When it comes to fashion collaborations, Masaba Gupta is a pro. The designer’s signature pop colours and kitschy motifs—from cows to candy—have found their way into associations with brands like Tata Nano, Titan, Lakmé, Budweiser and Levi’s. But 2019 is turning out to be eventful even for this serial collaborator. Gupta’s new jewellery collection with Tribe by Amrapali was launched in February, followed by a handloom team-up with Ekaya in April featuring a cricket-themed campaign. But the year’s biggest collaboration is about to come—Gupta’s line of merchandise for Game Of Thrones, slated to launch during the final season’s premiere. Ask her if there are any more collaborations this year, and she answers laughing, “Oh God, I hope not!”
This is a big year for House Of Masaba as it marks a decade in the business, and Gupta admits to spreading herself thin. Apart from the collaborations, she opened new stores in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata, and launched her Swim/Resort Wear 2019 collection in March. And there’s more coming up, she tells Lounge. Edited excerpts from a phone interview:
Tells us about your ‘Game Of Thrones’ collaboration.
I can’t go into details, but we have the official licence for apparel and jewellery and we are making a few tech accessories as well: power banks, phone covers and popsockets. We want to make it something that Game Of Thrones stands for, even for people who may not have been fans but are just discovering it. We will be doing a lot of activity around this.
Incidentally, when Black White Orange (the brand licensing start-up authorized to create merchandise for HBO in India) came to me about two years back, I said no. I was snowed in and couldn’t see how I could commit to doing this. But then I was in New York and saw that the cast was on the cover of Time. I thought, I should be doing this, and we called them back. Luckily, the licence was still available. HBO has worked with us every step of the way to ensure that everything is in line with the aesthetic they have created for the show.
Are you a fan of the show?
Yes, though my mother (actor Neena Gupta) is a bigger fan. But I don’t think I had paid as much attention when I was watching the show earlier. Suddenly, it became work and I have rewatched every scene. I don’t think there has been a show like this, which has captivated all ages across the globe.a
You have recently collaborated with Ekaya too. How did that come about?
Ekaya was again something I had said no to. We were trying to cut down on collaborations and had our own expansion plans. But I saw a beautiful campaign that Ekaya did for its own line and called them back with a request to work around our timelines. I brainstormed with Palak Shah (CEO of Ekaya) and her dad (Bharat Shah), who runs the business from Benaras (Varanasi) and made it happen.
When launching the campaign, I thought that with everyone in Banarasi saris or bridalwear, campaigns look so sad. There’s a certain pose and no movement—I wanted to break that. We decided that the girls would look like they are moving and stretching, but in handloom saris. We took the campaign on the cricket pitch—with three girls who look like they ran from a wedding party, changed into keds and started playing cricket with the boys.
How important have collaborations been to your growth?
They have literally contributed to half of our expansion—we have worked with Titan Raga, Fiama di Wills and so many brands. We have not spent on marketing in the last 10 years, but in our growing years, collaborations were our marketing wheels. These brands backed us and said, you create the products, we will make sure it reaches everyone. That’s the bandwidth we don’t have as an affordable luxury brand. I can really penetrate into different segments with these products. I feel like in a way they have made me who I am—as people noticed me, and brands come to us.
Apart from collaborations, what are your expansion plans to mark the 10th year?
As great as collaborations are for a burst of press and engagement, we (now) have a lot more stores and a larger team and want to do meaningful work for our own label which will last us for life. At the moment, we are finally looking at raising money which will help us in our first leg of expansion. We have plans to open over 50 stores across the country. The ready-to-wear line will become more focused on swimwear and resort-wear. The second leg is expansion for affordable occasion- wear, which is actually our bread and butter—I want to really focus on it.
We are also looking at opening our first international store in Dubai next year and then to the US, UK and South-East Asia. Eventually, imitation jewellery will become part of the kitty, for which we are trying to find partners. Right now, we want to focus on womenswear and menswear and grow.
What is the potential of tier 2 and 3 Indian cities for your business?
Bhubaneswar and Indore are two of our biggest cities (markets) outside the metros. So is Raipur. And there have been just one-day pop-ups but we have an existing customer base here (in these cities), and we know what products and price points work.
You have designed a variety of things, but is there anything on your wish list?
I would love to design a car. And shoes, like funky keds maybe.
How have you seen fashion evolve in India in the decade since you started?
When I made my debut, I remember bridalwear being the only thing you ever showed at a runway presentation. The only designers were those selling lehngas for a lakh. Or there were massy department stores, and there was a huge gap between the two. In terms of an India story, there wasn’t much. Now people are realizing that India can offer great design. You see many different price points. Tastes have become more varied. It’s evolved and for the better because it’s offering many more jobs and also a whole new notion of wardrobe for women.