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'India's not ready to experiment with lingerie yet'

Last updated on: June 1, 2012 14:17 IST

'India's not ready to experiment with lingerie yet'

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Divya Nair

Pooja Upadhyay, the only Indian designer who will be showcasing a lingerie creation at the international Triumph Inspiration Awards 2012 talks about her choice of career, why Indian women must experiment with their innerwear and offers tips to aspiring designers. Read on.

Pooja Upadhyay is yet to finish her graduation, but she has already managed to impress leading fashionistas like Anna Singh, Anupama Verma, Vikram Bawa, Nisha Jamwal and Anchal Kumar with her first lingerie design.

In fact, the 20-year-old is the only Indian designer who will be representing the country at the international Triumph Inspiration Awards 2012, an annual event hosted by premier lingerie brand Triumph.

Pooja, from Delhi, will soon be competing against 30 international designers at the grand finale, which will be held in Shanghai this October.

A third-year student of the National Institute of Fashion Technology Mumbai, she says lingerie designing is a small module of her course at the institute and that she designed the winning outfit within a week.

"I had no training in lingerie designing. Also, there are no institutes in India that offer specialised courses in lingerie designing, at least not that I am aware of. But Triumph was a big show; I used my training in pattern-making and corsetry to do the best I could. I wanted to add the Indian touch, so I used surface ornamentation to complete the look. It took me seven days to ready the final outfit," she explains.

Pooja credits her success to her parents, who helped her realise her dream of becoming a fashion designer and supported her all the way.

"Not many youngsters get to pursue their dream careers at the right age. I am glad my parents supported my decision to take up this line. Also, I am happy that I received this opportunity to showcase my creation on an international stage," gushed the young designer, who currently resides in Chembur in Mumbai.

Pooja comes from a non-creative background and wants to create a niche in the Western wear market in India and abroad. While her father Prasanna Kumar works as an engineer with NTPC, Surat, her mother Poornima is a homemaker. She also has a younger brother Prateek, who is still schooling in Surat.

In this interview with rediff.com, she shares the challenges she faces as a young designer, why Indian women struggle with lingerie shopping and advises readers to appreciate the hard work behind a creation.

How did you prepare for the Triumph Inspiration Awards?

We had to send in an illustration first; then follow it up with a catchy title for the creation and a small brief explaining what the collection would feature. Since the theme was Butterflies and Dragons, I named my design Duality.

I wanted it to showcase the dual nature of women -- sensual like a butterfly and fierce and strong like the dragon.

I used chiffon and surface texturisation to add an Indian element to my design. The one-winged pattern justified the dragon and butterfly theme.

Why did you choose lingerie designing in particular?

It was not a planned choice, but when I came to know about the Triumph show, I decided to participate. I feel, as a designer, one should not restrict themselves to one genre. Plus, the Triumph Inspiration Awards is a great way to experiment, learn, and showcase your creations to the world.

Since NIFT does not offer a specialisation in lingerie designing, how did you prepare for the competition?

Yes, unfortunately NIFT does not offer specialisation in lingerie designing yet. However, they have a small module where we are taught how to make the basic bra. Details like the cup size, the right padding, material, colour etc is left to the designers.

I feel if one is aware of pattern-making and corsetry, lingerie designing isn't be a difficult choice.

For the Triumph show, we did not have to make the basic bra. We could use a basic structure and improvise upon it to present our creativity.

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Image: Pooja Upadhyay (right) takes to the ramp with her winning creation at the Indian leg of the Triumph Inspiration Awards 2012 in Mumbai, May 2
Photographs: Courtesy Carat Fresh Integrated

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'None of the Indian models are willing to promote a lingerie brand'

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What is your opinion of Indian lingerie designers and their collections?

I am not aware of many Indian lingerie designers. But I am aware of Triumph as a brand and their collections are quite impressive.

Do you think the Indian market is ready for lingerie designers? Why?

In India, lingerie is perceived as innerwear, unlike in Western countries where people treat it like a trend and wear it sportingly. There is good scope in the Indian retail market, but it's not enough to push you towards a prospective career yet. We have people who spend lakhs on wedding wear, but they are not ready to experiment with their innerwear.

Although Triumph is popular, none of the Indian models or actors are willing to promote a lingerie brand, at least not on the ramp. It will take some time for Indian lingerie designers to promote their work within the country. But internationally, the scope is quite good. Brands like Victoria's Secret inspire us to hope for that day.

What were the challenges you met as an upcoming designer? What did you learn from them?

In a creative field, you have to battle with differences of opinion and work under stressful deadlines and creative briefs. There are times when you put in so much hard work and the judges disapprove of your designs. You can't argue with them.

At times, your creation is ruined at the last minute -- an incomplete pattern, the wrong fit, a delay in the delivery of an important design element etc. On the day of your presentation you can't afford to give excuses. I have learnt that all of this is part of a bigger learning curve. There are good days and bad ones, but you have to take things in your stride, improve your mistakes, plan in advance and work better on your next creation.

At the same time, NIFT has introduced us to the world of retail designing already. We have worked with brands like Shoppers Stop and Mandhana Industries, where we were given a creative brief and a budget. Sometimes we are so excited about the final product that we end up utilising all our costs on the raw material itself. Hidden costs like labour are ignored or under-valued. As long as you pick up from your mistakes, learning is fun.

How did your parents react when you told them about your career choice?

My parents have been very supportive of my decision throughout. After my Class XII in science, they suggested that I should pursue design, as they knew how much of an interest I took in sketching, designing and illustrating. When I cleared the entrance exam, I became confident about my career choice.

Although my parents are aware of me participating in the lingerie show, my grandmother thinks I am designing clothes. She only understands that much.

Who are your favourite designers -- Indian and international -- and why?

I love Alexander McQueen's work. Among the Asian designers, I like Prabal Gurung and Manish Malhotra -- their designs appeal to me.

I am also inspired by the label Rodarte. It is a line by two sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy. They explore new techniques in Western wear, which are interesting.

In Indian wear, Shyamal and Bhumika have good designs.

How are you preparing for the international competition?

The same design that was selected in the qualifying round will be showcased at the finale. I just have to be prepared with my presentation. There will be more designers, from international backgrounds. It will be a great opportunity for me.

Do you plan to continue as a lingerie designer after the competition?

Not really. Like, if I get selected, Triumph may showcase my design and ask me to create a line, but besides that, I am not too sure about pursuing it.

What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

After my graduation, I want to assist a good designer for a few years before I begin my solo career. I am interested in designing Western outfits for Indian and international clients.

What if things don't work out as planned? Do you have a backup?

There is no backup. Designing is my passion and I am going to give it my best shot.


Image: Indian entries at the Triumph Inspiration Awards 2012 in Mumbai, May 2
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'The future for lingerie designers certainly looks bright'

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According to you, what are the most common mistakes that Indian women make while shopping for lingerie?

Indian women are busty. Most often they ignore this fact and pick up the wrong size of bra. While a smaller one won't cover your assets fully, a larger one will make you uncomfortable under your clothing.

With some information and help, every woman can find the right size and pick the right innerwear.

Another common mistake that women make is they choose the wrong colour. Unless you are making a statement, a green bra under a pink dress is not advisable.

It is embarrassing to see women trying hard to conceal the straps of their bras under a designer blouse. Go strapless, ladies!

When you are wearing a skin-hugging garment, you have to be extra particular about what you wear underneath. A demi-cup bra is not advisable if you have a heavy bust, especially if you are wearing a high neck tee-shirt. Similarly, if you are wearing low-waist trousers, you must be careful about the colour of your underwear too.

Any more lingerie-shopping tips for Indian women?

It is important to understand the right size of your innerwear. Aretailer will happily serve you with all the information regarding the right size and fit, provided you ask for it.

Gone are the days when women wore the same boring outfits at every occasion. They should experiment with demi-cups, strapless, halter necks, padded cups etc and experience the difference. These days, many Indian designers offer you the convenience of embedded cups in both Indian wear and Western outfits.

For instance, if you are attending a party in the evening, you can choose between a single-shoulder strap or strapless bra under an off-shoulder top. You will not only look young and sporty, but also make a cool statement. The trick is to choose wisely, as per the needs of the situation.

Any tips for aspiring lingerie designers?

It is very important to understand the theme given to you and study the creative brief carefully before starting out. Having a catchy title for your collection is not enough. You have to match it with the right fabric, colours and presentation. Extravagance is justified for a fashion week or a competition, but when you are designing for a mass audience, you have to understand that comfort and colour of fabric acquire importance.

Lingerie designing is an art. You must choose soft and skin-friendly fabrics like satin, cotton and nylon, which will help your skin breathe under them. Also take into account the elasticity of fabrics while designing the innerwear.

For instance, you can use as many strings and wires as you like while designing your collection for a fashion show, but you may want to play it down while designing for a retail brand. You have to keep in mind your target audience and budget before launching your creation. A little homework will help you decide between what the market desires and what you can offer in return.

Would you recommend lingerie design as a prospective career option?

I would say it is a niche vocation in India. I am not sure of the immediate prospects, but the future certainly looks bright. If you are committed to pursue it, you may have to look at international brands and work with international designers for some time to gain some experience and training. At the same time you may also try and build the need for such a trend in India.

Have you ever felt bad when people comment on or discuss the model more than your creation? Has it ever happened to you?

Yes, it happens often. Whenever I share my creations with friends, designer mates will appreciate the design and hard work, but there are some who enjoy discussing the model. I would like to tell them to give some merit to the designer who has put his/her heart and sweat into the creation. With a little support, we (designers) will be motivated to improve our work.

There are so many design school graduates in our country who are not so successful. What reasons do you attribute to this?

The competition is high and the pressure to deliver is so much that only the best survive. Some of them are unable to live up to the pressure and end up reflecting the creations of existing designers, hence losing out early on in the race. The key is to be original, innovative and improvise as per the needs of your customers.

Some tips for young aspirants

Any design is only as good as its wearability. You may have showcased a great design on the ramp, but what if you get no customers/clients till the next show? You have to be able to differentiate between a line that is good for a fashion week and one that appeals to your customer.

For example, you have a Manish Arora ramp collection that is extravagant and visually appealing, but how many are going to wear these designs? So you should also design an alternate line with commercialised designs and adapt accordingly.

Networking is very important in this profession. For those who don't thrive on fashion weeks, word-of-mouth publicity influences your career immensely.

You have to be open to experimentation and watch out for what your competitors are offering, so that you can be unique.

No matter how much you admire a popular designer, obviously, you can't repeat his/her designs. Most upcoming talents ruin their careers because they copy and recreate from other designers. You can't afford to be lazy in this vocation.


Image: Pooja (third from right) is presented with her award at the Triumph Inspiration Awards in Mumbai, May 2
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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