India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
October 11, 2012

Malini Ramani: “I am my own guru”

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Akash Mehta. Make-up by Mansi Mulherkar. Hair by Kasim Jameel; Bina Punjani Hair Studio, Goa.

Fun and funky, she is on an ongoing journey to express herself in her creations. Having launched Dreamscape earlier this year, fashion designer Malini Ramani is letting her imagination explore new spaces. Speaking about her inspirations, her growth and her new ventures, the eclectic ‘Melodramani’ gets upfront and personal with Verve in Goa

It is metaphorically a hop, skip and jump to the small colourful cottage from where our car is parked on the tree-lined road in Sangolda (Porvorim, Goa). The wooden gate stands open, inviting us to walk down the attractive pathway; on either side are vibrant blue benches and white pebbles that shine in the sunlight – to the structure that houses Dreamscapes – Dreamy home accessories by Malini Ramani, launched earlier this year. Having air dashed to Goa the previous night, I follow the now New Delhi-now-Goa-based designer into its interiors to take a look at the various offerings that form a part of its current collection – a cow on the floor, a zebra-striped wall, a trio of giraffes, masks and kites, attractively embellished mirrors and tables, silvery balls that hang low from the ceiling, statuettes and more.

Navigating my way through the pieces, I watch Malini as she gets ready to showcase her new space – and her new talent. She morphs easily from her own casual chic to formal glamour (an Amit Aggarwal outfit), her hair styled Mohawk-like. The colours, the edge, the creativity all seem to come naturally to a free-spirited mind that straddles several mediums and has drawn inspiration from different cities.

Earlier in the morning we had made our way to her mother Bina Ramani’s home to catch up with the designer on her new muse. Malini – the world is literally a stage for her – says that for, her home means many things. Sitting on the patio at the back of the house, she says, “The word home is kind of tricky for me. I guess it changes through the year. In summer, home to me is New York where I go to meet my sisters and nephews. In winter, home is in Delhi. I have tons of work in the capital. I often go to Bali – I feel very much at home there. It is a place where I go by myself – I have a whole group of friends and life there. And, then there is Goa.”

Like her designs in the world of fashion, her individual spaces are different, at different places. She emphasises, “The whole point is to be able to express yourself – and that keeps on changing and evolving. There are so many new things that you learn around the world, you grow as you travel and I would not want something like a ‘This is not here’ on my wall now”. Her comment takes her back to years ago. Malini laughs, “Probably, the first space I did was really crazy. I was about 18 and living in a house in New Delhi for about four or five years. I had a total blast there and have amazing memories of that place. On a black wall, I painted in white a line from an old John Lennon song – This is not here.”

Today, her most personal space – her bedroom in her New Delhi home – naturally reflects her inner self. “I sleep under a tent in Delhi. I made a tent with this big chandelier. I open my eyes and I am under this fuchsia and orange tent. I love colour in my spaces. They are all opulent and there is nothing quiet or Zen-like about them. I like my spaces to move me whenever I see them. So, they must have some kind of effect and also be comfortable. Comfort is a big key just as it is with my clothes. That is why I am addicted to jerseys. I use jerseys and stretch fabrics all the time now because I figured out a couple of years ago that they are much more comfortable. And in my spaces, another thing that matters is lighting. I like heavy and unique lighting that just makes you look beautiful.”

Bina Ramani walks out on to the patio. After the greetings are over, she chats with Malini for a bit and then goes into the inside of her home. I ask Malini how growing up with her mother has impacted her. Emphasising that they are different, Malini says, “My mom is very stylish. She has a totally different style from mine although now I do look for inspiration in her closet and I find quite interesting things. She likes antiques, ethnic stuff, brocades and things like that which I don’t exactly love. But now I look at her lovely cuts, fun ideas and develop them into my own prints. I would say that her style is unique just as mine is!”

As she speaks, she settles down near a window. The natural light coming in captures her in a sensitive frame of mind. I steer the conversation back to areas that have helped define her sensibility and she is quick to say, “Bali. I find a lot of inspiration there. I love going there – it’s a very spiritual place. The second I land there it’s almost as if I am transported to a creative land where there is God all around. I just let go and I am very free there. When you are free you can actually open your third eye to get any idea that you want because you are not holding on to any preconceived ideas. I think my connection with Bali started with the whole Jessica Lal incident. Before that I wasn’t spiritual at all. Overnight I changed into an entirely new person. I live for my journey and my spiritual journey is the number one priority in my life. I am my own guru.”

We step out of the home that has within its walls several memories, interesting artefacts and an old-world charm, to drive down to Malini’s fashion outlet in Calangute. This we soon find is a two-room brightly lit space that showcases her designs and accessories to perfection. She is at home here, commanding in her own space as she twirls outfits round her finger, finally choosing one that complements her mood. A peacock-feathered accessory completes the look and she is ready to turn into the model for the moment. Surrounded by what one can term her first creative love – her designs – in a city that spells for her freedom, Malini says, “It opens you to all kinds of possibilities. I love doing things here. Earlier I had a club called Congo. Now I am doing interiors.  At the end of the day, I feel fashion and interior design are the same. It is just a case of getting any kind of idea and trying to make it happen. It is all a matter of taste and style. And frankly, the whole thing is about the fact that if someone saw an interior or an outfit of mine, they should be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s so Malini!’ That is how I want it to be.”

She has just embarked on this newfound journey of hers but is clear about how her design sensibility will develop. She believes, “There is going to be a lot of me in the spaces, otherwise they could do it themselves or go to someone else. The reason anyone would hire me is because they want a part of me in the designs. I don’t want to be a bully and I will take their tastes and ideas into consideration. A good designer is one who can synergise his personality with other people’s ideas. For example, a big mass market brand asked me to design for them. They said we love your designs but we do not want to use your name. I told them I did not do Indian clothes and since they were not using my name, they could use anyone else. But, they were persistent and I thought I would try it out for a change. I took down their requirements – colour, age and all that – and it turned out so well that even before I did the final handover, they have signed me on again for the 2013/2014 line.”

Watching the fascinating interplay of Malini with her reflection in the mirror, I ask her just how fashion changes with the seasons, what would drive the changes in interiors. She pauses, thinks for a moment and replies, “I will soon find out as I have just started out. In fashion, the changes are sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle. When you are doing other spaces for clients, you get an opportunity to try new things. Once the space is complete, you can just keep adding things on to them. Perhaps you might pick up a lot of beautiful things while travelling and incorporate them into the space that is ready. Recently I picked up something that I liked and I am going to put it in my store soon. It has beautiful pop colours – fluorescent flowers painted on leather. Anything that I like I will try and make available to others.”

That philosophy has driven her fashion sensibility as well. It is well-known that Malini designs clothes that she is most comfortable in. “That is true,” she laughs. “Although when I look back now, I see that I have stopped wearing several things. When I look at my short dresses, I am like ‘Oh my God!’ I can’t wear them anymore. I don’t feel comfortable in short dresses anymore, maybe it is an age appropriate thing and I have outgrown them. Age teaches you many things. I remember one of my first fashion weeks. It was so hideous – almost like a slap in my face. But, I learnt from the experience and tried to be true to myself.  So even though I want to make something crazy, I will now tweak it and make it wearable or usable.”

For now, Goa is where she is – even if only for a few days as work in New Delhi beckons – and the place is one that lets her create to the fullest. “I love Goa,” she says. “My partner, Lyndon (Alves), who is a very close friend, lives here. I am also building my own home here – a duplex apartment. The first floor is my entertainment floor and the upper level will have the three bedrooms. Goa has become a hub of fashion designers, painters and writers. But it has also got the businessmen here. Every creative person wants freedom because they don’t want to be sitting at a nine-to-five job. That is the reason why most of them have second homes here. The place is beautiful – just feel the breeze, it is so refreshing and stimulating. Who would not come here?”

And yet, the capital beckons her back to work. She says, “My factory is there. I am going through the phase where I am slightly obsessed with my work. Earlier I was jumping around all over the place but now that has taken its course. I have to come back and give my work more energy. There is magic happening there – until the next phase, till the collection is finished. I travel a lot. Last year I went to 12 countries. This year I have just been to six though I have wanted to go to 14. I was creating so much in office, I knew that I could not travel as much as I would have liked to. And, of course, it is great to come to Goa in the monsoon to relax and get some work done.”

Free-spirited, a gypsy almost, she has many aces up her sleeve. But Malini is not letting on yet. “I want to do many more things,” she admits. “I would like to try my hand at writing. I definitely love doing that. Perhaps something spiritual, so stay tuned for that. It is all in the planning process now.”

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