“Cinema has defined, decorated, fired, and fuelled my work throughout the years,” says ace couturier Manish Malhotra, who is ready to don the director’s hat with a film that, according to him, “is not only about fashion or costumes,” but his vision of a story that he would like to share through cinema. “Every aspect will be worked on, from the sets to the acting, to the music to the story,” he says.

The designer, who is as popular as the stars he dresses up, has over 1,000 films to his credit. From styling actress Juhi Chawla in the 1989 film Swarg to stealing the show with Urmila Matondkar’s look in the 1995 film Rangeela, he has designed costumes for style goddesses including Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor, Kajol, Karisma Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, and Preity Zinta, as well as new-age stars like Sara Ali Khan, Janhvi Kapoor, and Ananya Pandey. The couturier is currently focusing on expanding his global presence after Reliance Brands Ltd., part of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s empire, bought 40 percent in the designer’s MM Styles Ltd. in October 2021. Let’s not forget to mention his recently launched new segment called Diffuse — a consciously priced collection for the younger generation to avail.

In this interview with MW, he talks his Diffuse line, fulfilling his childhood dream of getting into film-making, global expansion, and if there is a finish line for Manish Malhotra.

It’s been over 30 years in the industry. When you look back, what brings a smile to your face?

Everything. Even today when I think about it, I just remember every part of it with so much love. The perseverance with which I’ve attempted to try things out of my comfort zone. Yes, every journey has its challenges, but overcoming those made it all worth it. The people who I met along the way, who’ve inspired me, who gave me experiences that have been vital for my career, people who have become my family. More than the destination, the journey has given me overwhelming satisfaction, and continues to do so.

After Reliance bought 40 percent of your brand, you said it has helped you in fulfilling your dream of expanding globally. Let’s talk about that.

Expansion plans are underway; we shall reveal the details soon. There could have been no better strategic partner to accompany us on our journey of global reach, business diversification, and renewed creative growth.

What will be your target for the initial years of global expansion?

I wouldn’t dive deep into the business jargon, but yes, the plan is to expand our customer base exponentially. At the moment, we are weighing all our options and formulating strategies. Let’s talk about Diffuse, and how this brand is different from your other lines. Diffuse is my bridge line; it’s an entirely new segment that caters to our already existing audience, which we desire to bring under our fold. The clothes are more accessible, considering we consciously priced them for the younger generation to avail. There are many prints and eclectic gender-fluid editions of sweatshirts and zipper jackets, adding a new diaspora of business to the brand. 

What are you trying to achieve with Diffuse, and how are you planning to expand it globally and in India?

The Diffuse line was primarily set up to generate brand awareness amongst the younger demographic through affordable offerings. Yes, the couture line is very well-recognised and appreciated among the youth; however, we are trying to target customers who belong to a generation that prefers different aesthetics and year-round wearables. So we created a line, majorly separates, so that they could mix and match to their delight. What makes Diffuse different from the regular MM line is its conscious pricing. 

Do you think that’s the need of the hour, especially after the pandemic?

For the good and better, the perception of luxury has changed due to pandemic-driven transitions. Fulfilling experiences have become a top priority. We strive to nurture and build lasting relationships with clients by ensuring quality endorsed products/services that are aligned with their superior functionality. It’s the time of Gen-Z, so yes, I felt we had to give them what they required, desired, and needed. 

You are also setting up a production house. Would you like to take us through the idea behind that?

I have always wanted to direct a film. My love for cinema enabled me to create looks on screen, while mounting a whole brand simultaneously. Now, I’m fulfilling my childhood dream of sitting on a director’s chair, bringing the magic of fashion, films, and fun to life. But I just don’t want to direct alone. I want to tell stories. I want to produce good work. I want to be able to work with new, young talent that inspires me daily. There are many hidden gems in our country. Setting up a production house not only fulfills my dream to direct, but also becomes one more platform for the new and aspiring to come on board, and fulfill their dreams too.

What kind of projects do you want the world to see through your production house?

Everything. From romantic stories to thrillers to action and comedy, everything. I just want to be able to tell good stories and work with some great talent in the industry.

Since 2018, you have launched four new verticals: a beauty range, Manish Malhotra Jewellery, a film production company, and home decor. You clearly are not someone who does one thing at a time.

As I’ve always mentioned, I view fashion in an integrated context, it encompasses styling in terms of beauty and jewellery. And my love for cinema enables me to bring my art to life. Hence, I ventured into the same. And I’ve never held back in trying new things. In fact, it excites me.

 What are you eyeing with such vast expansion plans in different verticals?

I started out as a costume stylist. I’ve always believed in doing something different in the most mainstream fields. My journey from being a costume stylist to a couturier was a very fulfilling experience. I’ve been able to generate revenue and employment, raise awareness of Indian artisans, innovate in terms of design and build new fondness among the consumers towards Indian fashion. After establishing my crux in couture, I ventured and collaborated with various artists and stakeholders to build my beauty and jewellery brand. It’s like a domino effect — I am not the only one moving forward, but I have a whole community striving towards a better future.

Where is the finish line for Manish Malhotra in the creative world?

I don’t draw lines on anything; let’s start there (laughs).