The Dark Mistress of the fashion world

Delna Poonawalla elegantly took on drama with her new couture collection “Dark Mistress” at London Fashion Week this September

Accidentally I was invited to several shows at this year’s London Fashion week, as POP PR company thought it would be fun to get some creative writers like me in to watch glamour rather than some regular fashion journalists. I am a professional art curator, who follows contemporary fashion as an expression of art.

I reached a lavish venue, Amba Hotel at the heart of Charing Cross in the centre of London, on a beautiful September morning, and just as I stepped in, I was suddenly transported to a highly glamorous world of ” Divas”, where even guests were trying to make a fashion statement…

The first show I attended was a young designer from New York – OLLARI. Good work, but nothing out of the box, the same stunning models, beautiful clothes, sound and light, stylised presentation and the same audience.

But there was a buzz about the next show and one could feel the sudden rush, the queue to get in were longer, the guests more glamorous and everybody was pretty anxious to get to the front row. I wonder why, after all it was going to be just another designer.

After seeing too many shows from the front row, I decide to offer my seat to a lady, an 80-year old fashion follower, who had travelled from Paris to see this particular designer, as she had lived in the 60s in Jaipur, a place in north of India, and had always loved Indian clothes, specially saris. (To my utter bad luck I missed a pure hand woven cashmere shawl gifted by the designer only to the front row guests)

When I moved to the back row, suddenly the lights went off and in the darkness I saw the designer’s name flashed on a white wall “DELNA POONAWALA“, the famous Indian designer from Mumbai, who this jam packed hall of fashion fanatics were waiting to see with batted breath.

Slowly the lights come on like a glowing sunrise and gorgeous models wearing stunning flowing elegant dresses start emerging like goddess.

“Dark Mistress” was her theme. Delna Poonawalla takes on drama with her new collection that is all about elevating evening wear to high fashion status with its chic play of deconstructed duality and sheer overlays. French inspired voluminous tassels made from leather, beads and lace detailing add to the theatrics of each piece.  Arresting blood reds, sensational shades, seductive cuts wrapped in soft flowing fabric has the audience captured in a state of trance. Each design is a statement of style, simplicity and self-confidence!

The audience was suddenly caught in the signature tune of THE PHANTOM OF OPERA, and the mood changes to the dark and lusty side of creativity. The dresses on the ramp were ” blood red ” in colour, bold and seductive. And the show drew to an end, leaving most of the audience wanting more.

Delna takes a graceful bow on the ramp with all her models, and receives a standing ovation, which is extremely rare and unusual in the fashion world.

I was so impressed that I decided to break my golden rule of ‘never meet designers back stage’.

I walked up to Delna and requested 5 mins for my 5 questions, and she graciously agreed. I am struck by her simplicity, grace and warmth. My experience with many fashion designers in the past can be wrapped up in just one word “VAIN” as they can be. So Delna was a breath of a fresh air. She was surrounded by her fans, well-wishers, fashion followers and she obliged each and every one with her warm signature smile.

 

As I looked closely at her created clothes now on a rack, I realised the tremendous hard work that goes on for months before we get to see it all in just few minutes. And our conversation started…

  1. What inspires you in life and in fashion?
  2. Life itself is inspiring in many ways. People can have a great impact in your life and I draw from both the good and the bad and ugly. Life experiences have made me the person I am today. My family values have shaped my personality.

 Travel

Travel brings new experiences, new outlooks. I feel free and open to new ideas, as an artist and designer I use this basis from which your thoughts become ideas and finally inspirational designs and collections.

Life and death

Strong emotional experiences like life and death have had a profound effect on me. Losing my grandmother, who was one of my Icons, left me with a feeling “do not waste any time”, time is precious. I value life, and I create passionately.

 

Architecture, Art and Design in any form or shape

Art has always fascinated me. I like to go into a mind of a creator and see what others perhaps cannot see. I would not live in any of Gaudi’s famous apartments, but I can certainly spend hours walking through it, admiring the curves and atrium he used to create lights and colours.

Picasso is one my favourite artists along with Matisse. I like it’s moving away from the norms of general creativity… Painters like Jackson Pollock I find liberating; and our Indian painter Hussain famously started his journey as a carpenter to become a legend. He highlighted horses, which are one of my favourite animals, in a very modern way!

Salvador Dali has been one of greatest inspirations through school. His juxtaposition of what you see and what it is, completely enthralled and fascinated me. Each person’s perception plays such an important role. It is how I see life.  I live life with passion.

Spirituality and astrology 

Astrology is my little secret hobby and I am studying it. I did my dissertation and graduating collection in college on spirituality called “Spirituality: A Fashion Phenomenon”.  I used natural paper in pure white and created areas where the chakras met to represent feeling and design. Baby pink for the heart chakra, yellow at the solar plexus and so on…

Body, mind and spirit connections have always been strong for me. Chakras, colours, alternative healing is something, I believe, will truly change the way we live our lives.

Astrology gives me insights into a person’s character, complexities and karmas. This intrigues me, inspires me to know more. Meditation and yoga open your mind and create a fierce force of creativity. When I’m in this space, I can feel my creativity flow effortlessly.

Animals

I love all animals, but dogs and horses are being my absolute favourite.  Dogs show love, loyalty and gratefulness like no others. Horses …  their spirit is their greatest gift. I have grown up surrounded by horses and this has shown me what magnificent creatures they are. They give with their hearts and their magnificence is all encompassing. They are one of the noblest animals. We humans have much to learn from their integrity and strength.

  1. Where do you think does the Indian fashion industry stand in the international fashion world?
  2. I feel that the Indian Fashion Industry has come a long way

Manish Arora, who is revered for his quirky designs in Paris; Tarun Thaliani, who revolutionised and made fashion more commercial, his draping and sensibilities are legendary; Sabyasachi Mukherjee is one if my all-time favourite and I believe he is not just a designer but truly an artist; Priyadarshani Rao is brilliant with her cuts, drapes and fabrics; I admire Rahul Mishra’s work and the way he brought block printing to the forefront of the Industry.

I do feel other countries are still ahead of India in cuts styles and freedom to explore designs and concepts. However, no one can take away what India has to offer in terms of fabric textiles and embroidery. Every region has its own speciality and hundreds of years of knowledge passed from one generation to the next. The sari, my favourite Indian garment, can be worn in 63 different ways. Traditional embroidery in forms of chikankari is simply stunning. Abu Sandeep have capitalised in it in early days. Over time we are developing a modern mix of embellishment. Like I have used leather to create perfect geometry along with standing up burgers to give it 3-dimensional look. Using India’s handwork magic we should create something modern for today’s woman! Our silk, khaki woven and traditional prints from all over India is overwhelming. I feel even a lifetime is not enough to know and learn about it all.

Using my Indian roots and with modern sensibilities, I aim to create a modern woman’s look. Not just for the Indian woman, but a worldly modernised woman beyond religion, cast, creed or colour of the skin. She should feel empowered, confident and comfortable in what she wears, wherever she maybe. This is what I hope to bring to the forefront of fashion.

  1. Why do you think London is the city you should show your work to?
  2. There are many reasons I chose London. I feel that UK and India have close affiliations. I think many Indians have made England as their home, I feel completely at home here so do many Englishmen, who settled in India. I studied fashion in London and it holds a special place in my heart.

The British ruled India for over 250 years and it did created an amalgam of cultures and traditions. Somehow our traditions and sensibilities have become appreciated by both cultures. I say that my designs are an influence of my Indian roots mixed with my modern sensibilities as a well-travelled modern woman.

London has a scope to understand an Indian designer thanks to its traditional Indian market as well as a big Indian community.

  1. When will you show next in London and what will it be?
  2. I hope to show again next year but I must wait to see what response I get commercially. Our little niche fashion industry likes a bit of intrigue and surprise, all I can say is: Wait and watch!
  3. Who, according to you, is a fashion icon?
  4. An icon is a person who can be just himself or herself. Regardless!

Sarah Jessica Parker has been my absolute favourite.  I’ve never thought her to be pretty. But style and how you wear something can change everything about you. She revolutionised the globe over. A blend of oh so stylish and a quirkiness of her own that made her character ‘Carrie’ so fashionably famous.

My grandmother and my mother both have been monumental style icons for me throughout all of my life. I used to watch them dressing for the races when I was young, waiting for the day I could wear their beautiful clothes or that hat or hold that cool new handbag and prance around. My grandmother was an artist herself. She kept her hair short and wore very fashionable halter dresses to their dance balls. My mother is one of the most eloquently dressed women I have ever known.  I can only hope to dress and be as slim and fit when I am in her age. If we had the same shoe size. She would be in big trouble indeed!

As our 5 mins 5 questions has stretched to a good 50 min intense chat, Delna was suddenly whisked away by her team for a photo shoot. As I see her effortless grace in handling difficult and demanding situations, I wonder how tough it must be for a young talented and brilliant Indian girl, a designer like Delna, to make her way in the London fashion world.

Although, her surname Poonawala in India must be opening many doors, considering she comes from the 1st five wealthiest families, but in London it’s her talent, her skill, her abilities that have stood out. Fashion world anywhere in the world is a shark tank and it’s always tough for a gold fish to survive leave alone shine.

Delna’s journey as a fashion designer will be interesting to follow. She has dressed up many Bollywood Divas in the past, but if she stays focused and grounded the way she is now, we are sure to see her creations on the red carpet very soon with some Hollywood Diva draped in a contemporary take on a traditional Parsi “Gaara” handcrafted by Delna herself; a perfect tribute to her style icons – her grandmother and mother!


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