Leon Vaz On Taking Indian Gown-Making To The Armani, Valentino Caliber
When thinking of lavish gowns the first few labels that come to mind are that of Oscar de la Renta, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Ralph & Russo; none of which are Indian. The surprising fact, however, is that almost every international high-end couture piece is often created by Indian craftsmen. Making this expertise and craftsmanship available to the Indian market are designer duo Leon Vaz and Karan Berry who have already created a niche for themselves with their stunning creation under the label, Karleo. Having worked with labels like Armani, Valentino, Marchesa and Ralph Lauren, the designers are not only revamping the gown culture in the Indian fashion scenario but are also marking India on the fashion world map.
We got in touch with Leon to get an insight into the brand, the designs, the process of creating a couture garment and a lot more. Excerpts from our conversation…
Can you give us a little background about yourself and Karan?
I have done my Fashion Designing from Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi. Before that, I also completed my management studies and prior to that I also worked as a reporter with a news channel. So I have a varied background and experiences. Same goes for Karan too. He’s not just a couturier but is also a shoe-maker and also works with various brands like Being Human as a consultant; he’s a creative head with a few brands too.
How did Karleo as a label come into existence?
So we are essentially exporters. We’ve been in the export industry for a long time but ever since Karan and I first met, we’ve often discussed how all these elaborate gowns that people wear and see in the West are all created in India. And we thought when we have the knowledge and the skill, why not make couture of that calibre available in our own country. We wanted to invest our expertise back home and introduce our creations to the Indian market. So we decided to collaborate and introduced Karleo as a brand about three years ago. Fortunately for us, it all worked out since we eventually realised that design wise too, our principles and ideologies matched.
What all can we look for under the Karleo umbrella?
We basically specialise in three different segments. First, we have wedding couture, and we do mostly white weddings. Second, we have the evening wear segment which comprises of couture that is your cocktail gowns, party gowns, etc. and there is demi-couture that is a lighter version, price wise and lesser customization as well. And third is our accessories which include hair accessories, hair combs, earrings, belts, etc.
You’ve created a lot of couture collections for labels like Armani, Valentino, Ralph Lauren. How do these collaborations work?
So we work on a consultation basis with these brands and depending on what we are in charge of- designing, deciding the colour palette or anything else for that matter- we present it to them. We usually get a brief from these brands as to what they are looking for and then there are several rounds of discussions where we give our input and they give their inputs before the final product is manufactured, which, of course, happens at our end.
Your bridal studio is known for not just garment solutions but also styling advice. What all does that entail?
As a general rule, the whole wedding ceremony is far more important and prestigious in India than in the West. People here invest much more time and effort in planning and working around it. And we like to put in just as much effort into creating the perfect garment for them. We generally like to work with a time frame of about 3 months because we need to know as much about the bride as possible to create something that brings to life her fantasy and yet also reflects her personality. So we have a whole personality test of sorts to figure out the fashion sense of the person and their general take on fashion, find out more about what school of thought they come from, what their lifestyle is, etc. During the course of these questions, the brides realise that they do have certain fantasies, ensemble-wise, which they’d never known or never thought about. And it’s not just garment-related but the whole look like someone would want a customised clutch to go with gown or someone would want a customised bracelet. Simultaneously, we chip in our advice around the hair and makeup too that’ll go best with the gown and the accessories. Let’s say there’s a hairpin we’ve designed for someone, then we would send them references of hairdos that’ll best work with the hair pin. So we send across references that they can get done from their hairstylists and makeup artists.
Could you run us through the process of constructing a garment?
Now there are two different segments here- one is the bridal gown and the other is evening wear. The latter is usually a faster process which includes minor customization in terms of colour and embellishments within our existing collection. The bridal, on the other hand, is a much more detailed process. So, we first have the usual design meet which as you’d know is basically a sharing session where we show our collection to the bride and she tells us what she’s looking for; what kind of a neckline she wants, what colour she wants, the volume, the veil, etc. When all these inputs come to us we put them together to create a gown from scratch because as a work ethic, we never repeated a design. Once we get an approval on the designs from the client, we start constructing something called as a mock which is the gown created from rough fabric. Now this, for us, is the most important part for. During the mock, we run through every element of the gown right from the colour to the embroidery to the artwork to the fabric to the techniques. We call the client for the second meeting to do a fitting rehearsal with the mock gown and at this stage, the client can make as many alteration as she wants- add or remove sleeves, make the neckline deep, etc. And our third meeting would be the final fittings where the gown is completely ready barring a few pre-fitting options that we have to keep. This is the time when we discuss the rest of the styling including accessories, hair and makeup.
Breaking into the luxury segment in India wouldn’t have been an easy task, right?
Well, fortunately, we came from a related background so it wasn’t new for us, we knew what we wanted and what we had to do to achieve that. Given that we were never in the lehenga-choli segment, we never had competitive issues either. Karleo as a brand is more for the passion of creating than a business. We’d be more than happy if we are doing, say, 60 gowns a year or 100 gowns a year as long as they are all well-made, they are couture, they tell a story. And honestly, that’s a pretty good number for a business to survive in India. I don’t think it is ever going to be more than that because it’s couture, it’s expensive. So I don’t think there were any external challenges so to speak. The challenge is more with ourselves because we need to dedicate more time which gets difficult because we both have our separate businesses to take care of as well.
What would be the price point of your creations?
Like I mentioned earlier, the label is more an expression of our passion than a business. So the range is also pretty reasonable. In fact, on so many occasions we haven’t charged clients for a lot of things. But to give a price range it would be anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 depending on the intricacies and details f the gown. The gowns that usually work best are those closer to the Rs 1,00,000 range.
Who according to you is the perfect muse for your brand?
I think it would be Sonam Kapoor. I think she could do justice to our garments. And even Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
PS: The good news is that the designer duo have gone live with their website, Karleo.com, where you can shop as well as find all the deets about the products.