Should Designers Work in Pairs?

Look at it more closely and you will see that the ‘famed hand’ behind a fashion label is invariably not a single designer but, indeed, a pair of them! What with Abraham & Thakore, Meera & Muzaffar, Hemant Sagar & Lecoanet, Ashima & Leena, Nikhil & Shantanu, Rohit Gandhi & Rahul Khanna … and the list goes on.  Fortuitous? Unlikely?

The cynic would scream ‘orientation’. Perhaps this would explain the start of some of the partnerships, but surely it cannot explain it in its entirety! So what’s special about the fashion world?

We are all aware of Fashion as a Creative Art, but Janus-like, it has another less glamourous side – the Business of Fashion. Fashion is as yet not hung in museums but must jostle for hangar and shelf space in regular retail stores, even if up-market. This requires the complete torturous stages of business – manufacturing, marketing, finance, inventory management, et all. What this means is that Fashion requires two traits – one Creative and wistful and the other Logical and down-to-earth. Very few have this within the confines of a single brain … exceptions being Armani, who built up his own business and on this side of the world, Tarun Tahiliani who started out as an ivy college MBA!

This is why the Fashion Industry finds itself in pairs – while one of the partners is the sensitive, creative side, the other does serious down to earth not-so-pleasant things like sales, promotion and manufacturing amongst other things.

JJ Valaya is passionately steeped into creative design while his brother, TJ Singh looks after the business, and the two share all the spoils equally. Before the break, it was Ashima who was the sensitive designer while cousin Leena was the determined face to the world.  Rajesh Pratap Singh has his very business-capable sister, Sapna. Padma Shri Ritu Kumar may have been the doyen of Indian fashion but, as it is said, she may not have been such a big success were it not for her husband, Shashi Kumar, relegated to the shadows, who painstakingly built a national-level business making Ritu the most successful Indian designer ever.

When I was head of the FDCI and we were making furtive attempts to develop the Business of Fashion, we found that our nemesis was the designer himself – potential businesspeople could not fathom or reconcile one who would normally not wake up before noon, be unable to keep an appointment or a delivery commitment, or unwilling to negotiate his label for any inducement. I remember once having to take my client and a photographer to a senior designer’s residence and literally pull him out of his bed, all because he missed an important morning photoshoot! We finally had the shoot in the designer’s living room.

The modern crop of designers is certainly more alert and aware and business-wise more savvy. Still, I would say as it is in cricket, only a few are both batsmen and bowlers, for the rest the best bet is to take on a ‘fashion partner’!

By:  Vinod Kaul

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