It all started a few years ago when one celebrity in Bollywood decided to give everyone #FashionGoals. Fashionista Sonam Kapoor was among the first few celebrities in India to make "styling for public appearances" a trend of sorts.
It's not just about their red carpet appearances, events - celebrities are judged based on what they wear to airports and even when they go on a walk late in the evening!
Call it the ripple effect, what started in Bollywood has taken the South Indian film industry by storm, with many celebrities here looking for stylists to nail a particular look for an event or even a casual appearance. So, what goes into putting together the look?
Neeraja Kona is one of the most sought after stylists in Tollywood and for good reason. Having worked closely with the likes of Samantha, Nithiin, Rakul, Hansika, Trisha, Ram Charan, Nayanthara and others over the years, she has built an enviable reputation for herself.
A few years ago, when she began her career as a costume designer and stylist for films, Neeraja says she didn't think of styling celebrities for their appearances at events. But once she set the ball rolling with Samantha and Nithiin, there has been no looking back.
Image courtesy: Neeraja Kona
"I credit a large part of my success to knowing and collaborating with the right people. I worked closely with Samantha and Nithiin in the initial days and once my work got noticed, a lot more people began approaching me. I'm blessed to be friends with all the celebrities that I work with, so that makes my job a little easier," Neeraja says.
Thereâ€™s also the race to be the first to set a standard. And it all begins with the myriad fashion weeks that are held all over the country.
After a costume designer introduces their new line at the fashion week, they send a look book to the top stylists all over the country and it's here that the stylists find their inspiration.
"One of the key aspects of my job is to decide which look would suit a particular celebrity. Since I'm in constant touch with all the celebrities that I work with, I already know what events they are going to attend and what they are expecting from me. So, it's my job to select the best possible outfit for them and ensure that they are comfortable when they suit up for the event," Neeraja adds.
At times, this race to be the first to try a new look puts stylists and celebrities in a tight spot. There are instances when celebrities end up repeating outfits (or a variant) wornby another celebrity.
Archa Mehta, who has worked with Kajal in most of her recent films as a stylist, says, "It's all about your reach and the contacts you have. Nobody wants to the make the mistake of repeating an outfit and the designers themselves give us a heads up if a particular look has already been tried out by another celebrity. It's too much to handle at times, but that's how the industry works. Also, you are always hard pressed for time and last minute changes. So, you are literally on your toes when the D-Day arrives."
Kajal styled by Archa Mehta
Of late, Hyderabad-based costume designers like Anushree Reddy, Gaurang Shah, and Shravan have been making headlines, breaking the myth that celebrities and stylists need to flock to Mumbai or look at an international designer's work to source their new outfits.
Samantha, in particular, has collaborated with a lot of local designers from Hyderabad and Neeraja Kona says it was a conscious decision. "When we started out, everyone used to talk about Mumbai-based designers. But there's some incredible talent bursting out of Hyderabad. All it takes is a willingness to take a leap of faith. Thankfully, it has worked for us every single time," she says.
Samantha at Akhil Akkineni's engagement.
Then, there's Ashwin Mawale, another celebrity fashion stylist, who has worked closely with the likes of Allu Arjun and Junior NTR over the years.
In an interview, when he was asked to describe his idea of styling, Ashwin said, "I have never been to a design school, so I can't draw and I don't keep myself updated about who's doing what. I don't have references and keep them as a bank, because I'll then be forced to go back to them. They are all there out in the open and you can buy them in the stores. My sense of style is very impromptu. So, when I go to a mall to source clothes, my mind works like a magnet attracting different sets of clothes to create a look. I would like to call myself a fashion stylist and not a designer in that sense."
Geetika Chadha is another popular stylist who has worked extensively with Rakul Preet in the past couple of years. "My first consideration is to choose whatâ€™s appropriate for the occasion. We go ultra glam if itâ€™s an awards function with a red carpet, we keep it simple if itâ€™s a charity event. I look at new trends and think what would suit an actor," Geetika told The Hindu in an interview.
Indrakshi Pattanaik, who has worked with Regina Cassandra and Allu Sirish, had no plans to work as a stylist in Tollywood; however, her budding friendship with Regina led her to styling the star for quite a few appearances, along with others like Allu Sirish and Lavanya Tripathi. She has also collaborated with Sushmita Konidela to work as a stylist for Chiranjeevi in Khaidi No 150.
Regina Cassandra by Indrakshi Pattanaik
"I was happily doing ads and editorials in Mumbai, when I got a chance to style celebrities here in Hyderabad. Initially, I didn't know anything about the industry and frankly, it took me two years to call myself a stylist here. I must thank Regina and Sirish for the confidence they showed in me," Indrakshi says.
She adds, "I was the stylist for Srija (Chiranjeevi's younger daughter) for her wedding and that got me noticed in their family. Eventually, I ended up collaborating with Sushmita Konidela for Khaidi No 150."
Last year, she had worked closely with several celebrities to style them for IIFA, including the much talked about â€śnakedâ€ť dress worn by Regina Cassandra, who hosted the event. Ask Indrakshi about the dress and she laughs it off saying, "Regina was quite comfortable in that dress and I think she carried it off quite well. It all depends on how confident a celebrity is to carry off a look, which might seem risquĂ© to others. I'm glad we tried something different."
Traditionally, costume designers have worked with their team of tailors and others to create new costumes for stars; however, of late, the stylists are bringing designer collections to films as well. "I've worked with Anushree Reddy, who designed five outfits for Rakul Preet in a song for Boyapati Sreenu's film and she looks fabulous in each one of them. I can't wait for people to see the song," Neeraja shares.
As the saying goes - "A picture speaks a thousand words", it's the stylists who are, in fact, making that picture worth talking about. After all, everyone is trying to push the bar - be it celebrities or their stylists.
Kajal styled by Archa Mehta