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Lester Manuel


As you sew, so shall you reap! The twelve year old boy-on-the-block has come a long way-from making dresses for the girls in the neighborhood, Lester Manuel graduated to become a designer of distinction. His meteoric rise in the world of fashion evidences his talent.

The one very significant difference between Lester Manuel and other fashion designers is so glaringly obvious that it is hard to overlook it. For no other designer can claim that he/she actually cuts, tailors and finishes every single garment that is in the collection. Manuel’s designing and tailoring skills are even more laudable when one considers that he has no formal training in either.

Long before the haute couture upheaval took place in India, Manuel was quietly creating exclusive custom tailored clothes for a select clientele. It was his childhood ambition to turn into a designer of ladies wear. By the time I was 12 years old I was making dresses for all the neighbourhood girls, reflects Manuel, making him one of the most popular boys on the block! There was that in-born something in him that did not require any formal training. He could design, cut and tailor a classic western garment quite effortlessly.

Through college where he worked for his arts degree and also met his future wife Lana, Manuel designed for various fashion shows which were greatly appreciated. When Lana took to modelling Manuel’s connections with the advertising world improved.

In 1989 when Glitterati opened in Bombay, Manuel was one of the designers on their roster. Not many in the fashion business had heard of him then, for he specialized in western bridal wear. His premiere collection for Glitterati was the romance of lace in black and white. Long slinky gowns, short, frothy dresses recreated the era of the past. But at times the look was stark and simple. For me designing does not mean an over-embellished garment. I believe in classic lines that have a perennial appeal. They are usually outfits sans unnecessary details. My clothes are so practical and wearable that they are ideal for the working woman.

From lace and ruffles in the 80s, Manuel evolved into a designer with a more casual look. In 1990 her brought in the pallazo and top. The following year there was fire-red for formal suits. Soon to follow was the oriental influence from China and he worked on the Suzy Wong line. Romantic long chiffon gowns followed and for 92 he played with the little black dress giving it both a casual and formal look.

Although Manuel had been in the designing business for nearly a decade before he joined Glitterati, he wasn’t too perturbed. Creating an outlet for his clothes wasn’t important for him as it was for most designers.

There had been many offer from boutiques in the past but at every step one had to compromise on style and quality to meet the demands of the customers. I was not willing to work within such confines, he revealed. For Glitterati however, Manuel works at his own pace, creating his own distinctive line.

The characteristic Manuel touch comprises slim line skirts, jackets that are either cropped or long line and flowing dresses that vary from mini, midi, to maxi. His fabric choice is vast. Cotton, lace, linen, blended wool, or sheef chiffons and glittering brocades.

Creating three collections a year Manuel’s look has revolved around themes. But I am very particular about the structuring and cuts as slightly old fashioned but that is an important aspect of the garment.

Manuel’s garments have just basic detailing and embellishments. His simple black dress could be a mini with just a round neck and a flared skirt but when worn with a striking belt or a scarf it could turn into a beautiful creation. Very often he believes in the mix-and-match look. So he creates a collection of black skirts, white blouses, checked jackets and then allows the customer to create her own combinations. This way the woman is not restricted to my look, but can get adventurous and try her hand at creating her own individual style. My styles are so fundamental that they can never go out of vogue. They can be worn for decades, he emphasizes.

From haute couture, Manuel turned his attention to Pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear for Eternia in 1992. Florals and whites wear the choice. Having designed always for the Western fashion conscious in the country, it was a major step for Manuel when he attempted ethnic wear. It was a hesitant step at first for him. Would he be able to adapt to the demands of the ethnic-wear market and at the same time keep up in the race? His first collection of white linen salwar-kameezes embellished with lace and sprinkled with pearls as a sell-out. While the kameez had the classic western cut of the dress moving on to the gypsy lines of the garment the embellishments gave it a touch of the traditional. Dupattas too played an important part with the embellishments. Manuel was happy he had managed to finally score on the Indian front.

If one praises Manuel for his tailoring skills, one must not forget that the man is also as good at embroidery. It is therefore not rare to see Manuel carry his work wherever he goes. While traveling by bus or train it isn’t surprising to see him hemming a dress or finishing a seam. He is as comfortable doing that as a student is reading a book while traveling.

Manuel is happy that he has been able to branch into two different fields of fashion so effortlessly. It gives me a chance to evaluate myself and brush up on points where I am strong.

If Manuel is put to the test, he can make a dress a day or under real pressure, even five a day. Manuel is not only very particular about how well his garment is made but also concerned about who wears them and stresses the point. One must know how to sit and move in a mini or a western garment. If the basic knowledge of carrying a garment is lacking within a person then an outfit can look terrible.

Very often wife Lana also assists Manuel in his designing work. She has a very good sense of style and she is very creative. When it comes to designing bridal trousseaux then the husband and wife team often work together. Or if there is a garment to be embroidered, then Manuel can rely on Lana to do the job perfectly.

Besides designing garments for his two fashion outlets, Manuel has coordinated many advertising campaigns and styled the clothes for them. He makes it a point to go abroad at least once a year, when he is able to keep up with the trends in the West and maybe bright the lines to India.

For Manuel, fashion in India is far more exciting than it was when he started. There is an awakening, but we have a long way to go as far as fashion is concerned. Now fashion catalogues are coming into the market as well as many more designers, but they have to set a trend instead of being followers.