Suman B On The Creative Versitality Of Her Label Lola By Suman B
The battle between pragmatic and stylish is a never ending one. But the fast-paced life of the present-day woman is to have a garment that perfectly negotiates the territory between these two; a feat few designers have managed to achieve. One among the few is up and coming designer, Suman Bhat who’s successfully managed to carve her niche in the comfortably chic segment with her clothing line, Lola By Suman B.
In an exclusive interview with MFG, the talented young designer talks in depth about her journey so far, her style of working her designs and her new collection, ‘Bali.’ Excerpts…
Could you tell us a little more about your background?
Before I formally graduated from Symbiosis School of Design, I used to work with Wendell Rodricks in Goa. I continued working of free-lance projects all through my graduation as well and joined Forever New as a Buyer right after the completion of my 4-year course.
What went into conceptualising and creating of ‘Lola by Suman B’?
During my tenor as a Buyer, I realised that I was more interested in the creative aspect of garment-making; the designing, the cutting, the pattern-making etc. That’s when I decided it was time to start my own label because that’s the only way I could get the creative freedom I was looking for. I knew the process, I had the skill set and it was time to put it to execution. So well, that’s how the label started as a means to learn and then eventually it grew into so much more. One aspect was also to start collaborating with different designers- be it graphic designers or artists or photographers- by involving them on certain segments to have a larger creative perspective. In the end, it all worked out well !
When collaborating with other artists, what exactly is their part in the garment-making process?
When I collaborate with someone I give them a brief of what I want in terms of design, like I did with my new collection, ‘Bali.’ So the collection is all about floral, pin-cut embroidery and it took quite a few collaborations to achieve the final product. I, first, collaborated with this artist friend of mine and got her to make watercolour paintings for me. Then I took these paintings, scanned them and sent them to a graphic designer who converted them into repeats and prints. We then sent it to a Delhi-based printing company to get the fabrics printed with these prints. Similarly, with our previous collection we, we worked with photographs of flowers that looked like X-Rays. So we keep collaborating with different artists and experimenting.
We can count the Tulip-motif collection as a successful collaboration since the print has become synonymous with the brand, right?
Actually, more people remembered that collection than any of my other work. That print just kind of stuck around. That point, I believe, was when the label grew a little bigger. Also, that was the point when I realised that you need to respect designers from all fields. You can’t just keep obsessing over your own skill and work, you have to appreciate others too; whether it is working with a great painter or a good graphic designer. When you do that, you can come together and create something really nice and special.
When it comes to seeking inspiration, where do you start?
Well, it starts from the place I live in… Goa. That is my constant source of inspiration. It’s who I am, it’s where I was born, it’s where I was brought up and where I made friends. I know to most people Goa is just a holiday destination where they go to chill and party over the weekend, but to me, it’s so much more. And because I’ve seen it from so many different aspects, it’s not just one thing, but a combination of several things at once that I draw my inspiration from.
Do you look up to any Indian and/or international designers as an inspiration?
Honestly, more than designers, it’s photographers and stylists who inspire me. I think it’s brilliant how someone can make you want to buy something by creating a desirable image of it. For me, that is the most beautiful way of mixing art and design. Yes, I do appreciate the work of designers too, but I can’t name any one favourite, there’s quite a list.
What would you say is the ethos of the label?
I have always said that the label is a serene balance between fluid and structure. And we always create garments that exemplify contemporary love. I’d be okay if people do not have ten different pieces from my label as long as the one ‘Lola By Suman B’ piece they have is their favorite in their wardrobe.
How do you go about the whole garment-making process?
A lot of people sketch first and then they sort out the fabric and other stuff that meets the needs of or the requirement of the sketch. I, on the other hand, work the other way round. I always look out for interesting fabrics or fabrics that I would love to have as part of my body of work. And then I create silhouettes that would complement the fabric. It is important that the design you create is in synch with the fabric that you choose. So I like to pick my fabric first and then do my sketches and do my explorations and pattern-make which is, say, a 2 week-long process. Once I’m done with all of this then I move on to cutting a grid out or if it’s a drape design we do different drape variations and then convert them into grids. I usually start out with a standard UK 8 size and then move up to UK 10 or UK 12 and may be a UK 6 and UK 4 as well. Then I pass on these grids to the fabric cutter and brief her on how to go about cutting the fabric- how much allowance she needs to keep, if the fabric needs to be cut straight or on a bias, how the drapes should fall, what kind of a look I’m looking for. The cutter then chips in her inputs like how hemming might work better than fine machining in certain pieces or vice versa. After all the discussions and cuttings, the piece goes to the workers who do different kinds of finishings from which we pick the ones that look the best. And then we finally start constructing.
Does your collection get influenced by trends that dominate the fashion scene?
To be honest, I don’t believe India can follow a trend. We are in a completely different weather cycle. Like the trends that are currently seen in the international scene won’t come to India for at least two seasons from now; unless you are one who can afford a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton all year round, which I believe only a handful of people can do. I feel like the rest of the girls/women should also be able to wear clothes that they fall in love with. I want to design clothes that need not be worn to specific occasions only or in specific weathers only. Like I said earlier, I want my customers to love that one piece from my label in their wardrobe and can wear all the time. That’s what matters to me. I’m not a very trend-conscious person.
Please give us some more insight into your new collection.
So, my new collection, as mentioned earlier, is called ‘Bali’ which to me means a lot of calm and a lot of serenity. That’s where I personally am in my life and that’s some place I think everybody should be in their lives too. Also, greenery and florals are always going to be my favourite motifs. As for the technicalities, like I informed earlier, prints have been made by a friend of mine who painted flowers for me. Once these paintings were digitised and printed on the fabrics, I got a team of embroiders to work on them. I wanted the garments to look very contemporary, very today, so the embroideries are also done in a manner to retain the water colour effect of the motifs. Then we’ve also used interesting textures and not just in the form of drapes and creases but by way of different fabrics like the sheen of satin or a duller sheen of silk crape or a heavy Italian fabric for drapes and stuff. This collection is all about different textures and complementing colours!
What does the colour palette look like this season?
We have a lot of green, a lot of bright purple, shell pink, mauve, biscuit and we have sky blue, which is one of my favourites.
Any particular cut or detail that we can look forward to?
Well, this season it’s the cuffs and most of the neckline. I’ve also played around with drapes. I love to cut fabric on the bias, so there is a lot of bias pleating but done in an interesting way. The garments are all very easy; there’s no fuss about them. The collection on the whole is soft and not too edgy. We’ve done a lot of separates like capes and tops and shorts and playsuits and skirts. Then we also have a lot pants, since I love doing pants, and jumpsuits and gowns.
Are there any particular fabrics that you tend to work more with?
I work a lot Italian Volvo and for the solid numbers, I work a lot with pure silk crepe and pure satin georgette. These are all my favourite fabrics to work with because they can be dyed and it’s nice to give your clients colour options.
What would your price point for the collection be like?
So, we start at about Rs. 5750 and we go upto Rs. 30,000. Like for customized gowns and dresses, the price ranges between Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 30,000. Our maxi dresses are between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 20,000, our jumpsuits are between Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 22,000 and extremely rare case our jumpsuits are upto Rs. 25,000. So that’s about it!
Who would you say is an ideal muse for your brand?
It would, undoubtedly, be Deepika Padukone.
Any challenges that you faced when you started the label?
Well, for me the biggest challenge initially was that I was never really part of the main Mumbai city. Though it’s not so much a challenge as a designer but it’s a big thing for a business. Because no matter how great your work is, to put your name out there and to network is a lot harder if you don’t belong to the place. But I eventually learnt to deal with it. Also when your work is good and you have a good team of people working for you, things become easier. With me, I think, another reason that it looked as a big challenge was because I was too young when I started the label; I was 22. Fortunately, it all worked well for me.
Are you stocking with any of the multi-designer stores in Mumbai?
I stock at Aza (Bandra), Creo, Atosa, Kitsch (Delhi and Mumbai), Bombay Attic (Bangalore), Armari (Hyderabad). As for online portal, I stock on rocking Shop, Pernia’s Pop-up Shop.
Do we see an e-com exclusively for your label coming up anytime soon?
Well, I haven’t really thought of it right now. Maybe eventually if something comes up, I might just. But that’s not a thought I’m focusing on currently.