A Sridevi in Chandni or an Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam makes men go weak at the knees even today — all this is known. And how do women react? They just drool over those chiffon saris of Sridevi (Chandni) or blue lehnga of Aishwarya (HDDCS) with a terrible yearning to own them. Courtesy Neeta Lulla.
This designer has rightly been credited to have breathed life into these two characters by weaving magic into their costumes.
In her three-decade career, this entrepreneur has given her design spin to costumes worn in more than 300-350 Indian films, collecting multiple awards in her kitty.
In an exclusive conversation with Entrepreneur India, Neeta Lulla shared the experience of her journey from being a school dropout to one of Bollywood’s go-to designer.
The Early Start
She was introduced to fashion by her father via two fashion-magazines that used to be published twice a year. Those were definitely too little to quench her inquisitive appetite to know more about the industry.
She reminisced, “I would go through it and see how things were put together.” It was definitely something very unusual for a tom boy that she was. “Though I was a tom boy, I enjoyed trying it on myself,” she said with quiet smile.
Neeta came from a family of businessmen, but she was never business-minded. In fact, she got married at the tender age of 16 to avoid studying any further. “Studying was the most cumbersome activity,” she chuckled at the memory of it.
Married into a highly educated family, her in-laws didn’t want her to sit at home. She was asked to make the one choice of her life — either learn cookery or tailoring.
“I selected tailoring, but instead they enrolled me on a dress-making and pattern-designing full-time course at SNDT University,” she said with a broad grin.
And thus began her journey. With time, she grew interested in fashion coordination, which these days is called styling.
Lulla got her first big break in the late 80’s through Chandini. But, she lacked the resources to begin her full-fledged work.She took no time to clarify, “It’s not that my family wouldn’t support me. I just didn’t want to ask.”
“I made my first INR 500 by selling sandwiches to children in my locality and bought my first sewing machine. Then, I got a tailor on board. I would cut the outfit and he would stitch,” she added. With more projects came more machines and today she employees over 250 people and owns hundreds of such machinery.
The Indian film industry has made a major contribution to Lulla’s career. Sharing her success secret she said, “Films are iconic, give you aspiration and add value. But one needs to understand one thing — when it comes to mainstream, you need to have that balance of being able to convert films larger than life process.”
In this globalization, this is very easy. Today, everything is available at an arm’s reach. “There are times when people just pick up clothes from a brand and use them in a film. This actually helps people build a connect with the outfit. This is an aspect one needs to remember and should learn to mold one’s product accordingly,” she added.
Drawing a balance between entrepreneurship and designing, Lulla emphasized, “As a designer, you should think from your heart and remember the technicalities of your trade. As a businessperson, you should utilize intelligence and understand your consumer requirements.”
For both to work out, one should follow one's gut feeling and work towards understanding the pulse of the consumer, which will help the product move up the market, she stressed.
Lulla has one store in Mumbai and is looking to set up another one here. She has a nationwide presence through partnered-retail stores. About expansion she said, “We are now looking towards increasing our penetration through franchise-model.”
She is also keen on entering the UAE market and setting up stores in London and US.