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December 24, 2014

No Flash, Only Flair

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographs by Radhika Raj

Laila Singh, stepdaughter of liquor baron, Vijay Mallya, welcomes Verve into her Mumbai home and speaks of her debut jewellery collection which showcased recently on the ramp at Lakme Fashion Week

  • Laila Singh, Lakme Fashion Week 2014
    Laila Singh in her living room: classic and quirky
  • Laila Singh, Lakme Fashion Week 2014
    Buddha detail at home
  • Laila Singh, Lakme Fashion Week 2014
    Destination wedding jewellery
  • Laila Singh, Lakme Fashion Week 2014
    Laila Singh: creating trending accessories
  • Laila Singh, Lakme Fashion Week 2014
    Mask studded with diamonds

If being understated is the new contemporary, then Laila Singh has nailed it perfectly. Understated with a touch of pop. Understated with a dash of creative energy. The fashion stylist and jewellery designer who showcased her debut jewellery collection at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive ’14 is subtle in both, her home and lifestyle as well as her designs. There is no bling here, no flash, only flair. As we speak in her high-rise drawing room with a tremendous view of the coastline and ocean, the subdued colours around us are calming and un-intrusive. Vijay Mallya’s stepdaughter, I am thinking, is a far cry from his very flamboyant lifestyle and personality, he being dubbed the ‘liquor baron’ of India, ‘The King of Good Times’.

Her jewellery collection is spread out on the glass-and-steel dining table with the leather chairs that are a nod to her husband who picked them out (“I would not particularly do leather,” she says). Masculine these, in an otherwise feminine and streamlined environment. On the perfectly-polished glass top, I see pieces that tease by being unusual. Trending accessories like hand cuffs, knuckle rings, palm cuffs, hand chain bracelets, a mask-like eye piece studded with diamonds…. These are unlike the usual rings-and-pendants kinds of selections. They beg to be picked up and tried on and I, not generally the great lover of jewels by any stretch, slip on some distinctive hand accessories that sit perfectly without slipping off and the eye mask that immediately makes me feel like a party girl off to a masquerade ball.

Her label, Social Butterfly which is made in Mumbai with stones sourced from all over India, was started in 2010 and several signature trunk shows later, in LA, New York, San Francisco, Aspen and Dubai, her newest collection, Flight of Fancy, created of metal and precious and semi-precious stones, made a noteworthy appearance on the Fashion Week ramp. Inspired by a peacock sighting in Jaipur, the collection explores the “delicate yet bold dichotomy of a peacock feather”. She says now while knuckling one of her gem-encrusted pieces, “I created Social Butterfly almost five years ago. In the beginning, it was only for me. I travelled a lot and did not want to carry real jewellery around. I could not find pieces that were not real and not junk either and so began to create my own jewellery.” She recalls that when she wore these pieces, she received a lot of compliments and very soon her mother, her sisters and her grandmother started wearing them. “In December the family goes skiing in Aspen,” she says, “and my jewellery got noticed there. I started having trunk shows and I can say proudly today that these have become calendar events.”

Perfectly poised in a black BCBG Max Azria evening dress, against a large and colourful Buddha painting on a wallpapered background in pastel colours, her home is elegant, chic and while her investment banker husband prefers the subdued, the young stylist skillfully adds pops of colour in expected and unexpected ways, as is evident in this large painting of many hues. “We were walking the streets of Koh Samui and saw someone painting this Buddha,” she recalls. “We asked him to add more pops of colour, which he did. We love to pick up unique pieces that are different and fit into our personalities and quirkiness, especially when we are travelling.” She looks around her living room and notes, “I like the very classic look…I like clean lines…very modernistic…. I would describe the look of my home as ‘matured fun’, which echoes my own style as well.”

Classic, quirky and somewhat daring too. This young lady, as former aide to IPL kingpin Lalit Modi, was discovered on cctv to be the ‘mystery woman’ walking out of the hotel suite where the IPL office was located in Mumbai, with a briefcase of documents, just before income-tax officials raided the place . “IPL was my first corporate job,” she says. “It has been the most thrilling and empowering experience of my life. It matured me…. It was the marriage between marketing a brand, lifestyle and glamour that completely intrigued me. At the IPL we were travelling all the time and had any number of events that we had to attend and that’s when I started creating these trinkets….”

So, does she see herself as a social butterfly? “I am a  very very private person,” says the creator. “I see my brand as being a social butterfly but not me at all. I want my brand to speak for itself. It has had great luck in the US, now it is time for it to be born in India. I see it as destination wedding jewellery, pieces that travel well.” Her youngest sister chose the name, saying, “Didi you are such a social butterfly, always on the go.” And these baubles are in fact meant for ladies who are constantly roving. For those who want something “quick, easy, wearable, light…. I don’t want to be sitting in the car with heavy earrings on…. Every function that I go to, I find that I remove my jewellery and my shoes even before I get home. I want my jewellery to be the last thing that you take off….”

She is now in a brilliant coral Ted Baker dress in front of a large poster-like painting that maintains: Good taste is the enemy of creativity. “My husband loved the line. Don’t ask me what it means. Everyone has different interpretations. But for me, I love the Elvis Presley image on it and the colours, so he got me there….”  Laila and Samar tied the knot at a relatively low-key event in Bali featuring only relatives and friends, something that would fit in with her personality and love of privacy. “Less is more is my mantra,” she states about her sense of style and her lifestyle. “I like to be sophisticated chic and yet very eye-catching without distracting the look.” Unsurprisingly, she favoured Tarun Tahiliani – “I have grown up with his clothes. For my wedding outfit, I went back to ‘old’ Tarun; I love the beadwork of those outfits. I went back to the old motifs, the old work, with a modern twist. I have even revamped all the pieces that my mother had, keeping the aesthetics and the vintage look. When Tarun designs for me, he knows what I want. He speaks to me. For me, cuts are very important. I love his cuts and so I stick to that.”

Mr Right’ and ‘Mrs Always Right’ (of course!) state two cushions in her drawing room, adding a touch of humour to elegance. She has completed her studies in international business at Bentley University, Boston and then indulged her love for fashion at F.I.T (Fashion Institute of Technology) NYC and feels today that India is ready for what she is creating as witnessed by the reactions to her Fashion Week show. She does not wish to be in stores yet. Meet her by appointment only for bespoke pieces. “I find it more personal dealing with clients. I love to see each one’s face as they try on the pieces. Each piece of jewellery looks different on different people. And as I observe the reactions to the jewellery, I get inspired to create yet another piece.”

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