Shivani Vanka from Hyderabad is part of a new breed of stylists who are changing the look of Telugu films. She has been working almost for six years as an assistant stylist, designer and now independently handles projects. She is experimenting with looks and giving films a chic edge. She hasn’t studied at NIFT but has the right qualifications for the job. She tells Klapboardpost.com, “In school I wanted to be a fashion designer. When I was in the tenth standard, NIFT was quite famous. I would sketch and wanted to get into fashion designing and my parents said there was no career in it. It was all new. I used to watch a lot of fashion shows, actresses on television and had a fetish for clothes. I am not a brand conscious person but someone who believes in comfort. If I can carry it well, I well know that it is the style. I never follow the trend, I believe some things don’t suit everybody. I might look funny in a long slit gown and in fact good in something else. We should wear what we feel comfortable, like and suits us.”Gunturodu, Okkadu Migiladu, Jawaan, Amaram Akhilam Prema
She further says, “Since I was 15 years old, I knew about dressing. My mom was interested in me and my sister getting dressed up, getting us fancy clothes but she never over did it. She too wanted to get into the field but had no support and tried her art on us. It is because of her I got the interest. After intermediate, I wanted to study at NIFT but I didn’t, did B.com at Villa Marie. I worked for companies and later for designer Geetika Chadha who was also a stylist. She wanted someone to assist her and I thought that was the best way to learn. I had no clue about styling then but knew a little about designing. I assisted her for Run and Dhruva, Nene Raju Nene Mantri and a couple of ad films for Rana. Later my friend Ashwin.M asked me to assist him and I began with ISM. I worked as a stylist for an artist in Radha, Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Keshava, Darsakudu..all under Ashwin. I did personal styling for Nithin, Hebah Patel. Gunturodu, Okkadu Migiladu, Jawaan, Amaram Akhilam Prema and Aravind Sametha, Chitralahari and Ala Vaikuntapuram Lo etc were handled independently by me for an artiste. Now the latest is 30 days Lo Premanchitam Yela for Amrita”.
After having assisted in so many movies, Shivani had an idea as to how she should work in this field. So when she was approached for Gunturodu, she formed her own team. What else does she do? “My job is in the movies and also personal styling for events and pre-release and award shows because that’s where they depend on me. They trust me and say do whatever you like to. In movies, it is different. The director has a picture in his head and gives us the look he wants. The story and character sketch is different and so I bring a lot of stuff and show them to the hero and the heroine. When they approve the dresses, I take it to the director. It becomes a bit easy because both of them are happy.” Do the artistes pay the stylists for contributing costumes for events or do they have to be happy with credits on Instagram posted by the artistes? For Shivani, styling is her career and that is her passion. She says she has nothing to do with followers and credits. “They (artistes) are the people who want to be famous and not me. Now I work for those who are in the film and the promotion for them. Promotion, because I did the film and they know me. Actually producers don’t give remunerations for what they talk, promotions are a risk and a burden. The stylists and others who are friendly and entertaining (not passionate about their work) are given a lot more chances than people who really want to work and show their skill. Most actresses promise to give a film and then say it depends on the director.” True, this way neither do they get compensated for the sourcing the costume, the travel expenses and also for the amount of time and energy invested on the artiste.
Most of these stylists have a background in designing and bring to their table their knowledge of the global fashion scenario, current international trends, silhouettes and fabrics. Being a stylist is about more than picking the right designer brands. Most stylists are involved from the time the script is discussed and bring their expertise to the table. Do artists cooperate with the stylists and agree with their choices? “It was easy with Pragya Jaiswal as I had done personal styling for her and could convince her easily with her outfits. After the advent of OTT, there has been a spurt of talent in the form of stylists. Every girl wants to do fashion designing and get into styling.” To have a long standing career what helps a stylist? Is outsourcing an art? “It is not easy for a stylist. We are 24 x7 running. We are not informed of anything in prior. There are last minute changes. During Ala Vaikuntapuram, there was an issue. It was 7.30 in the morning, they called me and said they needed shorts for the artist. Shorts were not part of the film and I had no clue as to where I should be getting shorts in the morning by 8.30 AM. The artist is not local so it was a task and I had to plead with a friend to open her store for me early. In that three hours I got so many calls and that made me feel as I am at fault. They think we are the store of clothes and we can give them whatever they want without prior notification. The budget is not given for all that. For movies we don’t source, we buy. We are used to panic attacks, anxiety etc. Though we know where to find a particular stuff, it does become a challenge at that particular moment as we have to deliver the right one at the right time. Another challenge is to finish all outfits in the given budget. Budget isn’t an issue if the name is big but purse strings are tightened for the second leads.”
A stylist doesn’t just look at clothes, she has a say on make-up and hair, not just accessories and shoes. A stylist enhances their look on the camera, he or she decides what kind of makeup to go with the outfit. How does a stylist upgrade? “The director tells me what is on his mind and I do the same for the character. The DoP is added there, because he talks about the colours. The director talks about the looks. I club them both and give them samples on what I think looks best on the actor or actresses. I also do tell the artists that a certain costume doesn’t suit them if they insist on having something. Because it is in the movie, it is the director’s decision and his vision. I do mention to the artist that it doesn’t suit her. End of the day it is the director’s call. I learn a lot from every movie and experience. I see the other stylists with their work, be it Hollywood or Bollywood. They have gone to the next level now.”
Some artists have bad style statements, some come in costumes that look like night suits and chappals. Some wear outlandish feathers for film functions and parties. People are wanting to copy. During film awards, there is a lot of aping. Is it good? Ask Shivani if it is difficult satisfying male clientele? “That is not good. They want to wear a big name. If they don’t wear what looks good on them, it looks disastrous. They are over dressed when they wear heavy stuff and too much make up for any promotional function. It is not required at all. You don’t see our male actors coming in a 3 piece suit or a tuxedo. They are cool and casual, and at the same time stylish. It is very easy in fact to style male clients. Most of them ask for something simple, not heavy and jazzy. They know if it looks good on them even before I get them something, they are confident. Here only those experimenting right now are Allu Arjun or Vijay Devarakonda. I styled Ramya Krishna and she is a big name. It was easy to style her and she knew what she wanted. When I gave her something, she was sceptical, she tried it and loved it. She was an easy person to style. I worked on Nivetha Pethuraj as well. There are a lot of stylists coming up and it is difficult for anyone to stay long term if a film becomes a hit or you click. I do have plans to have my own store soon.”
Finally the stylists at the receiving end. The actresses take costumes from the stylists and never maintain them. They return it in bad condition and don’t own up their mistakes. Actually they pretend they don’t know where the tear was as they have to compensate. The poor stylist gets expensive outfits which get messed up and have to pay from the pocket to the designer. True says Shivani, “We are the ones who source and the designer trusts us and the trust is broken. The next time they don’t give us again. The outfits cost 80 thousand to one lakh. Some don’t even pay for dry cleaners and couriers. The stylists do all this on last minute calls and go through all the pain. A designer never gave me an outfit after mishandling by the artist. All this happens with upcoming and new actresses. The big ones are cautious, they dry clean and give it.”