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Fashion: Bhagalpur boy's success mantra

September 15, 2007 10:55 IST
Sometimes unlikely people from unlikely places gain recognition pursuing unlikely professions. Samant Chauhan with his bald pate and eyes that gleam with ambition and a pronounced heterosexual gait could pass off as being many things.

But surprise, surprise: the man is a fashion designer and one who honed his early knowledge of fashion while growing up in Bhagalpur. That town in Bihar is better known for unsavoury incidents like blinding, riots and, more recently, the way a petty thief was tortured by the police. But Chauhan defends his town gallantly: "People have the wrong image about Bihar."

But this is not a story about Bihar or Bhagalpur but about Chauhan, a boy born into a less-than-privileged family (his father works as the head material chaser in the Indian railways), in a less-than-trendy town and yet is today a promising young fashion designer who has managed a stall at the London Fashion Week - a feat worthy of applause, for to break into fashion today and be taken seriously requires a fat bank account and a more-than-nodding acquaintance with the high life.

Chauhan, while still in school, decided that he had had enough with education and wanted to do something creative. But his parents persuaded him to complete his graduation in physics. After that he started taking entrance examinations for different institutes and got into IIT Kanpur for a masters in physics. He says, "I wanted to do photography at NIFT but it was too expensive, especially the equipment."

That option closed, he chose fashion design instead. His parents, he says, were supportive of his decision and asked no awkward questions like what a boy who had lived and studied in Bhagalpur would do in the world of fashion, if in the first place, there was a livelihood to be earned from such a profession.

And earning a livelihood to send money back home was a hard reality for Chauhan while his peers, better educated and from wealthier backgrounds, took their privileged lives with all its perks for granted. "The first semester at NIFT was tough. I would sit in the back row and I found my new environment tough," he says.

But that diffidence wore off quickly when Chauhan discovered that he knew as much if not more than his peers. He says, "We had to do a project where we had to do a study about one foreign fashion designer and trace how he reached the top.

I had to do Ralph Lauren and I already knew a lot about him whereas other students didn't even know where to get the information from." Chauhan would spend hours reading up on various subjects like fashion and well-known international fashion designers.

His design sensibility reflects those early influences with great understanding of texturing, style and silhouette that would rival that of someone who may have had the good fortune of actually apprenticing with one the international greats.

His student years in Delhi were also marked by lots of freelance work in different creative mediums to be able to pay his way through even though he was already on a scholarship.

The first recognition of his undoubted talent came when he put together his graduating collection using Bhagalpur silk. He got awards both for his collection as well as for fabric innovation. However, his struggles were not yet over. Unlike many of his batchmates, Chauhan decided to work with company that made fabric. "I wanted to do that as I wanted to have a technical advantage," he adds.

That year, he says, was his toughest. He would work extremely long hours and then return home to work on his collection for the Singapore Fashion Week. Chauhan didn't have the luxury of quitting as he was also sending money home for his younger brother's education.

His inability to pay the airfare for Singapore led to him to find the CEO of Alliance, Sunil Sethi, who helped him reach Singapore. In a gratitude-laced voice, he says, "Mr Sethi has helped me hugely. I would not have been able to reach here without him."

Chauhan won the Asian Young Designer Fashion contest at the Singapore Fashion Week but chose to accept the second prize as that carried a cash prize of $5,000. He says of that choice, "I needed the money and I used that money to set up my workshop and get my FDCI membership."

For his London Fashion Week collection, Chauhan has chosen to work with Bhagalpur silk. He is also using linen from there extensively for his other collections.

Adversity can often be one's best friend, for the desire to succeed is greater than for many who have lived in the lap of luxury. Chauhan is neither ashamed of his background nor sits around waiting for his life to take off.

He is doing everything to ensure that it reaches heights that his parents may have never dreamt for their son. And that is why the story of this fashion designer from Bhagalpur is so important for this new India. For it is a story of hope and a vision for success.

Archana Jahagirdar in New Delhi