When the era of the supermodels ended, the age of Bollywood showstoppers began. Browse through any of the leading designer’s Instagram page, and you will see pictures of Bollywood stars posing in couture collections. The point in case, Alia Bhatt is going all out promoting Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s 20th-anniversary collection Kashgaar Bazaar in association with Christian Louboutin. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Karan Johar, and Shweta Bachchan Nanda turned showstoppers for Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s show, Inheritance – An Ode to the Textiles and Embroideries of India, which was in aid of the Cancer Patients Aids Association and the list goes on.
From the big screen to the runway, why have Bollywood celebs become the sought-after models? Luxe Books talks to five designers, Manish Malhotra, Kunal Rawal, Swapna Anumolu, Arpita Mehta and Payal Singhal, to understand the trend.
Bollywood’s favorite designer and the man credited with starting the ‘Bollywood Showstopper’ trend on the runway, Manish Malhotra, is all for B’wood model. The key factor depends on how relatable the celebrity is to your specific audience. “Every celebrity that I’ve worked with adds his/her own style and vibe to my collections. For Zween (2018 couture collection showcased in Doha), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan walked the ramp for us. I chose her because the collection was as grand and regal as she is! For Sensual Affair (2017 couture collection), we had Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor. This collection was more modern and glamorous, which I believe both Alia and Ranbir are,” Malhotra explains.
In 2018, Malhotra celebrated 13 years of his couture label and 28 years of being a costume stylist in Bollywood. In this glorious and fashionable time, Malhotra has styled almost all the actresses from the ‘90s favorite Karisma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani to Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Malhotra is now creating avant-garde couture for the new kids on the block: Alia Bhatt, Janhvi Kapoor, and Sara Ali Khan.
“All the big screen faces that I associate with share the same sense of style or ethos.” This adds to the brand’s reputation and creates a lasting impact on the people’s mind, which according to Malhotra, influences a buyer’s decision to pick his brand over anyone else’s when they spot a Manish Malhotra garment on a celebrity in a movie or at a public appearance.
While Malhotra is an established entity, new players like designer Swapna Anumolu, founder of the five-year-old luxury prêt and bridal label, Mishru is also leveraging India’s obsession with Bollywood to boost brand visibility and reach. “If you want to reach out to a large number of people for any product placement and promotion in India, Bollywood or cricket is the way to go,” says Anumolu. The brand first came in the spotlight last November, when the designer posted images of Kareena Kapoor Khan in a redraw silk lehenga from the label’s collection, followed by the designer’s summer resort showcase at Lakmé Fashion Week in February. Actress Diana Penty walked the ramp for her. “The public’s interest in a brand really piques when a celebrity wears it. You start getting many inquiries. We sold many versions of the red lehenga worn by Kareen Kapoor Khan. I believe that her star power attracted so many people. The lehenga Diana Penty wore for our summer resort collection also got picked by man – without any customizations,” says Anumolu.
People follow people, in life and on Instagram. Anumolu believes that one of the most effective ways to generate organic traction for a new brand is by showing up on a celebrity’s feed. This can be achieved by connecting with Bollywood stylists and helping them meet an eclectic list of sourcing requests for press meets, events and premieres for a celebrity client. “Stylists sourcing our clothes for celebrity events is a big win for us. This works in our benefit as celebrities have an awesome fan following across India. It is a great way for us to get our name out in the market,” she adds.
Fellow contemporary designer Arpita Mehta and founder of her eponymous label says, “Bollywood is one of the biggest industries in India, and the magnitude of influence it has on the choices and tastes of the masses is quite extensive.” Last year, Mehta designed and created the concept of the ruffle sari that almost immediately became an instant hit. It was embraced and loved by all. The game, however, completely changed for her brand when it was worn by Jacqueline Fernandez, Shilpa Shetty Kundra and Kriti Sanon. “The sales of the sari shot up tremendously, and it became an instant hit in the market. In the past one year, I must have sold around 300 ruffle saris, which is quite amazing,” exclaims Mehta.
Menswear designer Kunal Rawal, whose stylish ensembles can be spotted on Instagram feeds of Shahid Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja; and also, Shahid’s wedding album believes that Bollywood celebrities are incredibly fashion-forward. “Someone like Shahid Kapoor knows what’s good when it comes to fashion and clothes,” Rawal says. Thus, Shahid’s sign of approval online can only mean good things for a brand. That being said, Kunal believes that millennial buyers are astute, and they can easily distinguish when a celebrity is sporting something to plug a brand. He’s not alone.
A word of caution
With almost two decades of experience in the fashion industry, designer Payal Singhal believes that a celebrity image will definitely help a brand reach more people on the World Wide Web, but whether or not this reach will convert into sales is something she is not sure of. “I don’t think a person buys an outfit because a celebrity has worn it. They buy it because they like it. I don’t see anybody buying my clothes after being influenced by a celebrity. Ours is not a very massy brand; neither is it that affordable. The clothes sell at premium price points; this assures me that our buyers have a mind of their own,” she says. A picture’s worth a thousand words – celebrity or model shot for Singhal’s patrons, usually gets her customers to enquire the price of the dress.
“Only a few celebrities have an identifiable sense of design and style. The rest of them are wearing things sourced by their stylists. Presently, only Sonam Kapoor Ahuja has her own sense of style and an opinion about what she wears.” In this scenario, when someone follows Sonam, it is to learn from her personal sense of style and not necessarily swoon over the brands she’s wearing.
Singhal strongly believes that as a design purist, she doesn’t need a celebrity showstopper to close her show, but unfortunately, when in Rome, we do as the Romans do. “As India is Bollywood obsessed you have to rely on the film industry’s support for press coverage and marketing,” she adds.
The designer concludes by saying that in a utilitarian world, the way to tackle this would be to make sure that celebrities come and attend the shows as first row audience, and let people know that they were there to support a particular brand that they admire and follow, and let the runway be only for the models.