I’ve always dreamed of designing for Madonna someday: Varun Bahl

Designer Varun Bahl and showstopper Sanya Malhotra at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday

Guwahati: Pride is your individuality, it is everything, said designer Varun Bahl. The fashion designer was in Guwahati, Assam on Friday to participate in the Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the city. Incidentally, ‘Pride’ was also the theme of the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour and the evening was only an extension to that.

In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, Bahl talked about up fashion trends, his creations and what inspires them, among others. Excerpts from the conversation:

EastMojo: Tell us about your theme for the show tonight.

Varun Bahl: Today, we have started a new brand Varun Bahl Pret, whose basic theme is based upon nature largely, besides many other things. Flora and fauna are an important part of our creation. Few months ago, while I was sitting and sketching, I made a flower of five petals. Thereafter I started repeating the pattern and subsequently many beautiful patterns came up and it gave birth to the Varun Bahl Pret. So this is what I am showing tonight and the idea behind this was to reach out to a much larger audience. This couture is basically for weddings. As we see a lot of people look for wearing Indian clothes, so I thought of contemporising the whole Indian wear. This is the five petal story and every design and every print is based on it. It is contemporary Indian clothing.

EM: How will you define ‘Pride’, the theme for the evening?

VB: Pride is your individuality, it is everything. For me, pride is my journey — how I handled and I achieved it. My uniqueness is my pride.

Designer Varun Bahl at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday
Designer Varun Bahl at Blenders Pride Magical Nights 2019 in Guwahati, Assam on Friday
EastMojo image

EM: What inspires your creations?

VB: A lot of flora and fauna. In terms of detailing, I love the Victorian period — this is very costume type so we need to wash down and make it relevant for the 21st century and for 2019. That will also be showcased in tonight’s event — high necklines and all. I love the art nouveau period which was in the earlier 19th-century period, it is my favourite period. I also like Barukh though it is not showcased tonight.

EM: What do you have to say about the earlier and the present fashion trends — the way they are evolving?

VB: What is past fashion is past, it was relevant then what is at present it is relevant now. We should not think about yesterday. But in future, I think today we are in the best stage, one of the nicest stage of fashion. Many things are co-existing because individuals wear according to their style and personality. There are many changes nowadays. Like I have introduced many things in fashion industry, one being the use of very light and pastel colours in bridal wear. I was one of the few ones to start this and now everyone is using this. Today, at the show, you’ll see I have brought in contemporary Indian wear. You will see a lot of ‘shararas’ but they won’t look like a ‘shaadi ka sharara’. It is a trouser which cut in a certain way in which a sharara is cut and worn with a short kurti, which is slightly short. It may be a shirt or a jacket. So Indian wear is modernised in my creations tonight. The kind of clothing I showcase can be worn by women in any way and any where across the planet.

EM: How would you describe your personal style?

VB: My personal style is very casual, a T-shirt and jeans. I don’t think much about what to wear when I am working. But when I go out in evenings, I dress up and go.

EM: How do you unwind when you are not working?

VB: I live in a city called New Delhi and there is a lot of social activities happening in the evenings. I am a very social person and I like going out and meeting people. I also like watching movies when not working.

EM: We have heard that you earlier showcased your designs in Milan Fashion Week. Tell us about the experience there.

VB: It was many years ago. It was a wonderful experience. As a young designer to showcase the designs there and to show India anywhere, it was really wonderful.

EM: Tell us about your upcoming projects.

VB: I am working on my next couture collection that is coming up in July. And I also have to make this Pret reach out to more and more audience.

EM: Any celebrity/person you dream to design for someday.

VB: I have always dreamed to design for Madonna someday.


Aldous Harding’s Designer mixes a lush surface with compelling depth

One of my favourite things of late has been to show unsuspecting people the music video for Aldous Harding’s ‘The Barrel’. As a song, it’s an excellent little thing, the perfect aural venn diagram of Tori Amos and Katie Melua – all the shameless opacity of the former mixed with the pleasant approachability of the latter. With the willfully bizarre video, it gains an extra dimension, a threat and a weirdness that draws you into the song rather than pushes it away. Maybe it’s Harding’s simple, beguiling dancing. Maybe it’s the sudden shift to a blue-faced goblin. Maybe it’s that sudden cut at the end.

It’s a song that I haven’t tried to figure out. I’m perfectly content to listen to it over and over again and bask in the very obvious surface pleasures of it; the interplay between the guitar and the piano, Harding’s smoky falsetto and the insistent drumbeat. But hearing it in the context of Designer, Harding’s first album after her Taite-winning Party, it makes me want to figure out what is at the heart of the song. To get to know it better, to get to love it better. Or, at the very least, try and work out why ‘I know you have the dove / I’m not getting wet’ has been in my head for the past few months.

Designer is full of songs like this. They’re not united by sound necessarily – other than a dedication to loping acoustic melodies, the only genre that fits the album is the lazily defined ‘alternative’ label – but more by a linked sense of mystery. This is an album that rewards multiple listens, with little bits of each song jumping out at you every time you listen to it. The little electric guitar in ‘The Weight of the Planets’, the sudden empty darkness of ‘Heaven is Empty’, the whimsical air to ‘Pilot’. Some songs are easier to work your way into than others, the aforementioned ‘Heaven is Empty’ is a fairly clear lament about the lack of an afterlife, but the majority of the album has a sense of finding a feeling, an image, or a character and then rolling about in it.

It’s easy to label something as ‘enigmatic’ and leave it at that, and unfortunately the label has become a backhanded compliment. We dismiss something as enigmatic rather than try and figure it out, and we reward art that reveals itself to us immediately, that tells us what its about, where it comes from, and why its here. ‘Enigmatic’ can be seen as being difficult and inaccessible, and god knows, I’ve been guilty of applying the latter label to something I didn’t think of as worthy of my time or investigation.

It’s a word that’s been applied to Harding in the past. Her earlier reticence in interviews, while perfectly understandable to me, equated a desire for privacy with a similar desire to be mysterious. Her malleable, shapeshifting voice only adds to that mystery, capable of stirring low notes and rapturous high notes, with more characters in between those extremes than you can name. While nothing about Designer is obvious, there’s nothing about this album that is closed off. Designer wants to be listened to, and relistened to. It wants you to figure it out, and to enjoy whatever the hell its about.

But while I’m figuring that out, there’s still so much surface to love in Designer. The entire album, co-produced with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, has an enveloping lushness that makes it suitable for that late night, slightly tipsy, walk home or a too-tired Sunday morning. You don’t just listen to the album, you spend time in its world, wandering around in it. The best part of a mystery isn’t the answer – it’s actually the time you spend getting there. Designer values each part of the mystery equally; the question, the journey, the answer, and it’s so rare to hear music that values all three parts equally.


Former Gmail designer builds Chrome extension to declutter your inbox

Despite Google’s attempts to improve Gmail, the web version remains hectic and cluttered. While that might be frustrating to users, it’s especially irritating for Michael Leggett, one of Gmail’s former lead designers. Finally fed up, Leggett launched Simplify, a free Chrome extension meant to streamline your inbox.

Simplify moves all of Gmail’s sidebar icons to discrete drop-down and pull-up menus. It relocates the search feature to a less prominent location and moves core functions, like delete, to the top bar. It also eliminates color-coded labels, and places the create new mail button in the bottom right corner, where the new mail window opens.

It’s all about improving Gmail’s user interface, which Leggett has been trying to do for more than a decade. As Fast Company reports, after leaving Gmail, Leggett co-founded Inbox, and later, while working on products like Messenger for Facebook, he continued to think about Gmail. He developed extensions to redesign other sites, and when Google killed Inbox, he decided to share Simplify.

The extension has reportedly been downloaded more than 15,000 times, with about 500 new installs per day. It doesn’t deliver ads or collect analytics, and Legget has shared the code on Github. He’s had an offer to sell, but says he’ll keep Simplify free — though he hasn’t ruled out creating a separate paid service.


Aldous Harding: Designer review – cryptic charm and shimmering psychedelic pop

‘Captivating and indecipherable’ ... Aldous Harding.

Comebacks come no more enigmatic than The Barrel, the first single to be taken from Aldous Harding’s third album, and its accompanying video. It featured the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter performing stylised dance moves and giving knowing looks to camera while variously wearing a tall white hat, a white ruff and enormous platform boots; a grotesque blue mask and a T-shirt and white underpants accessorised with a pair of maracas. The lyrics were as puzzling as the video: “I know you have the dove, I’m not getting wet … show the ferret to the egg, I’m not getting led along.”

Aldous Harding: Designer album artwork
 Aldous Harding: Designer album artwork

Perhaps understandably, what the whole thing was supposed to be about was the subject of considerable online debate. Depending on whose interpretation you plumped for, the video was either a homage to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal 1973 film The Holy Mountain, a nod to the national dress of Wales (where Designer was partly recorded and where Harding currently resides), analogous to the faintly disturbing vision of pregnancy found in Sylvia Plath’s 1960 poem Metaphors, inspired by postmodernist poet Susan Howe’s book Singularities, which surveys the 17th-century First Nation wars in New England, somehow related to menstruation or – a more cynical view – a canny artist doing a load of self-consciously weird stuff on screen with one eye on the end result being GIF-able and meme-worthy. Whatever it was, Harding wasn’t letting on: “I feel we’re expected to be able to explain ourselves after we’ve worked the space and have purpose, you know, in a little bag that you carry around everywhere,” she told NPR. “But I don’t necessarily have that in me.”

Long-term observers of Harding’s rise might note that this is all par for the course. After attracting attention for a pared-down, folky debut, things in Harding’s world got weird fast. On 2017’s Party, the lyrics became more oblique, her videos more inscrutable, her interviews more vague and her live performances more mannered and strange, as evidenced by the divisive explosion of bug-eyed gurning that accompanied her appearance on Later With Jools Holland. For everyone moved to purple prose by her stagecraft, there was someone expressing their displeasure in more earthy terms: “She looks like she’s escaped from the nut house,” protested one YouTube commenter.

For anyone braced for a further explosion of oddness, the strangest thing about Designer might be how disarmingly pretty it is. The staginess of Harding’s vocals has been slightly toned down, although she is still wont to sing with a curious enunciation, as if she’s invented her own accent. The tunes are sweetly charming. The music, meanwhile, is drawn in soft, warm tones: piano, Mellotron, fingerpicked nylon-strung acoustic guitar, subtle shadings of woodwind and brass, gently pattering congas. It occasionally sounds like a lost Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter album from the immediately post-psychedelic era – there’s a faintly lysergic shimmer to the tempo shifts and pregnant pauses of the title track – and occasionally like the work of Leslie Feist. The emotional temperature seems to drop midway through, with Damn’s hushed six and a half minutes ushering in a shadowy, twilit mood that lingers to the album’s conclusion, but even then the songs are draped with graceful, inviting melodies: driven by the muffled tick-tock of an ancient-sounding drum machine playing a vaguely Latin pattern, Weight of the Planets is particularly lovely.

Aldous Harding: The Barrel – video

The lyrics are cryptic almost to the point of impenetrability and are clearly going to keep Harding’s army of online interpreters busy for some time: relatable everyday incidents are swallowed up by bizarre imagery. If it’s hard to say what Treasure or Zoo Eyes are actually about – “I made it again to the Amazon, I’ve got to erase the same as the others” opens the former, while the latter concludes with repeated demands to know “what am I doing in Dubai?” – a distinct sense of disquiet and darkness seeps through the splintered imagery, scraping unsettlingly against the music. She alludes to something grim and bloody in the lyrics of Treasure, completely at odds with its breezy musical setting; the honeyed vocals and beautiful harmonies of opener Fixture Picture conceal a bleak worldview: “You can’t be pure and in love.” Even if you don’t feel like spending hours trying to unpick what she’s on about, there’s something oddly compelling about the contrasts.

Making an album that’s both captivating and indecipherable is no mean feat. What seems like the work of an unbiddable artist, operating according to her own baffling internal logic, turns out to be something rather more finely wrought: the fractured and confusing weighed out against the straightforwardly appealing, the darkness balanced by airy light. It’s a strange world that Harding has created, but it’s also an inviting one.

This week Alexis listened to

Four Tet: Teenage Birdsong
Kieran Hebden continues to wend his way down a beautifully idiosyncratic path: sunlit pastoral electronica, devoid of indulgence, thick with melodies.


How designer Niko Nice’s Serbian roots helped build his collaborative workspace

Art director Nikola “Niko Nice” Crnobrnjahas worked on some amazing projects over the years, from directing a music video for Jazz Cartier to designing album packaging for Juicy J to art directing the crash test dummy-inspired branding for A$AP Rocky’sTesting. His latest project, a co-working / agency hybrid, has him swapping out his pens and sketchbooks for hammers and hard hats.

After emigrating from Dalmatia (a region in Croatia) to Canada when he was just five years old, Niko Nice has kept his families roots close to him. Inspired by how people live and work together in Serbian culture, Niko began building Moonbase, an agency / co-working hybrid with the goal of finding talent and fostering a culture of collaboration. After managing all of the construction work himself, he began another brand: Farba, a construction company that is already booking its own projects.

I talked to Niko Nice over email about his work, how being an immigrant motivates him, and what it’s like to literally build an agency from the ground up.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you realize that design was what you wanted to do?

I naturally walked into it — picking up cameras, downloading software, and everything in between. Even as kids, we were making RuneScape clan sites and all that shit, putting random videos up on the early days of YouTube, asking if we can make a video for class projects instead of writing an essay.

What was it like in those early days in the industry?

Although a majority of the work I’ve done has been in the music industry, I don’t really feel like a part of any industry. Same with Moonbase. It was built in an open-ended manner that will be able to reflect all of our interests in due time. When I first started, though, I was just focused on being good and efficient, making sure I was challenging myself and getting my 10,000 hours.

How has your culture / family influenced your work?

In huge ways. My family, friends, and loved ones are the most important thing in the world to me. For those who don’t know, my background is Serbian. I’m from Dalmatia, to be specific. I came to Canada when I was five from a war-torn region that is barely discussed in history. Although I don’t recall the suffering myself, that was what my parents lived through, and, at the end of the day, I’m a warchild. Every new day is a blessing.

As I get older, I’m so much more appreciative of our unique culture that we’re privileged to further develop as Canadians. (Side note: so much of our new, still-internal projects at Moonbase are influenced by Balkan, Yugoslav, and Dalmatian elements. I’m very excited to share each one as time goes on.)

How has being an immigrant impacted your work and the way you navigate the industry?

It’s one of my biggest blessings. It’s very unfortunate what my family and many others in Niagara and around the world had to experience to become immigrants, but seeing my family and those around me make it out the mud — and being grateful for their lives — gives me more motivation than I can sometimes handle. I walked in the rubble of my childhood home. No one can really tell me shit, to be honest.

What is Moonbase?

Moonbase is a collaborative workspace and multimedia agency in its current form. We have two locations, both in Niagara (Niagara Falls and St. Catharines) in Ontario. Currently, we’re working on expanding the St. Catharines locations, finding talent, and launching a handful of sub-brands that will work alongside Moonbase. The ultimate goal is a Moonbase Colony, which is basically a micro-city.

How does it differ from regular co-working spaces?

That’s just the thing: it’s not a co-working space; it’s a collaborative workspace. All of our members bring unique skills to the table. They all operate as freelancers within Moonbase, but they are also able to contribute to various projects. We do have plans of opening a co-working space as well in the relatively near future.

What is Farba?

Farba is a design and build company that focuses on getting the most out of a physical space. Quick back story: when we were building Moonbase, we designed and built everything ourselves. The first location was super small, so we had to challenge ourselves to get the most out of the space. Although the second one is much bigger, we still did the same thing.

Ultimately, this gave us portfolio pieces for interior design and smart space construction. We’re just helping all of our friends build companies pretty much. Farba has already gotten a handful of jobs, and there’s more on the waiting list. Farba Job Site gear is in the works as well.

What have you learned from creating a physical project as large as this?

I’ve learned so much, bro, from teamwork to problem-solving and budgeting. We would work on digital projects from the morning to mid-afternoon, then get back to work on building Moonbase until like 2AM sometimes. When I stop and think about it, what we actually did in the last two to three years, it’s crazy. All future building will be automated through Farba, so I’m excited to just keep going. Nothing really happened that we didn’t expect, maybe some costs, but after we got started, we just went on “fuck it mode” and reinvested everything.

How did you first get involved with A$AP Rocky? What was that process like?

Robert Gallardo reached out to me on Twitter a few years back. He’s a dope creative, and he did a lot of work with Rocky and AWGE(Rocky’s creative agency). I worked on some stuff for the Tyler & Rocky tour in 2015 and then Rocky’s Coachella merch in 2016. That was super lit.

Gallardo hit me again last year for Testing. It was very rewarding working on an album at the scale, hella ups and downs. I’m still in touch with mostly everyone at AWGE, so you might see more stuff in the future. I definitely want to get Rocky in the studio with Teddy Walton again as well.

What’s your dream project, something you’d love to work on in the future?

Man, so much. I’ve been setting short- and long-term goals like crazy. Moonbase Colony is something that excites me a lot. I grew up with a lot of villager qualities. The way people lived back home was more pure, and we want to emulate that in a modern way with Colony. We’re going to get started in the next year or two and then keep adding for the rest of our lives.

There are a bunch of internal brands and companies we got down the pipeline as well, and a bunch will be launching relatively soon. I’m very excited for all of those. Moonbase and Farba gear are coming soon as well.

What does your creative process look like today? From start to finish.

I’m at the point where I’m confident enough in my abilities and taste to just think of something dope in my head and then make it. I like to make concept and brand boards as well. There are a bunch of people that work out of Moonbase now, too, so I love collaborating and just putting ideas on the table and refining them through experimenting and conversation.

Do you have a favorite tool that you use to create or to come up with ideas?

Sketches and quick notes recently have been the truth. The best ideas come so quick that if I don’t write it down right away, it’s gone. So I’ve been practicing sketching shit out ASAP, which changed the game.

What software do you use on a daily basis?

Photoshop. The whole Adobe Creative Suite is a must-have, though. Being able to use a lot of software has opened so many doors. Even if I’m not the best at all of them, I can express ideas and concepts, which is often a more powerful tool than being able to create it yourself.

Any artists you admire and want to shout out?

Shout out my brothers at Moonbase and Farba. Shout out Teddy Walton, Slim, and Aaron Bow. Teddy and Slim’s albums are on some other shit. I hope the world gets to hear them soon.


The Black Design Collective Pays Tribute to Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

The Black Design Collective Pays Tribute to Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

With more than 20 years in the fashion industry, Angela Dean, Kevan Hall, and TJ Walkercontinue to see a lack of support for black designers, which in turn hinders careers and erases the history of those who have made contributions. Dean has designed custom looks for celebrities such as Regina King, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna; Hall is the former creative director of Halston (the house that designed looks for Jacqueline Kennedy and Lauren Hutton); and Walkercofounded the iconic streetwear brand Cross Colours. So this year, they decided to take a step to fix the situation and launched the Black Design Collective. Their mission is to lift up and amplify the work of black fashion designers and black costume designers, by providing a platform for established designers to develop their brands globally and creating a mentorship program for aspiring designers.

Living up to its core initiative, the Black Fashion Collective on Saturday is honoring one of the greats in costume design, Ruth E. Carter, in the group’s first ceremony, in partnership with AT&T. The Academy Award–winning costume designer has been the wardrobe mastermind behind some of the most iconic black films to date: Do the Right ThingMalcolm XSelma, and, most recently, Black Panther, for which Carter took home an Oscar.

The event, which will take place at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, will also be the launch of the Black Design Collective’s scholarship fund, which was created to help young designers in their pursuit of higher education in the fields of fashion and costume design. One merit scholarship will be given to a costume-design student based on their GPA, portfolio, and the changes they would like to see in the world of fashion.

Teen Vogue spoke with the founders of the Black Design Collective about their mission and the importance of fostering a supportive community for aspiring black designers.

TV: Why start the Black Design Collective?
Kevan Hall: When we think about the great designers that so many people don’t know about, like Patrick Kelly and Willi Smith, these people who pushed the door open and broke the glass ceiling—how many people actually know about these designers today? We wanted to have a voice, first, to speak about our accomplishments and our successes, and then, as a second initiative, how can we empower the next generation of designers? So that’s how the Black Design Collective was founded.

Angela Dean: And bringing relevance in history, from a global platform and really wanting to reach out beyond America so that people can really understand how much creative black fashion design exists in the world.

__TV: In what ways do you plan to raise awareness around issues that black fashion designers face?__

TJ Walker: With the workshops and mentorship programs that we want to initiate within the organization. We want to educate the students and bring them on to mentor them, but not just mentor them while they’re with the organization, to also track their success and actually guide them through the industry and help them navigate some of the things you would typically face in the industry on your own.

TV: What does Ruth E. Carter’s Oscar win mean for the black design community?

KH: It’s an incredible accomplishment, when we think of Ruth’s body of work—over 40 films and television projects to her credit and 30-plus years in the industry. You know it meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to our community to be able to see a black woman who stayed focused in a career and worked her way to that stage.

AD: She gave inspiration to those that come through to know that all is possible. She’s worked tremendously hard up to this point with very little recognition. We actually came up with the idea to honor her a year or so prior to the win, and have been supporting her long before she won the Oscar.

TV: How have you seen the industry change for black professionals?KH: Things are starting to get better for us because we are now making people aware of the issues. As we begin to speak about it more, as we begin to amplify the talent of black designers and our contributions over the decades, we all will begin to see more of a change. We’re just starting to see a trickle now, and that’s why the Black Design Collective exists, to amplify our talent, to lift and promote our craft and our skills, and to empower our young people.

TJW: Social media has also given us a platform, making it an even playing field for us to actually identify who we are, what we are, and what we’re doing in current times, and, actually, from the past as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed.