Under my byline

Glass nuts

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art, Profiles by Rrishi on 12 December 2009

How the Klove Studio partners designed the set for Karan Johar’s fashion debut

Couture is a big step or two beyond mere fashion. It involves one-off, custom-made designer originals executed to a very high degree of finish. So, not many design houses in the world are qualified to do couture. Nevertheless, India has a fledgling couture week, which the organisers say is only the third after the ones in Paris and New York.

The second HDIL India Couture Week took place in Mumbai this October. Since it was Mumbai, top billing was given to the fashion debut of Bollywood director-producer and TV celeb Karan Johar.

He joined with designer Varun Bahl to present a men’s collection. Naturally, the models included film stars like Shah Rukh Khan (with wife Gauri), Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. Naturally again, this was the aspect that caught most eyes.

But there were two other designers whose work for this show also drew attention. They handled the sets, and it was they who built and installed the eye-catching backdrop as well as the props and accent pieces.

Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth of Delhi-based Klove Studio, who have been building themselves a reputation with their glasswork installations and light fixtures for homes, hotel lobbies and exhibition spaces, were recruited by Johar to “accessorise” (their word) his collection. Appropriate to the couture context, theirs was a one-off, custom-fit solution.

“It was men’s fashion, so the feel had to be macho,” says Jain, describing their remit, “as well as nightclub. It was supposed to be like a party, and at the same time have elements that you associate specifically with a man.” The two work in blown glass, hardly a manly material — but they adapted their medium to a handful of new forms.

Jain and Seth sought inspiration in the Johar-Bahl clothes. “There were jackets, metallic zippers, a keyring kind of thing, lots of metalwork happening, very industrial,” says Seth. “We took that cue.” Jain adds, “They have made clothes for the urban guy who wants to give the image of being masculine, but there is also retro and edginess.”

Using the framing device of a construction site, then — what could possibly be more theatrically, and stereotypically, macho? — the Klove duo identified the basic forms they would work with: “Nuts, wrenches, spanners, work benches, screws in glass, hammers…” says Seth.

Large faux nuts, spanners and hammers in shiny sheet metal, and screws in blown glass, were suspended from the girders above the ramp. The construction site came complete with mock cranes, pulleys and scaffolding. The backdrop was striated with lines of pulsating, colour-changing LED lights.

With such a visual smorgasbord, did the clothes themselves get somewhat lost? “[Johar and Bahl] wanted the nightclub feel, and for that you cannot afford to have static lighting,” explains Seth. “They were very sure what they wanted.”

Was it difficult for two sets of creative types to work together? “When you work with highly skilled and creative people,” says Jain, “when you have a discussion with both of them their feedback is really crisp, so you know what they’re thinking.” Seth adds: “It’s good to work with clear people. It’s about design as a common, universal language — it doesn’t stop at clothes or accessories.”

The challenges on this project were not creative, says the duo. Rather, they were “scale and quickness”. The ramp was 70 feet long, and then there was the full-wall LED-lit backdrop — larger than anything the two of them had attempted before. They had just one month to design and produce all the elements and get them to Mumbai, and then, says Seth, “We were given the stage for just 15-16 hours” to set everything up at the venue.

He adds: “We were doing things even when Shah Rukh and Gauri were practising walking the ramp.” Like a film set, he says, they had to assemble it in such a way that afterwards the workers could “crash” the set in 10 minutes flat.

But Seth adds that they had a head start, because the upcoming collection of accessories and lighting they have been working on for the Good Earth interior shops anticipates, in some respects, as he says, the elements they used for the Johar-Bahl set.

And on a longer time scale, one guesses that the Klove designers have been assembling the skills for projects like this. A few design elements, repeated many times, can make a complex environment like this set easier to pull off quickly.

Klove’s previous large commissions, including giant chandeliers, are built along the same lines, with a small number of elements repeated and arranged like constellations. Those commissions, too, are one-offs — so the Klove duo is clearly identifying its own low-risk, high-visibility route to couture in interior design.

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