Meeting Rohit Verma was for me an overwhelming experience in the preparation, Rohit being the creator of fashion icons and the controversial participant in the Big Boss show, created in me a fear of facing this persona who had a reputation of being explosive and overly candid. I had mixed feelings as I headed from Lokhandwala to Santacruz in the Mumbaisuburbs, with clear instructions to reach the Rohit Verma boutique. Not very well versed with these roads my heart was beating fast with trepidation and excitement on meeting the man who has created a thousand occasions and made them special for so many celebrities and the fashionistas of society. I thought it would be really difficult meeting him and he would be very proud and unapproachable. But what I experienced was just the opposite; here was one of the loveliest and friendliest individual. He was so easily hurt as I had missed an appointment and for the first 10 minutes was a bit cold, till he really got into his element and wove his magic by speaking about what is most passionate to him – FASHION.

It was a real treat, physically and mentally, physically as he pampered me with an ice cream shake and mentally and soulfully due to the candid and intelligent way that he narrated his soul. His honest and open approach was very endearing and made me a fan for life. So read on to learn about the icon Rohit Verma – the man who has created so many legendary occasions and filmy eras with his love and dedication for fashion. Presenting to you the world of Rohit Verma

1. Your Brand Intro.

“A lot of people think I’m very flamboyant and bold and people think my collection will be like my personality” he says with disbelief in his eyes“ because he dresses like this his collection will be bold. But my collection is very opposite to my personality. It’s very serious and couture, very sharp yet very showsha with a lot of drama. So Rohit Verma the brand is not flamboyant, it’s subtle, simple and classy!” he adds as his eyes light up in pride.

2. Is there a lot of bling?

“I’d like to elaborate on that part, because I have a variety with a reason. When I wanted to open my store I studied a LOT!!If somebody comes to my store to purchase 1 RV, I make sure they purchase 10. You get a lot of variety, I cater to every taste. I can be very subtle and very chic – Two extremes!”

3. What is your brand philosophy?

“Be you” he states as simple as it is..

4. Your Background?

“I come from a VERY intellectual family –full of doctors, engineers, IES, my dad was a civil engineer.  I’m from a small town called Allahabad that’s where I was born and raised. Fashion was not very accepted there. Designers were termed as glorified tailors. So when I told my father I wanted to do this. He was very upset. If your father is an engineer, you should be one too is the mentality people had back then. More like Bollywood movies like 3 idiots (he giggles) no family support. People were not open to the idea of letting someone select their own career.  16th April 1996 was the day I ran away from home – I was just 18, because when I was 15 I had decided I wanted to be a designer. Clothes and fashion had always excited me. I wanted to make my own identity. I wanted people to know me for what I am and not what my family is” he expressed as desire cried out of his voice. “We were above middle class, living a comfortable life but I left all that and on 18th April I arrived in Bombay city, that’s where my journey began. I have experienced everything in life. This industry has thought me a lot. Gained a lot and lost a lot. My aunt from Dubai has supported me a lot. When I came to Bombay I didn’t even know to cross roads. I stayed at VT railway station with my luggage in the waiting room for one month. From there I went to Ulhasnagar – JhuleLalDharamshala. My grandfather was here in Bombay but refused to give me shelter with the fear that my dad would be upset with him for encouraging me. After 25 days I called my mom and she couldn’t hold her tears. Then she came down and that’s when my grandfather gave me a house to stay. I then flew to Dubai and paid for my fashion designing course. My Masi’s (aunt) support helped me out. Everybody was against me but my aunt was my only support then, apart from my Mom who did not have much say in any matter” and while Rohit continues to tell us his story, we hear determination in his voice and see humility in his eyes.

“I am open about my sexuality but people like to tag others and form an opinion, because these things are not fully accepted. I always believe you can lie to the world but not to yourself. I have never cared about society. If I wanted to wear a RED shirt I have worn it! No one is running another’s kitchen; you’re running your own. One has to live for him or herself.”

5. Did u make this sexual orientation decision at that age?

I did not know these terms earlier. I happened to meet my best friend Mili, who discovered my true self. She gave me wings to fly and helped me realize what I am and I have lived my life ever since with my terms and conditions” the glee in his voice is electrifying. “I have been through a lot” and suddenly his pitch drops. “People have ditched me.. Backstabbed… people have misused me and they are all big stars now. But, Lord Krishna has always been there with me and helped me throughout. I have seen unbelieveable miracles. I first started off as a fashion choreographer and by 2000 I launched my own label.”

“This studio (flagship studio) started 3 years ago. I’m not very good with math, people have invested in me. I had 3 business partners before but they all conned me. I have never opened books and seen accounts because I always trusted others too much.  That gave people a chance to take advantage of me. After being cheated by 3 people I finally put my foot down. I sold the property I had in Delhi and I had not even Rs.8000 in my pocket and I had to sell this property but then again God has been very kind. Miracles started happening and ever since there’s been no looking back” he says as he sits up straight in determination.

6. What inspires you to come out with a design?

Personality plays an important role. I speak to a person for a minute or two and understand their psychology, that’s an art inside me” he exclaims with pride. “Then I start sketching a design to suit.”

7. Do you ever give people a makeover?

People these days are not very experimental. Bollywood however plays an important role. People go by the trend but only upto a limit when it comes to experimenting. It’s the mindset of clients these days; they wouldn’t mind wearing what Kareena or Sunny is wearing.”

8. When 5-6 designers are part of a show, what inspires you to make a decision as to what collection to showcase?

“I start with sketching in my mind. Like, currently I’m inspired by a vintage painting, the color combinations, Mughal designs – I take a lot of implementations and create a design and get around 35 clothing in that collection. I do Indian, indo-western, very subtle, very loud and I also design gowns.”

9. Can anyone design? What role does formal education play?

Education doesn’t matter a lot. Having said that, I don’t think anyone can study as much as I have. I have done honors in Fashion and Designing. Diploma in textile – diploma in embroidery – what really matters is your interest in designing; the art has to be within you. All the institutes will only give you a structure – just an outline. You have to have the interest – not everyone can design. There’s so much detailing, it’s not an easy subject. The artist has to be inside you only then can you design. When I was 13, I developed an interest for art. I used to do oil painting and rangoli (traditional Indian decoration) and I also won a lot of contests. Among 50 girls I would be the only boy and I would win the contest – my father used to laugh” he giggles with eyes filled with mischief. “That’s how I developed a taste for designing.  I used to watch a lot of fashion shows and was very addicted to it. I never missed Lakme Khoobsurat, I remember Shefali Talwar used to host it. I have a very sharp memory, I remember which designer has launched which collection and in which year! I can even tell you what Sushmita Sen or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan wore for the Miss Universe pageant or what Jaspreet was wearing for Miss India – My memory is very sharp” he reinstates making his point clear

10. How do you build your brand?

“I do a lot of individual fashion shows, I don’t believe in fashion weeks. If I get a chance I do participate but I don’t go out of my way. Like I’ve said before God is very kind, I get a lot of sponsors for my shows, I like doing my own solo shows and ballroom shows” he says as he seems full to repletion. “And then there’s Bollywood, there are a few upcoming movies like Leela and Ek Paheli that I have designed for.  A couple of Bollywood stars are very close to me so they promote my brand. I also keep getting good offers from different cities to promote my brand nationally. Interviews like these also promote the brand in a big way” he smiles charmingly, giving me some credit and making me feel so endearingly welcome.

As he speaks, his emotions flow out and he begins to open up about his veiled side “I am a very emotional and sensitive person. I have never cheated on anyone in my life. Though I am a Scorpio I am not at all vindictive, I believe in doing good deeds. I have always believed – give to the world and the best will come back. I believe in karma. And again, I wanna say… I have seen a lot of miracles in my life. I tell Lord Krishna, I have 100 employees working under me in my factory and you have to take care of them. If we ever have an unfavorable situation, suddenly I will have clients again buying approximately 50 Lakhs worth of clothes and that puts us back on track. Sometimes business doesn’t do well…” he says, leaving his sentence incomplete and us with the thought that ups and downs are a part of life.

11. In what circles is your label thought of? On what occasion do people think of a Rohit Verma?

5 minutes away from my store is Manish Malhotra’s, 2 minutes away is Neeta’s” he chuckles as his grin widens from ear to ear. “So whoever has to visit Manish will visit my store. The kind of variety I have, no store in Bombay has”and he sounds buoyant. “From Western to Indian, I have everything. If you look around my store you’ll see a fashion inspirant from Kandivali who has a very regular choice to a south Bombay fashionista who would wear a spaghetti strap. It’s all about word of mouth – you go to a wedding, see a beautiful outfit and you’re bound to ask – who designed that?And then everybody talks about it. You can wear a Rohit Verma to your wedding, others weddings, brunches or kitties. My collection is not very loud – it’s very classy – Just right!”

Talking about his international reach he says, “I’m VERY famous in South Africa. I’m a star there! I dress up all the royal families. I also do a lot of work in London and now I have started off at New York and Vancouver.We are supplying in New York to Sitara and to House of Raina at Vancouver. We don’t deal in consignments so my demand is more and supply is less”. When asked about customers from Dubai, Rohit said “Dubai is just 2 hours away so if someone has wedding shopping to do, they come over. We want to give our franchise in Dubai, I’m looking for someone. If anyone is interested we would love to take it forward.

12. Do you have to be good looking to be inspired to be a designer?

Apart from Lord Krishna, my family and the 3 important women, who play a very important role in my life, you can’t imagine in your wildest fantasy how much I love myself”, he exclaims as he cocks his eyebrows in pride. “I am my favorite and I love dressing up; clothes talk to me. People can call me the worst dressed on the red carpet but I would love to be called Lady Gaga. I am very very wild” he says with an evil laugh. I don’t mind what they say because I am very bold. If challenged I don’t mind wearing a transparent body suit and doing a 100 mtr walk on the street. Fashion is everything to me. I will not get out of my house without make-up and doing up my hair, and this has nothing to do with designing. That’s just my personality.”

“I’m in the best mood when -I design a lehenga for a client and the lehenga turns out to be way beyond her expectations bringing tears to her eyes. That is my happiest moment! In terms of clothes, I breathe clothes, so I am working 24 hours. When I go back home I’m still designing. Another thing that gives me immense happiness is my personality! When I achieve great sales in South Africa or London. I keep 1 lakh aside and count hours, minutes and seconds just to go back home and give all my karigars (workers) a party. I live for them. So my creativity and individuality is strings apart. It’s my personality that keeps me always happy.”

“My negative point is I’m short tempered and also very hyper. I hate liars! I just can’t stand lies and I don’t like anyone deceiving me. These are my drawbacks.  I don’t put anybody down and I expect the same. I am very sensitive, I take things too much to my heart. Big things may not affect me but the smallest thing can pinch me.”

When asked about his personal style and appearance, bold and beautiful that he is, Rohit had the most honest answer “I dress up like this to attract attention. I think I’ve got a very bitchy face” he says and laughs out loud. “A lot of people think I’m a bitch. When I was on Bigg Boss, people created a lot of perceptions about me, but its ok! I’ve even broken down in that house. That show extremely changed me as a person. People think it’s scripted but it’s not, it’s all real. The way people behave in that house is psychotic. By the 3rd week, the show breaks you completely” he adds with gloom on his face as he recalls the experience.

13. How many collections in a year?

“3 collections – autumn, winter, spring. Spring and summer collection is more floral, open and very simple with lighter colors and pastel shades. For winter collections – I love furs but people don’t like experimenting with fur. I go loud at times. The collection is sometimes inspired by Mughals and sometimes very subtle in embroidery. I also love using velvet and raw silk.”

14. How do you define a collection?

“I have approximately 45 Pieces in one collection.”

15. In how many countries can you be found?

“I’m present globally. During the NRI season, we have clients from Australia, Japan, and various other countries. But physically I am present in Vancouver, New York and London. I am getting a lot of offers from Dubai but nothing mouthwatering as yet.”

16. How many staff do you have?

“I have no designers – only 3 masters and each master has 20 machines. Then I have hand karigars and machine karigars. I have 1 assistant; she takes care of the production and 1 runner for odd jobs.

17. How much do you spend on operations every month?

“Operational expense of my unit is approximately 45 lakhs per month”

18. How do you control the quality of your design?

“Touchwood, I have faced a situation only once or twice in my career, otherwise I never have a problem. My masters are very good. They make sure everything is perfect. There’s one master who always gets my abuses but he’s the sweetest master among all. Yes, I get angry and shout because having 3 masters with 60 machines is not a joke. I’m a different personality when I’m angry.”

19. Does your design team adhere to a certain set of rules of design?

“Yes of course, at times a garment is ready but it doesn’t look as per the design. So we have a checklist to ensure we don’t miss out on any detailing and things are in place. First the form, then the lehenga then the embroidery, we have a flow to be followed.”

20. Wear ability or desirability what is more important in any creation?

“Wear ability – is very important! I can create a gown with huge and elaborate border and it looks beautiful on the mannequin but when someone wears it – disaster! I don’t want to name the lady, a fashion icon of the country, she wore a Jean Paul Gaultier gown on the red carpet and when she went on stage to receive an award, she couldn’t even turn. She was so uncomfortable, so ya comfort is very important. When there’s comfort, your confidence level doubles. Something looking very good on the runway or mannequin may not look good on a woman’s body or she may not be able to pull it off. So wear ability stands very important.”

21. Imagination is different from reality; all bodies are not in model shapes, is your collection only for the film stars and the models?

“I design for women with waist 26 to waist 46. Infact I’m very good with oversize people. My challenge is to make them look slim.I once had a client who was oversized and wanted to wear an anarkali and when I made it as per her size; she kissed me because she looked so slim and so good. The fabrics I use are very different.”

22. How do you accommodate the normal people?

“If your personality is simple, I have a very sober collection of pastel shades. So for someone who doesn’t like to experiment at all and likes to stay comfortable in their own skin, I have a softer collection for them. Once you come to me I can help you to slowly change your personality because you gradually build up confidence in the designer. Then you start experimenting new designs and more colors.”

23. What is your media spend mix?

I have never spent much on marketing because I get free ads. There are certain magazines that are willing to publish free ads so I just take the offer. Plus my fashion shows are larger than life and I get great PR with nearly 150 channels covering my show. I always get a free hoarding and I only pay for mounting. Lord Krishna has always helped me throughout. Traveling is a bit of an expense but that too at times is completely sponsored when people invite me.”

24. Who handles your social media, do you have any involvement?

I’m on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I recently hired a company that’s going to handle it for me but earlier I was doing it myself. I also have a PR agency that kind of overlooks it. I have 2-3 accounts on Instagram Rohit Verma UK and Rohit Verma haute couture with great following. Im not really a Facebook buff, sometimes I handle it and sometimes my PR does it for me. I’ll be more active on Social Media now since we have a new team onboard.”

25. Who designed your logo, was it a sketch from you or a beauty contest by graphic designers for you to choose from?

“Earlier it was only my name but now my team has designed a new logo. The previous one just read Rohit Verma, I thought the font was too simple and the colour was not very corporate. So we redesigned it and now it has a much more corporate look.”

26. How many fashion shows do you participate in?

“Depends – from two to three in a year.”

27. Define your market share in percentages between – the high class socialites, Hollywood / Bollywood, the normal public, etc.

“Bollywood doesn’t believe in buying, they hire clothes he chuckles.“I have always had mixed clients – middle class, above middle class and upper class. Sometimes I also have below middle class clients but we never refuse them. My heart is very big, even if somebody has a budget of Rs. 50,000 for an outfit I will never refuse. My dream is to see everybody wearing more Rohit Verma. People think it’s a brand so it’s expensive but my idea is that my collection should be affordable to all. Very soon I will be launching my prêt collection which will be around the range of Rs. 10,000 – 18,000. To give you a rough idea of the statistics, 75% sales come from general public and 25% from Bollywood.  Considering global sales- 40% from abroad, 40% local and 20% is from Bollywood.”

“The one in Santacruz, Mumbai is my flagship store and having it at a prime location contributes to greater sales.

28. What happens to last years’ collections?

“Everything sells sooner or later. If it’s not out we put it on sale and everything gets sold out. We never carry forward anything for the next year. We will also be starting online sale very soon considering the boom in online shopping.”

29. Please chart out your growth for us?

“I am not a number person my finance can answer that one. To give a little gist I started with just 20 machines and now by Krishna’s grace I have all the departments in my production unit. I have three able Masters with their unique skills set along with their karigars, a hand embroidery unit, machine embroidery unit, quality control team, along with my digital printing area. We are a full-fledged and self-equipped unit now.”

When asked about why Rohit doesn’t have a store at the hub of where most industrialists reside he made a valid point “I have a lot of offers from Surat, but for me it doesn’t make any sense because Surat is just 4-5 hours away from Bombay. But there I’ll have to do different designs, not very haute couture; it’ll have to be more Indian.”

30. Who are the favorite stars that wear your creations?

“All are my favorite and they all look stunning in my clothes to name a few are Sunny Leone, Nargis Fakhri, Bipasha, Shilpa, Sushmita , Liz Hurley, Surveen Chawla. Rekha is my top favorite; it’s my dream to dress her.  I would also love to dress Vidya Balan because I look at it as a challenge.”

31. How many showrooms do you have self-standing and how many multi brand departmental stores are you in?

“My presence is in Mumbai which is my studio too in the country. My clothes are in New York, Vancouver, Australia, London and New Zealand.”

32. Do you have a brand CI to police your exposure?

“Yes. Definitely, it is well monitored by my corporate office marketing staff there is a proper logo and the brand label has a fixed font and color which is adhered to in all branding activities.”

33. How would you describe your creations? Indo western, Traditional, Modern, Eclectic or World culture?

I create all types of garments; my creativity is not restricted to just one kind of clothing. I design traditional, modern and eclectic styles. Anything can set my inspiration working.”

34. How do you make sure you remain relevant in today’s design landscape?

We are designers. It’s we who launch collections and set the trend.  Our mind is like a canvas. We come up with colors and create a painting and whatever comes in our mind we sketch it out. That’s how we come up with a collection and that becomes fashion. Everybody takes inspiration from each other. I read a lot. As I said before I breathe fashion. After I go home everyday I watch F TV until 1 a.m.. At times you go abroad and you see something different in the market; you get inspired by it and create a new collection and then it trends. If you are interested in fashion and you are creative in your mind, your thought process keeps working to come up with new collections. I also do abayas. Infact I have designed a lot of abayas till date.”

35. How has your sales growth been?

“It’s not fixed. Sometimes it’s very good and sometimes it’s not. But we manage to break even and that’s how we’re surviving. There is loads of competition so it’s difficult to even survive. I have targets for myself. Everybody wants sales to increase so we do our best but I’m thankful to Krishna that we’re surviving even though there is so much competition.

While in conversation with Rohit, we were curious to know, what is it that Manish Malhotra has, that many don’t, to which Rohit instantly replied “He’s a great personality and a very good human being. He is also very humble but he’s born with that fate.”

36. Your motivational statements that keep you going?

“My positive attitude” he responded at the blink of an eye.“I’ve seen a lot, you cannot even imagine what I’ve been through. Just don’t rub me the wrong way. If somebody commits to something and does not do it then I lose my head. I will be angry but once you meet me and hug me I’ll be fine. Just for that moment let me talk and explain to you where you went wrong. I never refuse interviews. I will always pick up the phone or reply on whatsapp. I just CHANT HARE KRISHNA AND MY WORK IS MY PASSION. I don’t want to be cursed by anyone; that’s my biggest fear. So knowingly or unknowingly I don’t want to hurt anyone.

Seeing how spiritual he is, out of curiosity we threw a prompt question at Rohit to know if he was a vegetarian “90% I’m a vegetarian but when I’m abroad I don’t have a choice so then I eat non-veg” convenient eh? “I am dieting now – green tea!” he rolls his eyes. “I love to eat but now I’m living on porridge and I’m following strict instructions by my dietician.”

37. Your favorite quote or saying that is your life philosophy for business and personal, something that keeps you motivated to achieve the limits.

“Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.”

38. How would you motivate new designers?

“Considering I have come from not a very colorful background, I would like to say… always follow your dream, don’t be scared of anything. Remember, nothing is impossible! It’s very easy for a woman or a man to survive, but it’s very difficult for people like us to survive. People form opinions and target us as the laughing stock over our sexuality but always believe and be confident about yourself and what you want to do. Respect is not demanded it’s commanded. If you will not love yourself, people will not love you. First start respecting yourself. Never follow what others are doing, follow your own dreams. Make your own rules and regulations and you’ll see that the world is so beautiful and you’ll achieve your goals. Anybody can become a celebrity it’s not a big deal. Just be yourself and be confident. Remember, to become something you need to pay a price.

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