still trying to figure it out. Is it good to be vulnerable and honest? She is so honest that it is scary. She did give me one advice: always just say what you have to. Let it out. Crying is a great thing. Sharing is a great thing. Have you noticed how you glow after you cry?! A crying facial!
When you are living in a modern world, you have to do modern things to cope with it. Take that time off to do things you want to do. It’s okay to put up a 1,000 photos on Instagram, but the question is if it was all over, would you still be yourself?
I enjoy my looks so much more today because I went through a phase of not being good-looking or an awkward phase… acne, being overweight.
Hair and make-up: Don Hsiao