Rupam Banerji on her label ‘Soul’

Rupam Banerjee

Soul by Rupam Banerji celebrates 20 years of “creativity, customisation, craftsmanship and candour” as the label hit its double decade milestone in April. Designing clothes customised to fit the mood, measurements, and wishes of its customers, the label has played with colours, patterns, and fabrics galore. The Telegraph chatted with Rupam about her initial inspiration and her future plans.

What was your initial inspiration for the label when you first started?

I have always loved dressing up! That translated into first designing for me and as the compliments started flowing in abundance, designing for friends and family. This opportunity gave me the pleasure and gratification of creating, and the taste of money. For an 18-year-old, that translated into a love for my craft and confidence in my ability to give wings to my vision and of course a sense of independence that only money can give you. One thing led to another and before I knew it I had an enviable clientele who came back for more. All this time I continued studying, I got my law degree, did an internship, but eventually chose designing, my hobby, as my profession. So it was an organic process rather than a premeditated decision.

What is the label’s signature style?

When I started, what stood out as a signature of the brand was our bold use of colour and western silhouettes even in outfits that were quintessentially Indian. The play of colour and neat lines always gave the clothes the strength to make an impact. It was this quality that prompted people to keep coming back and slowly I found myself becoming the “dream maker” of a woman’s vision of herself. Pushing their sartorial limits, I started showing them different versions of themselves even they didn’t know existed. In no time I was customising like a fiend and creating myriad dreams with my sensibility, styling another’s body and persona. The four C’s, as a dear friend puts it, that thus became our signature were creativity, customisation, craftsmanship and candour.

What’s the most challenging part about customised orders?

The deadlines. Sometimes we have only a few hours to deliver. Apart from that, I love customisation — it is sheer delight. My creative juices flow, my imagination is fired and I’m totally immersed and sensitive to everything about my client — it’s like a caffeine fix. The bigger the challenge the more stimulating the session. The whole business of waiting in anticipation of a new brief where the person presents herself as the inspiration and the challenge, not a standard size 0 or 10 or 16 but a real person who may be a chest size 8 with a hip size 14, which helps retain the novelty and excitement of my job. It’s easy to make a beautiful outfit with lots of fabric for a mannequin but quite another to make a real-life person mannequin-esque. This is the challenge that I’m a slave to. It’s my daily fix.

What have been your favourite looks in the past two decades?

Being a creative person and an aesthete, there have been innumerable looks and trends that get me excited but the two looks that have emerged in the last two decades and have left an impact on me are colour blocking and the anti-fit trend. The former gives huge energy to the wearer and the other demands a lot of strength, carriage and personality from the wearer. I find the push and pull between person and style very interesting.

What have been your favourite projects to work on?

In a sense every client is a project and going by that I have had several interesting ones. Worth mentioning here would be how once a client wanted me to design a whole range of outfits for her wedding under various headings — Meeting In-laws, Coffee with Girls and so on. And, she wanted me to do one category which read ‘Date with Husband’ clothes! Another lady whose husband used to be out on long tours wanted me to do a ‘Seduce the Man of the House’ line. These, of course, left me curious, excited and amused but challenged simultaneously. That said, I have had the opportunity to style and design for various ad films and films too, which are interesting and invigorating because they are bound by a definite brief. I also love recycling and upcycling old fabrics and garments. An interesting project of upcycling was with Jisshu Sengupta’s wife, the beautiful Nilanjanaa Senguptaa’s wedding sari, which we designed using her grandmother’s old Benarasi sari.

A current fashion trend that you’re loving?

Following trends are so determined by how you feel. The Covid situation has made one turn inward and what you may want to wear would end up being a reflection of your frame of mind. This could range from complete despair to exuberance, thus one could be following the pyjama-and-tee trends to OTT flamboyance simply depending on your mood. Having said that, I love the present trend of folksy jackets and coats that seem to be showing everywhere though in my mind they are evergreen. Also the colour yellow is very in now, popping up and spreading sunshine as bags, shoes etc. Another accessory that has made it to the trendy list of 2021 is the scarf, which is a rather Covid- friendly accessory and can be personalised rather creatively.

How has the label changed in the past 20 years?

Two decades is a long time. The only constant they say is change and we have adapted to changing times and the changing social milieu keeping our spirit and sensibility intact and alive. The words remained the same but have been used differently over the decades. For instance, we design our own batik and hand-painted georgette, crepe and silk, fabrics which back in the day we made more saris of but now that picture has changed with a paradigm shift in the dressing style of the urban woman. Saris are now associated more with formal events rather than day-to-day wear. The kind of apparel has changed rather than the essence of the label.

What future plans do you have for the label?

The idea now is to develop a full range of fabrics that we design using batik and hand painting in tandem and find a market for it beyond the city. I plan to completely dedicate myself to celebrationwear more aggressively as soon as markets become more stable. Plans are also in place to increase social media presence and engagement and last but never the least to continue designing dreams that our clients dare to see. One size does not fit all is our mantra and Soul lives by it.

What tips would you give to budding designers?

Fashion is usually considered a frothy business lacking rigour and substance. If there is anything further from the truth, it is this. To own your craft requires talent, skill, discipline and a lot of hard work. The pleasure, however, of seeing an idea converted to a sketch and then to the real outfit is huge and even bigger is the smile on a client’s face. That is the cherry on the cake! So get into it if you really love it and are ready to do the grind for it. Bouquets, brickbats, et al.

This summery powder-pink silk printed batik skirt comes with a shimmery, sequinned belt detail and a pop of flowery art, making this the perfect statement piece. It is paired with an asymmetrical pleated organza tube top with a minimal yet striking, ruffle detail to balance the look.

This eye-catching asymmetrical silk skirt proves to be the perfect pick for a relaxed night-out, with its dark grey offset and striking black-and-red flower detail to really help you stand out in a crowd. The look is paired with a minimal, sequinned black organza top with a matching headscarf and a statement belt to top it off.

This hand-painted georgette sari in royal blue, has a horse artwork, inspired by Picasso and the quintessential style of cubism. Paired with a dual-tone kaftan blouse fashioned with a black bead trim, the sari is draped over jeans held at the waist with a suede leather black belt to give it that modern cinch detail.

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