Posted on 17 September 2011.
Semu Bhatt and Atit Bhatt are names that Indian Fashion cannot miss. Siblings, and owners of pioneer names in fashion across the country, ‘Atit and Semu’ have made their mark in the fashion industry. From fashion designing tips to choreographing for the ramp, Atit and Semu have been an integral part of Miss Kerala too. The duo speaks to Kochivibe for contestants of Miss Kerala 2011. Read on.
How do you find girls from Kerala?
We found most of them very friendly and outgoing. The most striking qualities about Malyali girls are their confidence and aptitude for higher studies. Rarely do we find pageants where all the participants are well educated and/or in the process of getting higher degrees. Yes, they are conservative – and Atit has had serious problems with that last year as during the pageant many girls refused to let him come closer to them for draping or pinning, creating lot of pressure on me as we had only 20 minutes to make them change and get ready for the next round. It was a very different scenario from Mumbai, where professional models do not mind changing in front of the designer during shoots or shows.
How has the experience been, coming to Kerala, and working for a beauty pageant like Miss Kerala?
Kerala is beautiful; has every reason to be called God’s own country. Last year, when we came for the pageant, it was our first visit to Kerala. The half an hour drive from the airport to Kochi with rolled down windows to feel fresh air and greenery, was enough to remove months of Mumbai-induced stress. After the pageant, we spent some time in a houseboat at Alleppy. It was one of the best travelling experiences we have had, and we have travelled across the world. Another thing that we could not get enough of was the Malyali food. I have become such an appam-stew addict that every time my friends plan a dinner out, I opt for a Malyali restaurant in Mumbai.
Designing for Miss Kerala pageant was a very different experience. The girls were conservative when it came to fashion – a trait that designers from Mumbai find amusing, if we can use the word in this context. Many show
ed willingness to wear short and/or off shoulder dresses during the prelims (probably the euphoria of being selected), and later when they came for training, they sent feelers that they won’t wear this and that. We had to rework many designs and alter many already stitched pieces, which was frustrating. Also, amusing was the fact that the girls had ZERO knowledge on undergarments. Many did not know there were different cup size for bras, and for many, their moms bought their lingerie for them. But once the initial issues were sorted out, the rest of the pageant was smooth. To see those girls, who did not even know how to walk on ramp during the prelims, or how to pose or have correct body posture, transform into beautiful ladies with great poise and grace after the training period, was really wonderful.
The final event was at par with any in the country, beautifully put together by the Impressario team. To be honest, initially we had our reservations about the figures of the contestants, as Malyali girls have fuller bodies; but once we saw them carry themselves on the ramps, we were so proud of the girls.
Our experience with Miss Kerala was unforgettable due to one other factor – Impressario. They made us felt at home from day one of our association. We made many good friends there, the best of them being Impressario MD Harish Babu who took personal care of us. If we have to summarise our experience in one line, we would say we were mesmerized with our experience in Kerala and with this pageant.
Which are the other big works you have done? Could you share a few with us.
Atit has his signature fashion label “Atit Bhatt” and has done many shows including Lakme Fashion Week. He was also one of the chosen 20 designers from across India to showcase an outfit for the fashion show to commemorate Barbie’s 50 years. He has designed for many movies, events, and shows of Ms Preity Zinta, was Design Director of the Kalaniketan Group for over five years, and has designed wardrobe for Femina Miss India contestants. We recently designed for an upcoming English movie “Famous”. In the Malyali context, we have designed cheerleaders’ costumes for the Kochi IPL team and styled for an ad shoot with Mr Kunchaku Boban. I, on the other hand, am more of a fashion stylist having designed and styled for over 200 prints and TV commercials. I also, jointly own a fashion label “Atit & Semu”, which caters to younger generation. I am also a freelance political and conflict analyst with two published books and recently wrote a weekly for six months for “Aman ki Asha” – the Times of India Indo-Pak peace initiative.
You and Atit are an integral part of Miss Kerala. How long has it been?
This is our second year. We were approached last year as the organizers felt that the event, though successful for nearly a decade, lacked in fashion department. They felt stagnated because of it. They wanted to upgrade the Miss Kerala platform to make it fashionable and contemporary. We had a huge responsibility on our shoulders to make it work as the expectations were high, and especially because despite their wish to make it high fashion, the organizers were wary of the audience accepting this drastic change. We decided costumes for the four rounds with an aim to highlight a personality trait of the girls in each of it – peppy and youthful girl, the traditional woman, professional ramp walker and the confident beauty queen. Our idea of making western gowns out of cotton Kerala sarees for the final round was probably the most worrying one for them – we were clearly told that Malyalis hold their saree and their tradition very dear. In pre-event media interviews, the media personnel expressed dismay and concern over our gamble. But we wanted to make the final round costumes contemporary while retaining the Kerala tradition and were confident that we would floor them with our experiment. We are grateful for all the glorious reviews we received after the event. We had promised Impressario that the garments will make a statement, and we were glad that we were able to fulfill the same. We are reaping the benefit of it now as Impressario has completely left it to us to decide what the girls would wear for each round, and we plan to make it fashion-wise bigger and better this year.
Do you think Kerala is a good hot spot for fashion?
Honestly, Kerala has a lot of catching up to do vis-à-vis high fashion. The girls, who came dressed up in western wear during the prelims last year, almost gave us a heart attack with their choice of clothes. But they were quick to learn and adapt. So we would say that it is a good market that fashion brands need to explore. There already are some fashion movements in the state. With more fashion events and brands coming in, people will get more fashion savvy.
Apart from work, what other hobbies do you guy’s engage in?
Atit is a hardcore workaholic – he rarely gets interested in anything that is not fashion related. He can literally work 24*7 for weeks on end. I, on the other hand, am a drifter who loves to work at my own pace and mood – I guess the writer in me is more dominating than the fashion stylist in me. We both love to travel alone, but I prefer spots that are in nature’s lap cut off from world and any sort of connectivity, while Atit prefers to go to places that offer him knowledge on various weaving, dyeing and embroidery techniques. We are brother and sister and fight like cats and dogs all the time; have fashion styles that are as different as chalk and cheese; he is uncompromising when it comes to work, while I take into account comforts of everyone associated. We probably click as a team because of these differences.
What tips would you give to Miss Kerala contestants for the year 2011 (on ramp walking or rather some choreography tips)?
Be yourself. The Malyali girls are blessed with beautiful skin, smile and hair. They are knowledgeable and confident. The only thing that they lack is exposure to the world of beauty and fashion, which is imparted to them during the training period of the pageant. Their walk, posture, dressing sense, social graces, speech, diction, make up skills – are all brushed up, so that the raw girls are transformed into pretty beauty queens. If they manage to keep their calm and composure on the big day, I think the judges will have hard time picking three winners.
Most important, if you trip on the ramp, pick yourself up, keep your chin high, and move on as if it never happened. Similarly, if you feel your garment is slipping or your saree pleat is hindering your stride, hold it and walk confidently. Judges give you marks not on why you fell or how you held a bothering part of the costume, but on how self-assured you are in handling a tricky situation.
Your message to contestants for Miss Kerala 2011?
Girls, just as you have open and receptive minds towards modern education, be receptive to contemporary fashion as well. You are in safe and experienced hands of the Impressario team – not only pre-event, but also post it. Give your very best. Tread the fine line between confidence and arrogance carefully; keep your attitude positive. And finally, imbibe the finest of your traditional culture and the modern world and reach out for the stars all the while keeping your values at the core of your successful career.