30 years and counting, bustiers and 3D embroideries, Suneet Varma has now turned his lens to photography and is paying an homage to new entrants with an exhibition
By Asmita Aggarwal
He worked with the inimitable Yves Saint Laurent, the only living designer, besides Rei Kawakubo, who was celebrated by the MET; he still has books that he will proudly show you that were gifted by the man, who introduced the Le Smoking suit into women’s closets. Suneet Varma after 30 years has changed his lens a bit, well literally and metaphorically.
For LMIFW’19 he has photographed 26 participating designers (one garment each) which is a part of a photography exhibition by the Fashion Design Council of India. Suneet started this as a passion, something where he could bring all the years of experience in terms of aesthetics and working with the best from Farrokh Chothia, Suresh Natrajan to Abhay Singh. “I had turned to photography a year back, now I’ve graduated to shooting for the top magazines in India. I wasn’t sure I was good at it, so I rented a camera. I noticed what young designers were doing, while photographing their ideas and philosophy in my series for FDCI,” he adds.
The game is changing so quickly, he says, if you don’t update you will be booted out of it. Even though social media, he says remains a beast you have to feed every day, it does translate to business. “I am quite old fashioned (despite the kiss with Rahul, on the catwalk during the Rainbow show), I never put up personal things on my account, I have kept it purely for work. I must admit of all the requests we get on instagram when we put up our new line, at least 15 per cent translate to sales,” he explains.
The challenge for Suneet and others of his generation, is they began when things were simpler, there were only a handful of them who were dressing women fairly austerely. Time was slow, urgency was missing, there was more camaraderie among this small industry. “I didn’t know the existence of some of the designers I photographed. You can’t rest on your past laurels. Look at late Karl Lagerfeld, at 85, he was managing two brands-Fendi and Chanel. He lived in the future, his body gave up but his spirit was 25-years-old,” he confirms.
Though the guru, who brought 3D embroideries to India in the 90s, Suneet reveals, there is no formula you can follow to be successful. “We are dressing people and people are changing—their mindset, attitude and professions, especially women. You need to be analytical, can’t be complacent, and look for keywords that define the identity of your brand,” he adds.
His shaded chiffons with whimsical artworks have found him many devotees, but finding a balance in that space where embellishments are the key is what will be an uphill trek. “As I am getting older, I have realised you have to learn to reinvent, juggle, rethink. Even sexy is now changing, but it will never go out of fashion. Glamour is the soul of good dressing, I like sensuality in my ensembles, and it is true, fashion belongs to the young, even though we may all be trying to squeeze ourselves into Gucci pants,” he laughs.
Art, architecture, textiles, Soho, fabric innovations, people and most importantly human contact, Suneet believes is his biggest influence on design. This combined with the hunger for knowledge a trait, he inherited from his mother, “who at 80 is learning to do her taxes, online”. “I enjoy the creative process where I am developing new embellishments; I look at a painting and wonder if it can be rendered in sequins. We get them cut in the shapes that we want manipulated, so R & D becomes an important factor,” he adds.
Seeing two waves that have swept fashion recently—textiles and prêt-a-porter, Suneet admits he is incapable of doing the latter, as “I am really bad at it”, but in the former he admires the Benerasi weave for the grandeur and opulence it offers. This LMIFW he has worked with white tissue crush, and added grey metallics to it along with appliqué (he has done this technique on tissue and tussar before). A thin foil which resembles liquid gold is added for pure shine to complete the look.
Cinched waists, corsets and bustiers have always been a part of Suneet’s repertoire, as he believes clothes portray sexuality as they overtly mask the human form. “My trajectory in fashion has been a journey of trial and error and I am not one to say that in the next ten years I will learn nothing. For me, it is a continuous process and that’s what makes this area even more exciting,” he concludes.