Text by Shirin Mehta, with inputs from Akanksha Pandey. Photographs by Asad Sheikh.
Sharp tailoring (he is fabled for drafting every pattern himself, his construction skills deemed “legendary”) juxtaposed with flowing lines. An almost manic attention to detail. Embroideries that are somehow almost cerebral. (A sari with monotone embroidery in its geometric magnificence recalled a map of the constellations to my mind and has stayed with me over decades). After 12 years of resounding silence, Mumbai’s quiet couturier — sometimes called the “Armani of India” — Shahab Durazi and his 34-year-old eponymous label have returned to the ramp with all this and more, in a collection that was partly a retrospective of his brand. The soft bows, the fringes, the bejewelled tassels, the beaded trousers, the short skirts and jackets, the ’40s- and ’50s-inspired fringed dresses remain, all presented this time around with a blurring of masculine and feminine looks, transcending season and genre. A fluidity places the brand squarely into the modern context of indistinct gender lines with lace and bows on men and slouchy suits for women. The men’s line is inspired by the English dandy look, with beaded yokes; collars, cuffs and bows with pearls and silk ribbons; and bandhgala jackets embellished with glass beads, pearls and cord embroidery. “The capsule collection will endorse slow fashion and the relevance of timelessness that defies the concept of trends and promotes classic couture with contemporary nuances,” the designer had said.
Verve has always appreciated that Durazi’s collections never bent to trends or Bollywood (though he famously dressed stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sushmita Sen) as evidenced in our interviews over the decades. “I must be doing something right,” he told us in 2002. “The shock, in my work, comes from the starkness and simplicity. It is very challenging to do very little to a garment and have it completely right.” So, while most couture brands in India have played the wedding market with finesse or not, bowing to the bottom line, Durazi has held true to his vision of couture as an entity that is separate from bridal and his silhouettes continue to speak to this distinction. We have a designer then who, while offering what’s classic, has created his own path and profile. And this often means presenting entire looks that start at hairpins and end at perfectly coordinated shoes, as audiences witnessed at his most recent presentation, where cummerbunds and belts with diamante buckles and resplendent capes and coats complemented his predominantly black line, along with hand-embroidered clutch bags, envelope briefcases and pearl-encrusted bow clips. Durazi left little to chance in the entirety of his luxurious looks.
Verve speaks to the thoughtful designer about the hiatus years and what the future will hold. One thing’s for sure — no one forgot Durazi during his “missing” years — the palpable excitement to once again witness his particular aesthetic on the ramp bore testimony to this….
Excerpts from a conversation:
How did it feel to be back on the ramp after such a long gap?
I was very excited; I had worked hard, and I believe that is reflected through the collection. I had the good fortune of having the time to put together the pieces and for that I’d like to thank FDCI’s Sunil Sethi, who believed in the work I was doing. It was great to be back on the ramp and present my work to a live audience. What I liked was the energy of the models. I worked with a completely new set of models, and they were excited because a lot of them had heard about me but hadn’t worked with me yet. It was very gratifying because I knew they were giving it their best shot.
Photograph by Naomi Shah.
How has the brand and your design philosophy evolved over the past 12 years and how is this collection different from your previous ones?
This collection is very elegant, there is nothing garish or chunky about it, it is very refined and delicate. And that is my strength and what I’ve come to be known for. It’s also something I hear a lot about from my clients, that they come to me for my refined embroidery. I have incorporated all this into this collection, not only through the outfits but also through the jewellery, bows for men, lace collars embroidered with small pearls and Swarovski crystals — look closely and you will find that the details are all there. I’ve borrowed a lot of the refinement I’ve learnt over the years and used that in this collection.
Have you noticed style evolutions among Indian actors, stylists and designers?
Today, Bollywood is far more adventurous with their fashion choices as compared to a few years ago. The younger generation of actors is willing to push the envelope to make bold statements. However, I personally feel these attempts often backfire due to a lack of self-awareness and their understanding of what works for their body type and personality.
How would you define fashion?
Fashion is art. It’s a medium of expression not just for the creator but even the end user. It should be embraced with thought and vision; a language to express your persona not just to the world around but to yourself too. Fashion has little to do with clothing and more with the process. How a designer unfolds his story has greater meaning than the collection as a whole. How a customer uses the pieces from various collections to address their needs is of far greater importance than the pieces by themselves.
The industry is notorious for having no discipline or depth as long as what you make sells, but you are not cut from that same cloth, what has been the reason behind this?
I have tried to stay true to my philosophy; creating classics that are timeless. I create pieces that are built on a foundation of high quality, not just physical quality but a high quality of thoughts and ideas. My focus is always on the product. I spend 95 per cent of my creative time working on my product. Only a small part of my efforts are expended to promote, market or sell the product and although this may be slightly defeatist in an ever-growing competitive arena, it has certainly worked for me over the past 34 years and positioned my brand in a hierarchy that respects and applauds the brand ethos.
Are there any Indian actors, celebrities or influencers from today’s generation who catch your interest for their choices of cinema, work and personality?
Rajkummar Rao for his commendable body of work as an actor of substance. Shefali Shah for her cinematic choices and exemplary performances. Bibhu Mohapatra for his creative sensitivity. Alia Bhatt simply for her talent, one of the most gifted actresses from the new generation.
Can you expand on why it’s important to be wholesome in order to be successful?
The brand should reflect the persona of the creator. In this lies the essence of design, a reflection of the person. To create magic, one must be connected to oneself in a way that allows one to express effortlessly the emotions one feels. The product must be laden with emotion and for that it’s imperative that the person creating it is true to their sensibilities, principles and values, both personal and professional. If one sees the brand and product profile, certain emotions will come to mind. These are part of my personality and how I perceive the world around me. There’s an emotional connect that links the personality to the product and that’s inevitable since the method to the madness stems from our inner being.
Photograph by Naomi Shah.
Who are the people that you look up to?
I greatly admire kindness and humility in a person. It is by far the most attractive attribute to possess. It’s also commendable to see those who smile while they struggle. It’s a reflection of strength of character and I have immense respect for patience and perseverance.
How has your education played a role in who you are today and has your perspective changed about education and training over the years with the influx of tech?
My parents and teachers were the greatest influences in shaping me as an individual. I hail from a family that believes in the goodness of human beings and reciprocates the love received. This, to me, is the secret to a happy life; to acknowledge and embrace the goodness that surrounds us and to give back the same. My value system evolved over years of struggle, debate and failure. I believe that we are a sum of our choices, and the wrong choices taught me great lessons that I hold close to my heart till this day.