Rohit Bal — the Indian designer who crossed borders to fly his fashion flag in the international arena!
It’s hard for a fashion designer to be an international band, and it’s even harder for an Indian to reach the international level because…
India is a country with n number of diversities under the slogan: “Unity in Diversity.” However, the slogan is limited for chanting in political campaigns only. There is a lot of difference in everything between one state and the next of the 29 states and 7 Union territories.
Nothing is common between the people of one state and the other — food, clothing, religious practice, language, ethnicity, skin colour or facial features — and there are differences within each state!
Why Indian fashion hasn’t reached international level
A trillion dollar question indeed. Though India is the second largest country in population with over 1.2 billion people, 70% of its population is in rural segment where fashion is unheard of. Of the remaining 30% living in urban segment, not everyone follows the same trends all over the country.
As Prathap Suthan, National Creative Director, Cheil Communications, wrote in his 2008 article
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Indian clothes are not comfortable corporate wear, and even the most diehard Indian women will wear the elaborately gold embroidered thick red saree worth more than the most expensive European dress and the 3 or 4 Kg diamond, gold and silver ornaments to a very rich (fat) wedding or birthday bash where the other women have the same type of ‘fashion’ but never to a corporate annual meeting or a new year party at her office.[/quote]
Therefore, it’s not practically possible for any designer to design lines that make an impression on people with different cultural conscience.
However, there are a few Indian designers who have actually surmounted those differences and made a name for themselves in the Indian fashion business.
Rohit Bal, hailed from the scenic Kashmir and based in Delhi, is one of those fashion gurus that design ethnic wear with a contemporary touch. Whatever be the cut of the dress, there must be a touch of ‘Indian-ness’ in the lines to catch the eye of Indians, and Rohit Bal has mastered the art of stamping ‘indian-ness’ in his designs. He knows how to make clothes that have Western silhouettes, using Indian handcraft techniques.
This 54 Year-old “India’s Master of fabric and fantasy” (Time Magazine in 1996) of the Indian fashion world started his career working for his brother who had a fabric export company, but in 1990 he started his own line of traditional designer-wear for men and women, and grew to the international standards with each of his best creations selling at $ 15,000 and above a piece.
His fashion shows have been held on the international platforms in New York, Paris and Singapore besides the regular runway shows in India. His exclusive fashion shows impressed the audience worldwide. Fashion lovers in London, Mauritius, Sao Paolo and Dubai have been charmed by his great creations. In Mumbai, the business capital of India, Rohit Bal’s brand is placed in par with such international brands as Gucci, Burberry, Hugo Boss and Bogetta Veneta, to name a few.
With his best known peacock and lotus motifs, Bal has created outfits for Hollywood stars like Uma Thurman, Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson, Elizabeth Hurley and Naomi Campbell. And there are few Indian actors and actress who have not adorned themselves with Rohit Bal’s designs.
Rohit Bal whose favourite colour is ‘ivory’ has a premium ethnic wear collection under the name BIBA by Rohit Bal which is retailed at exclusive BIBA stores in almost all the major cities in India and sold online.
By designing for Kirtilal’s, a 75 year-old jewelry makers, Rohit has entered into the glistening world of diamonds and gold, and he also has big plans to launch men’s fashion accessories — ties, boxer shorts, wallets and bags, especially cufflinks.
His 2004 Balance brand apparel venture is a great success which enabled him to compete with the international brands.
Rohit marketing strategy of ‘collaborations’ has paid him back handsomely. He has design collaboration deals with Hidesign, a leather goods manufacturer; Oriflame, (Luxembourg) a cosmetics group; Outlander collection, Shloka Bags by Rohit Bal, in collaboration with Mitsubishi, the automobile giant; and Windproof Zippo Lighter, by Zippo, a Pennsylvania based cigarette lighter manufacturers.
Though he confesses that he has little knowledge in technology and still likes to use a paper and a pencil to draw a design, he accepts the fact that online marketing is the new trend which is taking over the actually shop marketing. So, to have a finger in that pie, too, he has a chic line, a 48 piece collection priced between approximately $ 135 and $ 295 (2014) mass-produced for Jabong, an Indian fashion and lifestyle e-commerce portal, which also made it easy for Bal’s BIBA line, available online at “accessible” prices, that sold out like hot cakes.
Rohit Bal shows off that he’s an entrepreneur. He has fashion design collaborations with international companies and then he has shown a taste for designing and running restaurants. In partnership with Alok Aggarwal, he designed the fine dining restaurant Veda in 2005 and since been running the chain in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. He has done interior decoration, rather interior designing, for Park Hotel suites and the Italian restaurant, Cibo, in Delhi, India.
Credits, Honors and Awards:
Miss Universe Canada 2012, Sahar Biniaz, was on the ramp with Rohit Bal at the finale party of the Asmby Valley India Bridal Fashion Week in 2013. International Tennis star Anna Kournikova was on the catwalk for one of his recent shows. Bal had the rare chance of creating the wardrobe for the Indian movie icon Amitabh Bachchan for his TV realty quiz show called ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (“Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”).
Rohit Bal has won several awards that include ‘Designer of the Year’ at Kingfisher Fashion Achievement Awards in 2001 and again at the Indian Fashion Awards in 2006; and he was the ‘Lakme Grand Finale Designer’ in 2012.
The Khadi Gram Udyog, (‘khadi’ is a type of hand-woven cotton fabric) the largest handloom textile operation in India, chose him as their designer, and in 2001, Bal was chosen the ‘ambassador’ for Omega Watches.
The designer with a mind of his own:
The designer who clothed the stars and the affluent brides and grooms boasts that he still makes the most expensive clothes (one of the reasons he doesn’t work for Indian movie productions because, according to him, his clothes are too expensive for any producer), some reaching about $ 2250 apiece, but women still flock to buy them. However, he has Biba and Jabong for those who cannot afford the high-end price tags. He wants to make people feel proud of buying Rohit Bal designs, not just buy and wear.
When doubted if making his lines available on online market would lessen his brand name, he cleared it off by saying that he’d be very much pleased making 20 million people buy his stuff and feel happy than dressing one celeb for the ramp.
The “bad boy” of the Indian fashion world:
Except the fact that there was a news item in the Times of India — Delhi Times on April 1, 2003 announcing Rohit Bal’s engagement with Alexandra Vasilios, the only daughter of a Greek shipping lord, Yanis Vasilios, nothing more about his ‘straight’ married life has been known to the public.
However, the present day Rohit Bal is an open gay and is planning to make a movie in support of gays. He complains that the Indian film industry has done great damage to the thousands of gays out there by portraying gays in bad light, and he has also made an agreement with the Penguin Publishers to write a book on gays.
Rohit Bal, being a work alcoholic and party alcoholic, suffered a massive heart attack back in 2010 but came out of the hospital triumphantly. He is known to have announced his retirement in about five years in an interview with the Vogue on April 14, 2014.
Let’s wish this flamboyant personality who still keeps to professional aesthetic values and respect for his fans and customers who made him what is now every success in his ambitious career!