At 25, Vanitaa Bhatia had ticked all the boxes that would deem her a successful career woman. A young private bankers, her job would have her handle the portfolios of some of the biggest clients. Something, however, seemed amiss. The rough and tumble of banking left little room for her real passion - fashion. That's when Vanitaa decided to take a break from the familiarity of a salaried life to plunge into DIVAlicious - a fashion exhibition that now has a presence in 14 countries. Ahead of its newest edition from September 20 to 22 at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Vanitaa talks to us about how she's witnessed the evolution of fashion in the region.
How and when did your interest in fashion take root?
Those who have known me have always been aware of my passion for fashion. However, they were surprised when I joined banking. I majored in finance and then got a job with ABN Amro. By the time I was 25, I was one of the youngest private bankers who was handling portfolios for clients. Then, eventually, it came to a point where I wanted to pursue my passion and wanted to start something of my own. With DIVAlicious, my concept was simple - put some labels together and get people to buy. Back in 2011, the concept of fashion exhibitions did not exist. A year after my show in Dubai, I decided to take the exhibition to Mumbai where the market was already saturated but the response was overwhelming. Ever since, there has been no turning back.
As someone who has seen the market for fashion exhibitions evolve here, what are the key patterns that have remained the same?
What really changes in fashion is the concept, requirement and theme. In Dubai, when I started my exhibition, the appetite to spend was much more because the access to fashion for shoppers was limited. Now, it's the reverse. The access and awareness is so vast that they still want to buy, but don't want to spend much. Which is why I am now focusing on emerging brands. Emerging designers experiment and are affordable. This is the mantra everywhere.
Is demand for high fashion on a decline then?
No, but people are spoilt for choice. And when that happens, the price varies. Why do you think Tarun Tahiliani or Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla are coming up with pret lines? Because those are affordable and they don't want to lose out on that clientele.
What is your process and parameters when you're screening designers?
Many designers connect through social media. We contact them and then screen their collections. If we feel they are apt for a certain market, we ask them to join us. I look at two things: one, the brand should not kill the market for others, I don't want them to sell something at factory rates; second, I don't like two people selling a similar product, they're asked to showcase a different line.
You speak a great deal about emerging designers. What aspect of their work clicks in the UAE market?
Emerging designers are innovative in their own way. They come up with concepts that are different. They use same fabrics but give them a unique spin. Plus, the range is often wider - there is something for a petite woman, and then there are offerings for a plus-size woman. I think the audiences are open to looking at stuff like that.
Modest fashion is the new buzzword in the region. How important is the trend in DIVAlicious' scheme of things?
Modest fashion is here to stay because people have different reasons to buy those kind of clothes. I think many contemporary designers are doing a good job of modest fashion. At my show in Hong Kong, they love all things bold and blingy, irrespective of age and size. On the other hand, in Jakarta, they love subtlety and all things classic. So, market demands dictate these choices.
How important is plus-size fashion to the ethos of DIVAlicious?
I will again cite the Jakarta example. I had a client who was plus-size and she had a tough time finding clothes for her. So, we had designers who'd actually sell fabrics or customise clothes for her. These needs are also factored in at my Dubai show. I have 15-20 women exhibitors who will be taking orders for plus-size women.
What is the biggest myth about fashion in the UAE that needs to be busted?
In Dubai, the perception is that there's no money left and people are looking at more conservative ways to spend. That's not true. The reality is that people still have money to spend on fashion, but they want affordable clothes. Rather than spending on one expensive piece of clothing, they'd prefer to buy 10 outfits for that price.
How important is it to have a celebrity presence in a fashion exhibition? Does it dilute its essence?
Here, when women want to shop, they don't think about much else. This time, we have Karan Johar launching his own jewellery line. Celebrities and fashion go hand in hand. More than them, it's the bloggers and influencers who play an important role. They are real people with real bodies. When they wear something, people are inclined to buy.