Indulge one-on-one: When Rehane acted in The Godfather, and Vivek Karunakaran froze every time he saw her
We thought we knew our fair share about Chennai’s fashion designers. But this unfiltered tête-a-tête told us otherwise. We got together the first lady of fashion in the city, Rehane Yavar Dhala, along with Vivek Karunakaran, who incidentally was in her NIFT class, many years ago. She made an appearance as a youngster in the Francis Ford Coppola series, The Godfather — yes, she did, really! And he, unfortunately, missed out on inviting her to his last show.
All in all, in the first half of this exchange, these were the makings of some truly witty, catty and unapologetic fun. Excerpts:
Rehane: Do you like me with these glasses?
Vivek: They look fabulous.
R: Shut up.
V: I swear.
(A member of The Park team stops by to say, hello.)
R: Darshini, with glasses or without?
D:With glasses. You know, I recently saw J Lo with this look. (The matter is settled.)
R addresses photographers: Okay, listen boys. Have you heard of Francis Ford Coppola? He directed The Godfather.
I acted in that movie. It was my part-time job when I was studying in Italy. Francis Ford Coppola used to say — (Vivek takes a sip of his Espresso and gags, because it is too strong.)
R: Oh, come on Vivek. Stop being a prima donna!
R: And why is my drink pink? Just because I’m a girl? Listen, I can’t have a pink drink next to me. I’m sorry, it’s too sexist.
(Waiter removes said pink drink. Back to what Francis Ford Coppola used to say.)
R to photographers: Lights, camera, action!
(Cut to the interview.)
R: I’m just going to ask my dear friend... I’m supposed to be his mentor. Why didn’t you invite me for the show you had recently?
V: I have to tell you that this is not a part of the script.
R: I am just pulling your leg Vivek. So how has your journey been from NIFT, class of...?
Who’s that teacher?
V: I remember Rehane, because she used to walk into the classroom, and all of us would just freeze. She had this style about her, and would carry a flip phone, which she would flick open in style and say,
‘Khuda Hafiz’. (Rehane laughs)
V: I think I was one of your favourite students.
R: But you were one of the most talented. You can’t be my favourite without really being good at something!
V: What about coming into NIFT excited you back then?
R: Someone had asked me to come and mentor the students. And being someone educated on fashion from Italy — in Italian by the way — I was curious to know how the instruction was here.
V: How good was it on a scale of one to 10?
R: I thought it was a great effort. But there were some ‘intensos’. I remember there was one guy who told us stories about Shiva and the tandav, but his clothes weren’t going in that direction. It was
heartbreaking for us to do a Simon Cowell on him. I understood what kind of effort went into it. But you can’t give someone a wrong opinion, because then for the rest of their life, they are on the wrong path.
Madras to Manhattan
V: We work very hard towards changing what the rest of the country thinks about Chennai (in terms of fashion). Talk to me about what you think...
R: I remember my first fashion week in 2003. People just could not associate fashion with Chennai.
V: I think there is a luxury market here — just not for fashion. Cars, gold, properties, diamonds...
R: That’s okay, we can send our clothes everywhere today. It’s not like back in the day, where you were sitting like a tailor and only catering to one market. I send my clothes to high-profile stores in New York and San Francisco. Nothing is stopping us.
V: But seriously, I think all of us (designers) need to up our game in terms of the kind of quality, service, experience... Then we can say, come here.
R: Here is the deal. You’ve got the best embroidery in the world happening in Chennai?
V: For European labels, not for Indian designers.
R: But the hands are Indian? Why do you think that’s happening? It’s because they have a top dollar for them. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Why would you take anything seriously when life is temporary?
The secret to eternal youth is... fun!
The luxury of Chennai
R: We grew up learning that the first thing you do when you see a garment is turn it inside out, to see the level of craftsmanship behind it. To see every detail, every seam, every loose thread.
India is no longer a third world country. We are on the go. I can give you a list of half a dozen countries (like Vietnam, China) which as manufacturing hubs are cheaper than us. So now how do you up your game?
V: Where I was coming from is, we’re working very hard to put Chennai on the fashion map. I don’t think it is reciprocated by the city.
R: I’ll tell you how to do it. Sell with the same passion to Mumbai and Delhi, and you will find it reciprocated. It’s just like our top heroines in Tamil cinema: How many of them are from Chennai?
But look at it this way. Chennai is our home base. It’s where we produce. It’s where we chill and people let us be. It’s a rat race anywhere else.
R: What are you working on right now?
V: We’ve been wanting to come out with a trousseau line for a long time and now we have with VK India.
R: I am currently working on my 2019-20 Autumn/Winter collection. There’s a lot of vermilion red, lotus pink and a bright green that's somewhere in the middle of parrot and emerald.
V: A lot of clients come to me with a Pinterest image. Do people dare do that to you? (Laughs.)
R: After over 20 years, I have such a large repertoire of my own work. So, when they say this-this, I say that-that. I've done it all.
I particularly like it when people come to me and say, ‘Hey, we want something very trendy. We want the rich look.’ (Laughs.) My, oh my! What could that be?
V: After so many years in the business, what is the secret to your youth?
That’s sweet of you to ask me, considering you’re like a hundred years younger. Why would take anything seriously considering life is temporary? I think the secret to youth is a word that starts with an F.
Do you know which one I am talking about?
V: Very interesting things are going through my mind right now.
R: Fun, is the word. That’s my answer to be eternally young. (Smiles.)
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