I think my designs suit Dubai sensibility perfectly
Try asking Malini Ramani a question and you'll get a mixed-bag of replies. There is, apparently, so much about her even she doesn't know. Whether it's about life in general or how she got to where she has or even how she chose her career, the answers are random and often unpredictable. But don't for a moment think you can outsmart her. For under that glamorous facade lies a shrewd businesswoman and a deeply spiritual and philosophical person. Emirates Business spoke to her about life, business and why she's waiting for the next big thing to happen.
You arrived on the Indian fashion scene in 2000 with a bang, literally, after the furore you caused with the dress you made with the Indian flag. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (which was later amended in 2005) strictly regulates the use and display of the Indian national flag.
Oh how can I ever forget that dress! It was for the first ever fashion week and I was feeling patriotic. Also, it was a day before Independence Day and it was all about India. So I designed this dress to show how proud I was of being an Indian. I never in my wildest dream imagined the controversy it would cause. I had to issue a public apology and the case went on for seven years. Now, I feel like I've been there and done that.
So after all these years, are you still comfortable wearing the 'rebel' label?
No, I think I have sobered a lot, both personally and professionally. So many things have happened in my life and I have evolved so much as a designer. But my work is still a combination of jet-set, bohemian, a bit of spirituality, very feminine yet unpredictable.
Yes, my whole life has been unpredictable. From being dropped off in a boarding school in India after my parents' divorced when I was just 11 to starting my own label and creating my own brand, nothing in my life has been planned. They all just happened.
What are you bringing to the Dubai fashion market?
I think my designs suit Dubai sensibility perfectly. The last three times that I have been here, all my designs sold out. This time too, we've already got plenty of orders. This is my market and although I showcase around the world, people go most crazy about it here.
Does that mean we will see a Malini Ramani store soon?
Well, you never know. It's something that I am definitely willing to look into. But I am excited that I'm going to now retail at stores such as Harvey Nichols and S*uce. This could be the start of something exciting.
How did you go about building the Malini Ramani brand?
I really don't know how I did it. What I do know is that it's absolutely exhausting. I think that's a fact you need to first accept when you start off. Everything about you has to be about the brand. You create an image and become it. But it has to be real because people are buying a slice of your personality.
So fashion designers have to be good business people as well?
Yes. Unless you have good people that you really trust who can do it for you, you have to know how to do a little bit of everything – from meeting clients and networking to branding.
Is that why you dabbled in the hospitality business? Your restaurant in Goa was once listed as one of the best nightspots in the world by Conde Nast Traveller?
Yes, we opened Congo in 2002. But I burned out. It was just too much work and I found myself working till six the next day. I just couldn't handle it anymore and decided to close it down.
So how much is the Malini Ramani brand worth now?
I wish I could give you a straight answer. About two and a half years ago, the Delhi police came and closed down my store and my factory for some reason. The case went on for a long time and I only opened my Delhi store about three weeks ago. So it's almost like I'm starting from scratch, although my flagship store in Goa has been running for seven years now.
Any plans to move beyond the realms of fashion?
What I want next is a complete change, something totally removed from what I'm doing now. Maybe one day I'll decide that I am done with fashion.
I am a very spiritual person and into meditating and ashrams. These days, I wake up in the morning and I am excited about what's going to come my way.
PROFILE: Malini Ramani Fashion designer
It's been almost a decade since Malini Ramani burst onto India's then nascent fashion scene and created a niché of her own. Often referred to as the fashion fraternity's enfant terrible, she has shocked, impressed and wowed the country's chic set for many years.
Born in the US and raised in India, Ramani ran away from boarding school to study fashion in New York. Today, she retails around the world from Miami to Monte Carlo and Mumbai to Moscow.
Her life, she explains, is full of twists and turns, while her eccentricity has often landed her in a spot of bother with some authorities and self-proclaimed moral guardians.
As one of India's most well-known designers, Ramani, who also retails in Dubai, says that she thrives on unpredictability, claiming that one day she might just get up and leave it all behind.
She lives in Delhi and is single.
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