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With more than fifteen years of experience in the fashion industry, Rehane is a well-known name in national and international circuits. From her high fashion creations to her upcoming brand Re, the renowned designer talks to Krupa Shah about her work and the inner alleys of a creative mind

She sails into the store prancing like a nymph in yellow in her flowy top, printed with flower motifs, one of her signature designs. Her regal height, aquiline nose and expressive eyes add to her charm. Everything about her is light, bright and creative. She is an artist on fire, moulding her life to the sparks of her vision. Rehane Yavar Dhala is everything one imagines a designer to be.

Latin Beginnings
“I love designing so I design and everything else falls into place. I love my husband so I married him and everything fell into place. Creative people are heart people,” she says candidly. Rehane stepped into the fashion industry after imbibing the rich couture of Italy where she spent her formative years. “I left the beautiful city of Bangalore in pain. I was only fifteen at the time, but the experience of being in Rome was magical. There was so much beauty that I could kiss every pebble on the road of Appia Antica in Rome,” she says, visibly moved.

After training at the European Institute of Design Calligars in Rome her encounter with Chennai after marriage came as a rude shock. “When I started, the market had only one dress code – salwar kameez. My style was all about cuts! I could not sell anything in the city!” she exclaims, “If I made a jacket or a pair of trousers they would not sell. I hated embroidery and found it unnecessary but the minute I started putting embroidery on my designs they started to sell! Today the whole world knows me for the surface ornamentation I do!”

Meditative Creativity
“When I am working I am in meditation. I am in a state of moksha. In fact, I get stressed out when I am not working!” she laughs. “There are some creative moments when I totally lose consciousness. Those designs come out beautifully. But some of my best collections were the biggest disasters money-wise.” Rehane’s best works according to her were in her early years when she made outfits from old lace appliquéd onto georgette and chiffon with real seed pearls and tourmaline sewn onto them.

“I once wanted to design an outfit made out of smoke. I wanted to build the outfit in such a way that we would have pockets sown across the garment with dry ice and then when the model went on stage, moisture would be put onto it. She would be in a nude bodysuit and the ice would emit smoke, so it would seem like she was walking in smoke. The smoke lasts for some time and disappears. So it is like Cindrella, you better leave the party by 12,” she jokes.

Fashion, Then and Now
“When I began fifteen years ago, people were conservative not only in their outlook but in lifestyle as well. People did not experiment or spend too much money. In that sense the South has always been more Gandhian and you would not find wealthy people here who flaunted their wealth, unlike in Bombay or Delhi. But today Chennai has bought into the consumer concept in a good way and has become more dynamic. People today are more open to spending money and taking risks.”
On the other hand, fashion on the national scale has also undergone massive changes with the advent of international brands. “Nobody picks up Western clothes from us anymore. When they can pick up a Chanel jacket directly from Chanel why go for a jacket made by an Indian designer?” she asks, “Instead they come to us for traditional wear. Although there have been a handful of designers like Naeem Khan who are of Indian origin and have gone on to design for people like Michelle Obama, for the rest of us, our future lies in Indian high fashion.”

Challenges and Angst
When she began, cracking into the market was not the only issue. “Half my problem is the way I look. My fair skin, my hair colour, the way I am, it is all a barrier. People did not perceive me as Indian. I don’t know what colour I am supposed to be to be Indian!” she says indignantly. “On top of that I am Muslim and ‘Rehane’ is a strange name. It could a Muslim name, a Maharashtrian name, a man’s name. It could be anything!

“When I first came to Chennai, people wanted to know ‘what I was.’ That question used to baffle me. What they meant was what my caste was, what my religion was. The first two or three years of being a designer, I would answer this question at least two to three times a day and it was a shocker. Why do we categorize people? This is what makes us fragmented. I accept people for what they are and not for what I can get out of them,” she declares.

‘Re’ and Other Projects

Rehane launched her brand ‘Rehane’ in 2002 with the aim of creating something unique that no one could get elsewhere in the world. “It should be something people treasure for the rest of their lives and pass on to the next generation.” On the other hand, she has several projects in the pipeline. “We will be launching a new brand called Re at the end of the year. This is specially designed for youngsters for everyday wear and is meant to be more pocket-friendly. It will be colourful and will have an Indian soul but a Western silhouette.”

Rehane also has plans for an e-retail venture which comes next on the to-do list. While getting the website on its feet is no big feat, Rehane finds the setting up of the backend process to be more troublesome. “Your bank transactions, your sizing, dealing with returns in cases of wrong sizes, keeping your stock, deciding on lead times- all this is a complicated affair.” In fact, what sells on the web is not expensive stuff but cheaper and everyday things like t-shirts and sneakers, she adds. “We want the whole spectrum. We don’t want only high-end but mass products also. After Re is launched that will be easier.”

Being the Multitasking Woman
For Rehana being a career woman, a spouse and a mother are all inclusive. They are not contradictions or conflicting categories. “Sometimes your own person gets sidelined by the roles of a mother and a spouse. But being individualistic does not mean trampling on the other people involved in our lives.” As a designer her passion comes purely from the urge to create.
“People think women like me, who have their own careers and have their own families, are self-driven. But what we do as a career is not because we want to get far or because we want more money, it is a compulsion. It is something you just have to do.” At the same time, family is equally important. “At the end of the day I am an Indian woman and my husband, kids, family – I need to keep them in mind before I do anything.”

Hues and More
“I am one of those people who will wear full sequined pants during the day and I will put coconut oil in my hair!” But when it comes to giving fashion tips to women, Rehane says that she wants every woman to wear more colours. “In the South, a lot of women go crazy with colour. They wear orange, canary yellow, pink, red, muttai pink with gold sequence, peacock blue with parrot green and they carry it off. But today, many people have started switching to English colours like beige, pastels and dull rose. Our culture is beautiful because of its colours so why dress like morose people at a funeral? Look at our south Indian silks. We have combinations like ink blue with parrot green, kesari yellow with a maroon border. Take what is good from the West but don’t lose your individuality,” she advises.

Quick to be inspired, quick to be outraged, she reveals that in the end it is not all about pretty clothes. “For me fashion is going to go on. I am on the right path for that. But I am scared for the world and where it is going. Earlier we would be shocked at the thought of giving a bribe. But nowadays, people don’t bat an eyelid before giving money to get their work done. As the world progresses I feel sadder. Maybe I am just a child. I am a 44 year old woman and maybe I just need to grow up,” she muses.

Signature Rehane: Flowers and roses and a touch of Mongolia in every collection

Favourite fabric: Gossamer, lightweight, airy fabrics and woven fabrics

Hot colours: Shades of nude, all kinds of pinks ‘from fluorescent pink to baby pink’, Ferrari red, gold and silver

Recent trends: Fluorescent wedding wear. Pink, hand embroidery with netting and traditional fabrics

Her latest collection: inspired by the flapper 20s which was a rebellious look adopted by Western women in the 20s who had short skirts and bobbed hair

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