Abu-Sandeep Look Back
This month, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their design partnership. Over the course of the last quarter-century, the duo has opened and shut a store called “Mata Hari”, and dressed a Bond girl on screen (and the woman who plays M off the screen). They’ve appeared on British TV show Design Wars; and hosted a series in India on “First Ladies” for NDTV Good Times (and dressed a real first lady Sarah Brown, wife of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown). They’ve won the National Award for designing the costumes for Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan in the 2002 Hindi film Devdas; and outfitted every Bollywood actor and society lady of consequence. They plan on bringing in the anniversary with a blow-out sale, and after that, a white-on-white collection, which rather than showing on the runway, will go directly into their stores. Just ahead of the celebrations, Khosla sat down with us to talk about dressing Bollywood, being a control freak and why he’s yet to be impressed by a fashion show. Edited excerpts:
Have you had a midlife crisis yet?
Not really. I actually thought when Abu turned 40, he went a bit loopy, like everyone else I know who turned loopy. I thought what’s going wrong with everybody, what’s 40 got to do with a midlife crisis? Soon after I turned 40, I did go through a crisis. Suddenly, the doctor tells you to have your medical examination, do this, do that. Age is just a number, it doesn’t matter, but still…
Have you become jaded or cynical over the years?
Not at all. Cynical is something that’s not a word in our dictionary. Because the minute you become that, you’re only going downwards, you’re going to be critical. We have nothing to be bitter about. Life has been so good; what we’ve done over so many years has been appreciated. We’ve set trends, and we’ve always led the pack. So we’ve nothing to complain about really. Even if we’re getting knocked off, it’s alright, it’s being accepted.
Are there any competitors you admire?
I like Gudda’s (Rohit Bal) work. He’s a friend and does wonderful things. Shahab [Durazi] does wonderful things. So does Monisha Jaising.
Is there anything you know today that you wish you’d known when you first started?
I think I still don’t know many things today. We’re still not aware enough. I wish we could go back in time and be born with business brains, then we could be making much more money. That’s all I would try to change, that it could have all translated into a huge, big business which could have been worldwide rather than just being in India and a niche business. I would love to make Abu Sandeep an international brand; that’s a dream that still lingers.
You dressed Bond girl Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough and Judi Dench, who plays M in the Bond films, off the screen. Which Bond would you like to dress?
Sean Connery was the ultimate Bond. And Daniel Craig looks good.
They’re shooting the new Bond film in India.
They did Octopussy here as well. Have you watched that movie? It comes on Star Movies all the time, and I don’t know what that woman [Maud Adams] was called, whatever, miss pussy [Editor’s note: She was known as Octopussy in the film].
Someone like Tom Ford has parlayed a very successful career in fashion into many things, including directing movies. Would you ever get into the film world?
I would love to do that, but one is so finicky and one is so precise that that will be a very long way off. Because you want everything to be perfect. When you saw A Single Man, it was nearly perfect. It was so beautifully styled, so beautifully shot. I think the most important thing is that along with ourselves being creative, you have to recognise other talents as well. You have to get the best cinematographer who understands your vision, understands you. Film is a meeting of a lot of creative people who then get onto the director’s wavelength. You know what I mean? They have to embody it completely.
Are you a control freak?
We’re huge control freaks. Completely. CF is the word.
Do you have muses?
You know it’s very strange but Abu and me have always been inspired by an anonymous woman. Of course, when you’re creating for certain people, like when we did create for Dimple [Kapadia], she was hugely inspiring and she’s been a muse all our life. Jaya Bachchan with the whites…again, it was history in a certain way—we made white fashionable. Now Shweta [Nanda] is almost perfect, she works wonderfully as a muse.
Everyone you’ve mentioned is from the older generation except for Shweta. What do you think of the current crop of stylists and Bollywood fashionistas?
I think Shweta is the most fashionable one…the Bollywood stars…they all get free outfits…what do I say?
Today, a lot of people get into fashion designing with no experience. Does it annoy you that people don’t have to pay their dues anymore to get into the business?
Everybody wants a short cut in life. There are no short cuts. As soon as they appear, they disappear. Their career spans are very, very short. Of course, they are press driven, good PR agent driven today. They’re not doing anything new, creating one fucking silhouette for a 20-minute fashion show. It’s very boring to watch it in 20 different colours and designers almost have 25 shows in a year. You can’t possibly create that much stuff. Some people are doing it commercially. Everybody has a different agenda, I suppose. Somebody who is so busy wanting to be on Page 3 loses the plot of the clothes.
Was there a show you saw recently, where you thought “Wow, I wish we had done that”?
I want that day to come. It’s not happened as yet.
Even across the world?
I have not watched so many shows around the world. Of course, [Alexander] McQueen shows are fabulous, Dior shows are fabulous, those are different things altogether, different production, different levels altogether. What we produce is a totally different level altogether. I just feel that we need to get better and better. The industry has grown a lot, but again, it’s become a lot of chalta hai thinking. Too much chalta hai happening at the moment. So I think the need to edit, and get more precise, and get more perfect is needed.