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In conversation with Bollywood designer Ashley Rebello

I had no connections to Bollywood and I had never even dreamt that I would be in this profession, but I like clothes and I like styling.

Radhika Sharma | Kolkata |

Twenty-five years ago, star Bollywood designer, Stardust Award winner for the movie Sultan, and the exclusive stylist of Salman Khan, Ashley Rebello, made his entry into the world of fashion, and has been a reward to the Hindi film industry, ever since.

Rebello was recently in Kolkata for a workshop with the students of INIFD, Lindsay Street, on the finer intricacies of the star-studded world of fashion designing as well as the awareness about the versatility in upcoming fashion trends.

He was present at the institute’s press conference, releasing the show Vibrant India as a part of New York Fashion Week in February, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, the five “F” Formula, to celebrate the craftsmanship of aspiring Indian fashion designers. Excerpts:

Tell us about how you got into the world of fashion.

It started 25 years ago, with the film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I had no connections to Bollywood and I had never even dreamt that I would be in this profession, but I like clothes and I like styling. It is something that I took up and the next thing I know, I’m in this industry for the last 25 years.

How has your contribution changed the face of fashion, especially in terms of Bollywood?

I believe that Bollywood denotes fashion in India, be it in Tollywood, down south, or in any regional cinema. And if it is so, my contribution to fashion has been really, really huge, because Salman (Khan) is a big style icon in the industry. People follow what he wears. They wear the checked shirts that he wears; they wear the same shoes and pants that he wears. If today, Kareena Kapoor wears something, then people want to wear what she wears, or what Jacqueline (Fernandez), Katrina (Kaif ), Saif (Ali Khan) or Ranveer (Singh) has worn. So, of course, fashion here is denoted by what actors wear.

What has the fashion industry given you, in terms of achievement?

It has given me a name, it has given me fame, and it has made me who I am. It has given me friends and family – the Khan family is like family to me. Salman (Khan)’s mother is like my mother. She calls me “Angel”, although I call her “Angel”. His sister is my partner and a very close friend of mine. Salman (Khan), too, is a very close friend of mine. I’ve made tons of family and friends in this industry, so I owe it big time.

What, according to you, is the purpose of fashion in today’s world?

Clothes are essential, where it is a need of the day for every human being, but I think fashion is more about wearing your attitude than wearing anything else. It all depends on how you carry your clothes. You can wear a simple white shirt with jeans and sneakers, and you can look like a million bucks. It is not about wearing only whatever is in fashion. Always wear something that suits you, rather than just the following fashion blindfolded.

What role does the youth play in the dynamic nature of fashion?

The role of the youth is huge, because now we have the Internet, and tons of them just follow what international or local artists wear. They don’t go and shop in the stores. Online shopping has become a really huge phenomenon. Even designers like us look at other platforms. What is your connection with the City of Joy?

When I think of Kolkata, it is the food, the mithai, Sabyasachi, fabric, embroidery, the yellow taxis, the tram, Howrah Bridge – many things come to my mind. Even when I was coming in, I was just clicking pictures nonstop! I love Kolkata; I love the vibe of the city. It’s really nice.

What inspired you to become the chief mentor to the students of INIFD?

I was offered the mentorship. I believe that if I can contribute even one per cent into making the students somebody that they are, then that amount of education and contribution would enhance me and make me a better person.

Which new or comeback trends have been your favourite?

I like the 60s’ because I think it is so classic and beautiful. I hate the 80s’ coming back, with all those bellbottom pants and everything.

With Bharat being your first-period film, what is the work and research that goes into styling costumes to fit the context?

Bharat is my first big era-based film. I have done films before, like Chandni Bar, based in the 70s’ and 80s’. For Bharat, I worked with Lovleen Bains, who gathered all the bits and did the background research – from badges and nameplates to costumes – the details are very important. The next challenge was to have kaarigars make the costumes by recreating the processes of that time. For instance, we used natural dye instead of chemicals, because the natural dye was used in clothes at that time. Recreating all these processes was a big challenge. Finding the kind of Burkhas worn in that time was also very difficult. A student of INIFD brought eight of them, which belonged to his great grandmother, and we not only replicated them but also used the original ones. People from the Army, Navy and Air Force – all of us went out of the way to create this film. I hope you all love it as much as we loved making it.

What would be your word of advice to aspiring fashion designers?

Work really hard. I know it is clichéd, but there is no other option but hard work. And be on your toes – keep your enemies closer than your friends, in terms of fashion. Follow people – go on the Internet, there is so much that you can learn, and never ever stop learning.