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James Ferreira


Nurturing his childhood dreams, James Ferreior embarked on a career that was strictly all women. Today, he is amongst the foremost fashion designers in the country with a rich and varied experience. Here, he reflects on his career, creations nd the direction he wants his designing dreams to take.

Long before the designer boom in India in the 1980s there was a name in the country that was considered that was considered one of the best in the business. James Ferreira is one of the pioneers in the fashion trade.

Life for Ferreira as a designer has been full of rich experiences and even his childhood tales are full of designer dreams. I was never allowed a pen in class because I always ended up drawing clothes and stylized figures, he recollects. But the thought of turning this skill into that of a high fashion designer only occurred when Ferreira saw an article on Pierre Cardin in 1964 with the one-eyed sketch of a fashion model. From then onwards he pursued his dream professionally. The first step was a course in textile designing at the JJ School of Art in Bombay.

Along with that Ferreira did a tailoring course at Sheroo Coopers Academy of tailoring. Obviously, tailoring was not something Indian boys from upper class families studied so Ferreira ended up being the only male in a class of 20 giggling girls. But Cooper is proud of her star pupil who turned into a celebrity 10 years later when he got his first designing job at the then trendy boutique called the Purple Pussycat. His salary was a princely sum of Rs.900/- for half a days work daily. Ferreira supervised the tailors work as they churned out his creations. The look in 1974 was the midi and the boutique was the in place for funkily dressed ladies to shop.

Soon Ferreira started his journey through the full list of design houses and companies, growing creatively at every step.

With Orkay Mills he was one of the team of international designers who created garments for export to Europe and London. Then it was creative Touch, another boutique followed by Indian Textiles at Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay. Shalimar and Yasmeen Exports gave Ferreira a taste of the export market again. Baba Saab, the high fashion men’s boutique that creates garments for men like Amitabh Bachchan was his next stop. A chance introduction with top British designer, Zandra Rhodes, during her visit to India, encouraged Ferreira to ask her for a job. I showed her my sketches. She liked them and offered me a job.

Ferreira worked with Rhodes for four months and he attributes his knowledge of prints and embroidery to the master herself. Before I met Zandra I was not into embroidery much. Now embroidery is the basis of all my creations. He also learnt one very important thing from Rhodes, She told me that a successful designer means 90 percent hard work and 10 percent designing.

Returning to India after his sojourn in the UK, Ferreira once again moved through a list of designing houses starting with the H.H.E.C. in Delhi, then moving to Bombay to start First Lady for Bada Saab owner Kishore Bajaj.

This was followed by the opening of Kameeze, Touch Wood, JF, Anja Sanand Glitterati. At high fashion boutiques who needed the prestige of Ferreira’s name to launch their outlets. A short stint with Tata Textiles for their export division was followed by the opening of Tux, a men’s wear boutique and Upper Crust, a ladies wear shop. Ferreira also displayed high fashion garments at Artistic. His present assignments are with Eternia for a more medium-priced ready-to-wear line and as creative head for Kala Niketan, the sari house which has started a design studio of five designers for their many garment outlets in India and UK. And yet, in spite of nearly 18 years of experience in the designing business, Ferreira is not hung up on displaying only under his own label. Till today I have not even designed a label for my clothes. My clothes speak for me. Unlike other designers I want my customers to look at my clothes and not at my label.

As a designer Ferreira has not been inspired by any foreign designer nor does he emulate anyone. I like to take chances. I don’t mind if my clothes don’t sell. I am happy creating clothes that satisfy me. What about money? I have my advertising, export and other trousseau work that keeps me busy.

Ferreira’s skill in designing has been utilized by mills like Mafatlaa, Raymonds, Kala Niketan and umpteen other fashion companies. Ferreira’s creative experiments may not sell for him, but very often others have copied them the following year sold them. Maybe I am ahead of my time in India. And so, although Ferreira loves working in India he dislikes working for Indians.

Some of Ferreira’s first experiments have been the double layered sari in 1987 and the flared sari pallau as well as the kameez in knit or jersey fabrics. Today, Ferreira’s cloths are not topical or trendy, they have turned into traditional timeless classics that can be worn for years. Ferreira loves working with natural fabrics like silks, cottons and wools in basic colours like black, beige and white. Ferreira is at home designing both ladies and men’s wear. His specialties are wedding trousseaux that could cost anything from Rs.75,000/- upwards. A bridal ghagra-choli could even cost upto Rs.1,00,000/-. His garments could retail from as allow as Rs.1,500/- to Rs.10,000/-. And yet Ferreira admits modestly. There is so much more I have to learn. Our approach to fashion is very fickle. It is more exciting if a designer lives and works in his workshop and designs in it. Instead, designers are too busy partying and socializing.

Ferreira feels that the designing business has been spoilt by too many untrained entrants. Just because one has a spare room, a collection is created, but their colour sense is awaful and they have no concept of designing. Actually haute couture finished in the eighties. High priced labels are out. Besides the customers tastes have not improved. The younger generation is slightly better because of he influence of Star TV and foreign culture.

For a designer to succeed anywhere Ferreira places great stress on travel. One must travel abroad to see what is happening, not to copy but to take in the new creative atmosphere.

Many of his creations are heavy on embroidery which takes months to complete like the Jaisalmer and the Gopi saris.

Ferreira lectured at the Sophia Polytechnic’s designing course in Bombay and he is happy with what the design schools are producing. But most students have inflated opinions of themselves in college and expect to have their own labels as soon as they graduate. They have no experience of real hands-on designing.

What he would like to see in India however is the formation of an organisation that will bind designers together so that seasonal collections are presented. Maybe textile houses could bring out new fabrics for designers.

We don’t make fashion fabrics. The latest thing is spandex and it isn’t even of a perfect quality. Till we have some sort of system in designing, designers will keep churning out horrible outfits for expatriates who want to wear what Sreedevi wore in her latest film. We are capable of world class designes to compete with international designers from the UK, USA, France, Italy and Japan but we have no system, he adds emphatically.

Creator of classic in fashion garments is how James Ferreira would like to be remembered, and not as commercially successful designer. For thee are many who design the regular and mundane in clothes but just a handful who can create masterpieces.