Erun Ali
Interviewer : Daya Kingston | Camera : Balaji | Text : Daya Kingston
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ERUM ALI
Designer Erum Ali, wife of Abbas carved a niche for herself in the Kollywood constellation. As pretty as an actress herself, Erum's designs have been sported by Kollywood beauties like Trisha, Jyothika. Reema Sen, Rambha, Andrea, Sonia, Shalini and others. We catch up with her.
Tell us about how you started designing?

Designing started about 12 years ago, that was when I started helping my husband with his film costumes. One year or so, I branched out into my own retail line.

Did you have any formal training?

Not really in the sense of fashion designing in particular but more of an export related management qualification. I think I learnt more on the job than I would have in the classroom.
When did you start the boutique?

12 years ago.

What was the first film you did?

The first film I designed for was Raja Hamsa in Telugu.

What role did you do the designing for?

Abbas played a taxi driver and this story was later made into Raja Hindustani with Aamir, on those lines. It's a romance about a simple boy who falls in love with a girl. The costumes were in a simple village folk dressing style.


What was your brand called when you started?


It was called Erum Ali. Our new brand is called EA Bridal Lounge for brides and trousseau.

Who are the stars who shop with you?

From the time I opened most of the girls in the industry would have dropped by or shopped by. Then I have friends like Sonia, Trisha, Sangeetha, Reema and a lot of girls from our industry. Based on the feedback, I started growing. I would not have started had it not been for My close friend Rambha gave me lot of pep. initially when I was with the kids. You must have your brand; we will be with you, she assured


My close friend Rambha gave

me lot of pep.

Do you have conflicts while designing for Abbas?

Yes, it's tough to work for a guy who knows his clothes well. Initially, it used to be comfortable but now since I don't have enough time to spend on his clothes so he feels I don't do justice. He likes a lot of time and focus. Just because he is my husband he does not want that I don't give 100%. That way he is demanding.

Who are the stars who shop with you?

From the time I opened most of the girls in the industry would have dropped by or shopped by. Then I have friends like Sonia, Trisha, Sangeetha, Reema and a lot of girls from our industry. Based on the feedback, I started growing. I would not have started had it not been for my close friend Rambha; she gave me a lot of pep initially when I was with the kids. You must have your brand; we will be with you, she assured.



Lots of clothes that I have

designed for Trisha have been

used for songs.

Have you designed for Trisha??

Lots of clothes that I have designed for Trisha have been used for songs. Even when other costumers work on the films, clothes have gone from my store. She has a very pretty girlie face and perfect, tall thin body. Lot of light girlie colors look good on her specially powdery blues, pinks. I don't like to see her in more of blacks as I feel she carries pastel shades very well.

What is her favorite?

I call it the boxie design, a turquoise blue. In fact there were issue because of that, someone else had also been given that outfit and I did not realize. She loves that and I am sure as I have seen her wearing that and she is really happy..

Sonia Agarwal is like your brand ambassador. What is her taste in clothes like?

Sonia more than being my brand ambassador is like a little sister and a close friend. Both of us have the same taste; maybe because we come from the same belt, we have the same psyche. She likes more of color. I like to see her in more vibrant tones, pretty greens, fuschsias, oranges blended with beiges and creams. She has a good skin tone, so a lot of fiery tones look good on her. I don't give her reds or traditional colors. Inky blues or even English colors look good on her.

When did you start designing for her?

I made her clothes for her marriage. She had stopped acting by then. She was the co-star to Abbas in her first film. I was not great friends with her then, she was just an acquaintance. For her wedding, I did her entire trousseau and that's when we became friends..

What are the films you have designed for?

Other than Abbas films numbering about 15, I have done Aayirathil Oruvan - Selvaraghavan's film with Karthi, Andrea and Reema Sen. I am currently doing Selvaraghavan's next film, at the moment titled Maruvan with Dhanush and Andrea in the lead.

What was the brief like?

The brief was very interesting and I got bowled over because this was an opportunity to turn around the entire idea of clothes in the industry. We had to go back 2000 years ago and it was totally left to imagination. We had no references or sketches that we had to follow and replicate. Usually, you show stars clothes and when they like some, you go in that line. This was great fun as a designer as it was an extremely experimental film where clothes were very important. I was told that this was a chance like a film like Elizabeth or Pirates of the Caribbean where costumes are very important. That is why I was very excited to get into this film.

What were the kind of clothes you designed for Reema?

There were 2 halves, one half now and another 2000 years ago, the first half was contemporary clothes. She had to look powerful and in control and at the same time sensuous. During the second half she was the queen, we had to think of clothes and jewelry everything hand-made. We had to go back to temples and scriptures, book references, temple goddesses, Chola kings and queens.

What kind of clothes did you design for Andrea?

Andrea was an archaeologist and her clothes were simple, toned down, intellectual, we had to do subtle dressing. In the second half, she was a devadasi and we had to differentiate between her dressing and the queen's, hers was a different tone, lesser skin showing. Brief was simplified. For the first half Karthi has no clothes, throughout the film he had no clothes. I am sure women are happy not seeing Karthi in too many clothes.


I am sure women are

happy not seeing Karthi

in too many clothes

How was it working with Selvaraghavan?

One would be very lucky to work with someone like Selvaraghavan. He is a very intelligent filmmaker. Aayirathil Oruvan had mixed reviews but out of his 7 films, 5 are big hits and that's enough to say what he is as a director. I enjoyed working with him as he's not someone who breathes down your neck and he's willing to experiment. He gives you the chance; he has confidence in his technicians and senior team. He gives you that feel that this is your movie and he does not have fixed ideas about his characters. He does not like you to follow the mould of the person and come up with the same things. He wants you to go into your own imagination and come up with something fresh. It's good to work with a man like that and in the end you learn. It's a learning experience.

What is the difference between designing for films and designer wear?

See, the biggest trauma for designers is that we are from a field where everything is about the finish; everything is about the final product and about the detailing. We have to pay a lot of attention to the step-by-step process of what the garment is. Cinema is a different world, it's not really appreciated when you go into details and not even required. It kills your whole excitement because you know that your products cannot take too much time. There isn't enough time! They need instant big numbers; there is no value for beautification of the product. In spite of that, I pushed my luck, tried hard to give my bets irrespective if the finish was required or not. I think at some point it shows. The feedback we have got from the clothes point of view is good. What we have done in AO is very different from the garments seen in a dance or Bharatanatyam performance, they are different structured. What we did was well-appreciated because they were not normal silk garments. We have tried something different. There is no reference to anything, it all came from poetic expression its nice, people have loved it.

What is the process that goes into designing costumes for a film?

First, we get a brief from the director. We are given a whole narration of the script, and then we have to come back with our version of what the clothes should look like in terms of each character. These clothes are shown as sketches or illustrated colored pictures. Then, the director, cameraman and other technicians sit together and go through different looks and freeze the look. If it's a period film that goes back many years, it does not happen in one day, it is a long process that may take months. If it's contemporary then we freeze it and take it from there.

What should a person who aspires to be a costume designer do?

I would say the best way to get into designing for films is to assist somebody because film designing and handling costumes on the sets and deal with is a total different experience than retail or mega brand. Its two different worlds! Even if you are a good brand by yourself or from outside the industry when you get back into the film and onto the shoots it's different. Once you learn the nuances from a costume designer its easy to come in as an individual with your own team.

What kinds of clothes look good on Andrea?

Andrea is a tall pretty girl who can look good in simpler garments. She can carry off a college girl look, a devadasi look, a traditional wife look. She has an interesting face and can carry off varying looks based on the character she plays.

What kind of clothes did you design for Rambha's wedding?

Rambhas' wedding trousseau was fun because she is my very good friend and I love her. She loves wearing very pretty clothes and her family also takes care. They wanted me to design for all the functions. For the engagement, I designed a white with a lot of Swarovski crystals and did a wrapped Kalli sari this was a wrap piece -a lehenga cum sari with a very pretty powder pink blouse. I have done 3 outfits for her Canada wedding and mehendi.

Who are the male stars who visit the store?

Suriya had come to me to pick up clothes in Adyar many years ago. That was the first time he had come for the store opening though. He said I want some nice outfits for a pretty girl and I wanted to know the height and color and he told me she looks somewhat like Jo. That's where we got to know that these two were dating and we gave her some very nice prints. We gave her nice big floral prints that were in at that time. Stars usually come for wives' birthdays and their anniversaries. Stars like Dhanush and Ajith come to pick up formal wear, sometimes with their wives.

What is Aishwarya Dhanush's style?

Aishwarya does not wear heavy clothes at all. She likes clothes very light and simple with not much embroidery.

What are your future plans?

I am not planning to go fulltime into cinema because the timings are erratic, the entire requirement is very different from my retail and my first love is always retail because I love the one-on-one interaction with my brides. I will take up a film only if it's a very challenging film, interesting, not the normal king where the characters are just wearing saris and salwars. I will do a film where my creativity as a designer will be noticed. I will wait and do a film, maybe just one good project but one that will be spoken about and make me happy.

Tell us about your bridal lounge concept?

The brief was very interesting and I got bowled over because this was an opportunity to turn around the entire idea of clothes in the industry. We had to go back 2000 years ago and it was totally left to imagination. We had no references or sketches that we had to follow and replicate. Usually, you show stars clothes and when they like some, you go in that line. This was great fun as a designer as it was an extremely experimental film where clothes were very important. I was told that this was a chance like a film like Elizabeth or Pirates of the Caribbean where costumes are very important. That is why I was very excited to get into this film.



Abbas is the driving

force behind me

What kind of support does Abbas give you?

I would say between my husband and me, Abbas has been the only person who has pushed me to move further. Left to myself, I am a very relaxed person and live on another planet. Even if I was working, I would have done it at my pace. He analyses things from an outside point of view and tells me that this where you need to buck up or talk to staff or have an event. He's the main force. A person who is creative cannot be good at marketing, sales and everything. One department is mine, the creative department and he has the rest - the entire thing under him


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