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Home > City Resources > Fashion & Beauty > Bhamini Subramaniam

 Bhamini Subramaniam 

Bhamini Subramaniam - A self taught designer

Bhamini SubramaniamAn artist has many ways of expressing herself - her canvass is vast. A self taught designer, Bhamini Subramanium chose to express her artistic inclinations on fabrics and in the process breathed new life to sarees and scarves. Her single handed effort has helped in creating a niche market for handpainted garments and accessories and earned her the distinction of being among the privileged group of Indian designers participating at the Dusseldorf Fashion Show.

One look at Bhamini Subramanium you would mistake her for a rich and traditional housewife who has taken to designing to spend her idle time. But her work reveals a different woman altogether - an established fashion designer, a dedicated wife and mother. Unlike most women for whom a post graduation in literature would be followed by a cushy job as a lecturer, this lady decided to pursue her creative interests. Having done quality work over the years, she has evolved her own distinctive style and her brand "Bhamini" has become a name to reckon with in the world of fashion.

Bhamini Subramanium spoke to Mumbaibest about herself, her work and the fashion industry in general...

When did you decide that you wanted to become a fashion designer?

Her famous sareesMy interest in art in its various forms has been an integral part of my life ever since I can remember. While doing my masters in literature, I did a part time diploma in textile designing as I always had an intrinsic interest in designing and also an artistic urge. I had decided that if I ever had a career it had to be associated with something creative. And everything seemed to have fallen into place. By the time I started my career I was already married, which, in a way contributed to facilitating my going ahead. It was with Bichitra Sarees that I started off as a trainee in Delhi. I also did a stint with the Weavers Service Centre where I got a very good grounding of the traditional Indian heritage as well as knowledge of Indian textiles, dyeing and printing. Besides it also gave me a commercial grounding as to how a design should look, how to stylize, how to take a traditional design and contemporarize it. Armed with all this knowledge I came back to Mumbai.

How did you go ahead with your work once you returned to Mumbai?

When I was back in Mumbai, my elder son was born and I faced the typical problems. But then my family was a pillar of support and I started working from home. With my portfolio together with a few samples, I made the usual rounds to retailers and the response was extremely encouraging. At that point of time, I was painting single handedly and as business increased my clients encouraged me to set up my studio at Santacruz with a few designers as assistants. It was only in 1988, that Glitterati invited me to work on collections for them.

What made you go for an M Phil and now a Ph D?

I had already completed my M Phil by the time my collections were available at Glitterati. For me, the idea behind designing was not crass commercialism, as I am not just interested in making money. Some amount of intellectual stimulation is necessary to keep me going. I have always been very conscious of the fact that I am a self taught designer with no formal training and as I moved on I found my way. Inorder to improve the quality of my work I also need to insight into other kinds of allied arts. My interest in music and literature allows me to get inspirations, which enable me to do better work. If you don't grow constantly your work will suffer.

Did you work keeping certain principles in mind?

Hand Painted semi formalsEven when I came to Mumbai and started full-time, there were certain principles that I stood by. I would not compromise on my work, do assignments for the mills, or work for the wholesale commercial market where there is always the danger of doing volumes and no quality work and there is the risk of not being offered the right prices. I am happy doing one design per day which in the long run would fetch me a higher margin than doing ten sarees a day. You have to look at it both ways. One has to make money as well as develop a good will in the market. When Glitterate asked me to launch my collection I was already an established designer. I maintained a very low profile and as a result very few people knew about me but that didn't really deter me for I was confident my work would speak for itself.

How did it take off from Glitterati?

The initial response at Glitterati was very good and soon they asked me to work on salwar kurtas. I was already doing block printing and hand painting on crepes and silks as hand painting is a medium over which I feel I have a monopoly. Though for block painting every designer has his or her own style it has worked very well for me. Very soon I had a set of loyal customers. In 1998 I was invited for the spring summer line in Dusseldorf which is one of the highlights of my career .

How did you prepare for the Dusseldorf Fashion show ?

Her Patti Collection I had never dreamt that I would get such a opportunity. I realized this was chance I had to put my company and brand name on the world textile map. The Indo German Chamber of Commerce approached me and asked me to give copies of my work for assessment which was based on ingenuity, originality, standing in the market and reputation as a designer. When I sent it I was very apprehensive given the fact that there were so many reputed designers. But nevertheless I got a call and believe me it was beyond my expectations. I experimented with the fabric as I used tie material. At that time I also set up a tailoring unit and worked meticulously under strict privacy for I didn't want anybody to point a finger at me.

What was your experience at Dusseldorf ?

It felt great to be among all the international designers and be given a place in the Creative Gallery. I felt like I was on the top of the world. The response was very good from countries like USA and France but not so much in Germany, which I would attribute to the ongoing recession and also to the fact that Germans have a very different taste for clothes. But the Parisians just loved it and discovered a lot of romanticism in my clothes.

Tell us about your collections...

After coming back from Germany I started doing regular lines and I put a lot of emphasis on pret line for more than couture, for it is the pret that has a much wider market. I did the Kalamkari designwear which is a fusion wear and was a big hit. I also stick to ecofriendliness; as it is another design philosophy that I abide by. Then there was embroidery, ecofriendly whites and cotton linen which had very basic structures. More over I was tired of being slotted as a hand painted designer, though it is my forte there was more to me and I wanted to prove my designing skills. The Patti collection that I did is related to the theme of empowerment of women and I believe that it is worth associating with a cause rather than just sticking to market conditions. Patti is actually a village craft which comes from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. I improvised on this traditional art and made it into a casual and semi formal wear and they came out beautifully.

What are the market conditions in India for fashion garments ?

Bhamini Subramaniam's worksMarket conditions in India are such that designers have to come out with two lines simultaneously where one is the pret line and the other is the couture line. The latter has a niche market which consists of people who value our creativity. What we understand by couture as a French word is customized clothing for a particular elite or important clientele, where you shape a costume according to her / his figure and then cut it. In high fashion terms it means exactly what a customer wants. But today in India, the term has taken on a different connotation all together where it is understood as high fashion. When a designer is showing a collection on the ramp there has to be a certain amount of high drama and some clothes are done for the ramp effect alone and rarely people buy them. These clothes help in creating a lot of hype about the designer. And moreover in India tastes are very funny. If a designer shows his / her collection then one may or may not like it but then the moment a film star wears it, the masses catch on very fast. Inspite off having such a rich traditional heritage, it's very sad that we go by popular culture be it music or anything else. Our aesthetic taste seems to be lost.

What do you like working on most?

Saree for me is a very widely spreadout canvas on which I work very spontaneously and scarves are also very interesting to work on. Sarees are one of the kind where you are able to control the lay out which is not possible in screen or in block. You can use as many colors as you want and it is so beautiful a creative process that you just enjoy it. The active thinking involved is in itself very satisfying.

What are the fabrics that you like using for your collections?

Silks have the best affinity for acid dyes and it gives the richness of color after processing for the kind of effect which no other fabric can give. Silk for me is the select medium and it also relates to the old art of Chinese painting on silk. I also like using it or working on screen dividers, and drapes for interiors. Besides I use chiffon's, organza, Chinese crepe, georgette, samoi satin. I also use velvet, cotton, linen and khadi to a certain extent. But considering the red tapisim involved when it comes to khadi I have decided not to waste my time over it.

In terms of colors what do you prefer?

If it is catering to the Indian market I prefer pastels to medium, but when it comes to the northern part of the country, I go for dark colors. I mostly go by the colors of the season and work according to the feed back I get from my customers. For textures, I prefer using dark colors for it gives a rich effect. But this year people are looking at a lot of color which range from medium brights to happy colors. But personally I prefer using a lot of red, black and offwhite.

How much priority do you give to embellish your garments?

Bhamini Subramaniam's worksEmbellishment depends on the fabric and the kind of pattern I am using and I try to be different from what others are doing in the market. If some one is doing Zardosi, I don't believe in doing it as well. For hand painted lehengas I use bead work and stones, patti work, Swaroski, then there is also the naka tiki work which I use from time to time.

What kind of clients do you cater to?
I have a set of very loyal clients. Friends come from abroad and pick up things at bulk. I don't really advertise and haven't retailed anywhere else apart from Saga in Mumbai and Heritage and L'Affaire in New Delhi. I have done corporate uniforms for Max Touch, Jazz by the Bay, Gati, BPL and have been doing interiors for Shyam Ahuja, and some architects and designers in New York. In case of interiors the work is mostly customized . Throughout the year I keep myself busy as there is never a dearth of work.

What is the price range of your designs?

The price structure is very important when it comes to buying fashion garments. My pieces are sold anywhere between Rs 350/- to Rs 1200/-. All my products are well stitched and priced well within range. The hand printed range starts from Rs 5000 onwards, lehengas depending on the kind of work involved retail at about Rs 8000 to Rs 50000. As for scarfs you can pick them up from Rs 1250 onwards and the patti starts from Rs 3500 onwards.

# 1/36, North Bombay Society,
Juhu Tara Road, Juhu,
Mumbai - 400049.
Phone: Office - 6107654
Fax: 614 2001

# 203, Twinkle Apartments,
Nehru Road, Vakola Pipeline,
Santa Cruz East, Mumbai - 400 005.
Phone: 618 1890, 612 3335
Mobile: 98200 28650

By: Sharmistha Chatterjee


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