As a child, Neeta Lulla was not into studying. But when at the age of 16, she was married into a family of doctors, who supported her to pursue a hobby or career, she opted for stitching like any youngster who would be interested in fashion and wearing trendy clothes. She took it in her stride as a hobby not realising it would take a serious turn in her life. The four-time National Award winning costume designer of films like Lamhe, Devdas, Jodhaa Akbar and Marathi movie Balgandharva, has had the privilege of working in over 350 films and styling over 90 actors in her illustrious journey.
When and how did your association and fascination with designing for films start?
When I started work, I was never into actually designing or manufacturing clothes it was all about fashion shows and choreography. I was trained and mentored by my guru Hemant Trivedi, who was the one who made me realise that it was all about styling and grooming. Then, I worked with Jeannie Naoroji for two and a half years, and choreographed a lot of shows till the time I got an opportunity to do a film.
My first film was Tamacha where I had to design clothes for Kimi Katkar and Bhanupriya, and my first garment for the film was a major disaster. I had to face severe criticism from the actors’ mothers, but the next day itself, I kind of cleaned up the act. I learnt things overnight. I sat with a tailor all night in the backend somewhere and learnt how to cut garments for films. That’s when I learnt that garment construction for films and mainstream are two different things altogether. I took the dress next day to the sets, and it was bang on! Since then, there has been no looking back. Films were not my calling, but I did the film and I got a good response because at that time the kind of clothes that I did were very cutting edge. And so, I got offers from Sridevi, Juhi and a host of other actors, to work with them. And essentially, choreography and styling was my driving force at that time. Simultaneously, I got an offer to do bridal for a friend. My work has evolved with time. And ever since I started out, there has always been two distinctive lines—films and bridal wear.
With fashion moving at such a fast pace, how do you stay unique and authentic?
I think my education has a lot to do with this. You learn the different modes of fashion cycles and thought processes that were ‘in’ in the previous eras and then you combine the two and come up with something new. It’s a classic case of academics meeting creativity. And I don’t think you can come up with something new and different unless you have a marriage of the two. So, understanding of an inspiration that appeals to you from a bygone era and using it with the techniques that you know of and creating a completely new and different line is basically how I work on it.
How much do luxury brands influence your designing?
I am a luxury brand, right? And the influence comes from the needs of the person who wants to buy a luxury brand. The influence comes from the needs of luxury as a statement for a consumer which is larger than life and is more styled and magnanimous.
Which heritage or tradition inspires you?
My style philosophy has always been combining Indian fabrics with cuts from the advertent eras and renaissance colours. So, my look has always been about creating an Indo-Western fusion because of the kind of style philosophy I follow. I may take different theme philosophies at different times but the underlying statement has always been Indo-Western fusion. In fact, I am the first person to pioneer Indo-Western fusion garments and do two dupattas for a bridal wear attire back in the ’80s when people were wearing a heavy dupatta on their head and looking stunted because of its weight of the dupatta. And about nine years back, I started resort wear bridals as well. I think the need of the hour has made me evolve my style statement into various different requirement of the consumer, and as a brand, I believe that evolving a style-progressive thought process for design is very important. I do not like to have a stagnant style statement. I like to play with different kind of looks, cuts and styles rather than keeping up to a single philosophy that goes through all the collections.
Your styling is couture and bridal; what do you think is going to be the winter season for brides?
One needs to look at colours that are more becoming for them and are their best colours. Having said so, winter is all about beautiful deep rich Indian colours. Especially at this time of the season, there are rich blues and maroons. There will be a lot of silk and velvets and a lot of vintage gold work combined with resham.
How do you define fashion?
Fashion is an ever-changing process. I think it is a huge buffet from which you can pick up your choice that will create your personal style statement and a persona for you. It will make you a person who is a first to reckon with as a fashion leader because you are carrying out styles which are in fashion with a confidence and style of your own. So, I guess it is that huge magnitude or the huge playground where you can play with different styles.
What do you fear? How do you deal with competition?
Being a human being, you do fear competition and get jealous at times but it is momentary and then you forget and move on. Instead of working 18 hours, you work 20 hours. And that’s the good part of it. But in terms of competition, I have always feared myself. I have feared that maybe this
is the best job that I have done and can I do better than this? And, that’s the competition that drives me. I need to compete with the work that I have already done in the past and got acclaimed for and created a niche for, so how to better that? I would say that by the grace of God I think every year I have had a different film or a project that has made me push my limits to make it better than the one that I have done previously. For example: I did Lamhe, Khuda Gawah and I felt that those were my best projects ever and then came Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja where I had to really push my boundaries to come out with some different kind of quirky clothes and then there was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. I felt that was my best ever and I couldn’t do any better than that and would have to retire. But then Devdas came along, which went a notch above. I then felt that was the ultimate. But it has always been evolving and I am only trying to better my previous work. So, my fear of not getting a bigger project than the one earlier pushes me to do better.
How do you deal with failures and criticisms?
I take it with a pinch of salt. I think about it as a learning experience and take whatever I need from it and forget the rest.
How do you see your label going forward?
I see a lot more stores and work in general. I want my label to evolve every day to the needs of the consumer and all I can say is that the label should not be stagnant. That’s the beautiful part. I want to work till I die and beyond. My inspiration and role model has always been Frida Kahlo. And everybody knows how she worked!