Plunging into work has always been a solace for her and when we caught up with her recently to chat about her festive and occasion wear 2021, Poised Panache, we could feel that Zen. Fashion designer Neeta Lulla, prolific with her work in films as well her own label. She tells The Telegraph about her mantra in life and who is teaching her to push “beyond boundaries” even after more than three decades.
What has been your coping mechanism and how have you dealt with this huge shift in our lives?
I normally don’t react too much to this situation because I constantly keep myself busy, starting at 5.30am with yoga and meditation. We have been shooting even as of now, till tomorrow, we are shooting in Hyderabad (for Samantha Prabhu-starrer Shakuntalam). So, I am here (Mumbai), but on the phone and on video call since 6am in the morning, getting everything ready by noon. I am in touch with my team over there who’s at the site shooting with the actors, whatever little bit is going on. Then there are online orders that need to be executed. I paint as well, so I have four-five hours of painting time. Then I write and document. There are a whole lot of things going on which is keeping me sane. Even when I am watching TV and seeing the scenario, I try to shift focus and do what I need to do in terms of keeping myself busy and trying to fulfil the need of my workers in the little possible way that we can.
There are two words that I say — #lookup and #moveforward. Don’t pull yourself down because of the scenario around you. It is difficult. You have to move forward doing something that keeps you sane.
Tell us about Poised Panache, your festive and occasion wear 2021?
Essentially, last Covid, I was doing the same thing that I was doing this time. I was introspecting on my work and paintings and I created this collection that I had done in my early years of design. I moved out of what I generally do. When you are in the run of the entire work gamut, you sometimes tend to lose focus because there is no time. You are so busy doing so many things that you lose certain elements of yourself which you would like to touch upon. I did touch upon those aspects and brought it back into my design sensibility. That’s why you see the kind of Edwardian influence in the ruffles and the femininity and romance of the fall of the fabrics.
These are times when you realise that nothing is going to go back to what it was and we need to ebb out of it and come up with something that could create a new lifestyle for us and a new way of thinking, a new inspiration and a sensibility.
We are all looking for comfort. Did this put you back in a cocoon of warm familiarity?
I am not a person who goes into a cocoon and derives comfort from that. Having said that, I put down my milestones on Instagram. I realised that my design sensibility and thought process of detailing came about from something. Creativity has to come from something. What was it? It was the fact that from childhood, what I saw of my mom’s way of dressing or her way of keeping her cupboard or jewellery or the kind of jewellery she wore with what hairdo, her saris that I loved.
I realised that my design sensibility was coming from a lot of important factors that one would have never thought about. My love for Kanjeevaram and south Indian textiles and how as a child, I used to listen to Suprabhatam in the morning. It would ring into my ears at 5.30am because there was a temple next to my house. All these things make you understand where your personality has come from.
When you move forward and look up and introspect and communicate and speak to people around you, it keeps you moving. I feel my creativity has been intact because of the fact that I keep looking back at what I have done and reinvent. So, there is a kind of newness and youthfulness and that’s how you evolve as a human being.
What has been the mantra of your long career? How have you balanced everything successfully?
I think the balance has just come about. I don’t have that answer. Someone up there loves me! But yes, documenting and understanding what my priorities are (have been the key). Even as a student, I used to go with the flow. It’s never been about fighting the wave, but going with it.
What are your top tips for all the budding designers who are looking to stay put for a long innings?
It is understanding the subject of your work, the passion from the subject and then moving out of that comfort and moving on. But it has to be with passion and excitement. You only have to create a niche of your own and when you create that niche and understand what that passion is, lots of beautiful paths open in front of you and work no longer remains work. It becomes a mantra to live by.
How many hours do you work now?
Eighteen hours. I sleep about five-six hours or so. It’s not like I feel exhausted working because I love my work so much that I enjoy it. Even at night, after 9, if I am watching a movie, I am constantly sketching.
And, you have been painting for how long?
From 2006 or 2007, but in between I stopped painting for a bit and I started painting again, last Covid and between that and now, I must have done about 80-90 paintings.
What has reconnecting with your passion brought about in your life?
I think it has brought about a kind of sanity because when I am painting I listen to a lot of podcasts. I love to keep educating myself, but I am not someone who reads a lot. So, podcasts and YouTube TED Talks keep me going. Coming back to your first question, this is a possible coping mechanism.
Who are your favourite painters?
Picasso is someone I completely connect with and Frida Kahlo is my idol.
Coming back to bridals, a lot of designers we have spoken to have told us the brides haven’t really changed in the last year. What has been your experience like?
Thank god for social media (laughs). I would say budgets have gone down, but brides haven’t changed the thought process of the way they want to look, primarily because what you want to keep for posterity are your photographs.
What is your vision for your brand as well as your career as a film stylist in the next 10-15 years?
I am not a marketing person but the vision has always been there. I don’t have a documented time frame, but I do want to open more stores and have more bridal clients. I am working towards it. If I had a business plan two years back, that is not going to hold good for now. So, I am waiting to see market movement and understand it.
And, purely from the creative point of view?
I still see myself being able to create the way I am creating because that passion is not going to die down and it’s only going to get bigger and better from here. I have put it out into the universe and I am working around it.
What is your granddaughter Miraya teaching you?
She is teaching me that the younger generation is becoming smarter and has a lot of power in them. She is only two and the kind of things she says is unreal. She teaches me that if you push beyond the boundaries anything is possible.
Sridevi has played a very important role in my life.
Frida Kahlo has been integral to understanding empowerment and how to move forward. She, against all odds, followed her passion.
Also people like Indra Nooyi, Sudha Murty. They understand that life brings its own challenges but you need to accept it and take it in your stride. That is the true meaning of empowerment.
1. Select a colour you really love. Don’t go out of your comfort zone because this is not a time to experiment.
2. Buy your jewellery first. You never buy the furniture and then the house. Your actual investment is your jewellery.
3. Buy things you can keep for a long time, hand-me-downs, that you will also enjoy wearing at a later stage and always go with classics that you can reuse and rewear.