'India's fashion industry needs corporate houses to step in'

As one of India's most sought-after fashion designers, Surily Goel is a rare breed.

She knows when to say no to a client – even if they happen to be a Bollywood superstar.

Some may call it bad public relations, but the 31-year-old fashionista firmly believes work is secondary to her personal life.

Emirates Business caught up with the celebrity stylist who was recently in Dubai to launch her summer collection at Samsara.

Is this your first foray into Dubai?

Yes, and I'm very excited to be here. I've heard many glamorous things about the city and its people. Even Manish Malhotra has opened stores here, so I thought, why not just go for it?

Do you see Manish Malhotra as your mentor in the fashion industry?

He is in every sense of the word. I worked under him for about five years after I returned from Los Angeles with my fashion degree. I remember telling him at the time that I would design for a year and then settle down to a family life. Every time I said that, he simply laughed at me. And now here I am.

How and when did you get your big break as a stylist for Bollywood films?

It's quite a story actually. The stylist for Kaal (2005) came down with jaundice the day before the shoot and the film's director made a frantic call to me to design a whole new look for the title song featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Mallaika Arora Khan. I started on it at 4pm and worked through the night to have the outfits ready by 6am for the shoot.

You've worked on a number of film projects since. Is Bollywood work very different from designing clothes for the catwalk?

Designing for films is completely different from producing your own line. A film doesn't require just a designer, but a stylist who conceives the whole look of the star. You have to read the script, understand the character and then break down each scene to conjure up a look and feel that would justify the outfit. Let's say I'm styling for an actress who plays a widow in the film, I can't have her wearing loud colours or floral prints.

What are some of the films you've worked on?

I've worked on Salaam Namaste, Jaan-E-Man and The Last Lear.

All of them feature Preity Zinta, right?

Preity's not just a client anymore, but a friend. It's great styling for her because she is so particular about what she wears and she's very brand conscious. She can carry off a Dior, an Armani or a Gucci. She has input into everything and there's simply no way you can get poor quality or shoddy workmanship past her.

Preity works very hard for her look in every film. For Salaam Namaste she lost oodles of weight to look good in those urban chic clothes.

For The Last Lear, she went completely ethnic and was even compared to a younger Rekha.

What are some of the other projects you are working on?

I'm designing for Zayed Khan in the film Blue, but I'm not at liberty to reveal the names of the other films. I've also just finished styling for several celebrity ad campaigns, including Macro Man with Hrithik Roshan, Kurkure with Juhi Chawla and Lux with Aishwarya Bachchan.

Who is the best dressed and the worst dressed in Bollywood today?

Preity is definitely the best dressed and most elegant. I can't name the worst dressed but after working with Ash on the Lux shoot, I really want to style her look in a film.

That's interesting since Aishwarya has been a constant media target for her lack of style sense.

I don't know why people criticise her. She is just being made into a target. I don't think she's ever been that badly dressed that she should bear the brunt of such harsh words.

Aishwarya probably wasn't at her best in Cannes a few years ago. But I think if you happen to be too high-profile, you end up being a victim of people's criticism.

Do you think the Indian fashion industry has become very gimmicky?

Oh yes. It's all about which celebrity you are roping in to walk the ramp; which socialites are attending the show. This is one of the reasons why I prefer holding shows in Delhi rather than Mumbai.

So what needs to change?

What we need to do is follow the film industry trend and allow business houses to invest in a line and handle all the nitty gritty planning and simply allow us designers to do what we do best – design. Things are not run very well during shows, however, once corporates get involved, things will run more smoothly and professionally. Hopefully things will change in five or 10 years.

Every few years we see international designers introducing Indian designs on the catwalks, such as Armani's sherwani collection in Paris this year. Is Indian fashion going global, and will designers in India now have to compete with the industry's bigwigs?

It is actually great that the world is waking up to Indian designs and there's a great future there. But that said, I don't think there is any competition here. Armanis will cost you an average Rs1,00, 000 (Dh8,566) a piece, while the organic designs from India will be considerably cheaper.

What is your style quotient?

I am a very simple person and would never wear the stuff I design. On any given day you'll see me in a white shirt and jeans.

PROFILE: Surily Goel Fashion Designer Goel started her career nearly a decade ago when she graduated from fashion school and moved to Mumbai to start work.

Celebrity designer Manish Malhotra discovered her potential and took her under his wing to train her in the ways of the Indian fashion industry, and ultimately, the Bollywood style scene.

Goel's big film break came with Kaal (2005), which saw style icons Shah Rukh Khan and Mallaika Arora Khan shake a leg for an item song.

The film bombed, but the song was an instant success and so was Goel's film career. Ever since, the 31-year-old has continued to design for Bollywood's movers and shakers, but she admits that working on her catwalk collections is her first love.