Hailed as a jeweller to Bollywood’s nouveau royalty, Farah Khan Ali has come a long way from star kid to designer extraordinare. From Priyanka Chopra to Beyonce, her contemporary Indian pieces are a hit with the elite, including leading business families. Bursts of colour with a generous sprinkling of her upbeat personality signify the quintessential Farah Khan Ali jewel. In the business for 20 years, and despite going through a tough legal dispute, the 43-year-old designer has come back stronger and is here to stay with her new venture, an online fine jewellery store. Family comes first too, with the store doubling as a launch pad for her latest collaboration with brother-in-law Hrithik Roshan for a Krrish 3-inspired line. Being the sole Indian jewellery designer at the Swarovski’s Runway Rocks in London in June 2008, Ali’s ornate ‘Goddess’ crown studded with over 500 crystals and pearls put her on the world map – Beyonce choose to wear it on her album cover. Featured on various editions of Gemvision, Swarovski’s compendium on industry trends, Ali has created pieces for the same. A regular at the HDIL Couture Week and a winner of the Retail Jeweller India’s Best Jewellery Designer Award, her client roster reads like a celebrity guest list.
20 years after
Ali’s tryst with jewellery was unforeseeable, the evident work of fate. “On a whim, I accompanied my friend to the Gemological Institute at Santa Monica, California, and while she was focused on making it big, I was keen on partying through my time there. But when I discovered the Gemology course was very objective and scientific, I ended up studying seriously and topped my class,” she exclaims. Returning to India in 1993, a time when jewellery designing was unheard of as a career choice, her initial years were lined with struggle, despite her star-studded background. “Predictably, a lot of people started attributing the Bollywood connection to my designs, and as much as it did get them to walk into my store, it’s safe to say my work got them to stay,” she chuckles. With little monetary support from her parents, Zarine and Sanjay Khan, Ali started off by selling concept pieces to clients and making jewellery for them, a notable one being Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri. Formally launching her brand in 2004 and her first store in Mumbai in 2010, a smooth two years of business was interrupted by a major roadblock. “I ended up in a lawsuit with my manufacturing partner, losing everything I’d earned over the years in the process,” she admits. But a bank loan and a lot of support got her back on her feet. “I think that way, Hrithik and I are very similar – we turn our biggest weaknesses into our biggest strengths,” she proudly proclaims.
Planning for tomorrow
Taking the litigation in her stride, Ali relocated to New Delhi this year and got down to brass tacks, hunting for a viable business model. “Now I have all this jewellery to sell, so I was wondering how I could reach out to a wider set of clients, and the idea of an online store fell into place,” she says, adding, “Further, the last four months haven’t been the best time for fine jewellery, so I decided to alter the existing situation by getting my brand closer to the clients. This is a great time for online retail. We’re going to be competing with every luxury product.” Assessing the risks of the venture, she’s fairly confident that if not a necklace, even a keychain counts as a good purchase. Delivery for prêt is within 10 days in India and three weeks internationally, while bespoke, limited edition and signature clocks a good four to six weeks. “I feel there’s a lot of faith in today’s youth, and my prêt line, which is quite affordable, caters to that demographic and creates a better awareness for our brand. Considering they’re very active users of social media has also made regular discussion possible,” says the Twitter star, whose followers have increased from 68,000 to 4,00,000 in three years. In its nascent stage, her e-store is set to cater to 35 countries with categories such as Pret, Signature, Limited Edition and Quintessential. With a men’s collection, wardrobe recommendations and essential FAQs, it aims to be user-friendly and accepts only credit cards, with no exchange policy unless pieces are defective. “In the future, we hope to have the site in six more languages, an editorial on maintenance and unconventional jewellery,” informs Ali.
Built on courage
Khan is a picture of inspiration among her loyal Twitter followers and her latest limited edition jewellery line for Krissh 3 is bound to go down well with them. “Hrithik and I got talking about his movie and he was telling me about a scene where he’s tearing a beast off the man who ends up saving someone else, and that’s when I realised, there’s a superhero in all of us. It’s not about a cape or a mask,” she says adding, “Jewellery outlives a will, and is passed down to generations as heirlooms. I feel that these pieces I create will outlive both the wearer and the movie, and will pass on memories and messages of strength, courage and bravery.” Going beyond just merchandise, the collection which recreates the movie’s primary symbol of courage, incorporates silver, diamonds and leather and is affordably priced between `2,500 and `6,000. There’s something for everyone here, from silver pendants, brooches and bracelets for men and women, to masks and bands for kids. “If Jodha Akbar can have a jewellery line dedicated to its period, why can’t a movie like Krissh 3? I’m sure these pieces will help remind wearers of their self-worth,” hopes Ali.
Eye for design
For Ali, jewellery has always seemed a lively form of expression, as demonstrated by her penchant for colours and animals. “I don’t like anything dull or dead, and I’ve always felt the need to incorporate movement in my pieces. Plus, dull colours add no contour or form to jewellery. Snakes, butterflies and peacocks are my personal favourites, and something about the metamorphosis of the butterfly and the flexibility of the snake make them perfect subjects for my work,” feels Ali. Her most challenging piece to design till date is a snake bracelet encrusted with coffee diamonds for a Russian client, which took five months to make. “I always tell my photographer to shoot my pieces like they’re women and not products, because that’s where the passion and the emotional connect lie. If I see a bad photo, my mood is ruined for the day,” she reveals. On the subject of trends in the jewellery industry, she says, “I see a bright future ahead for gemstones and bespoke. Considering the increase in gold prices, there’s likely to be innovations in manufacturing to reduce gold weight, and lighter jewellery will be in. Luxury today is defined by having something no one else has, so bespoke is here to stay and is likely to focus on more rubies and emeralds than diamonds.” Fondly known as the Emerald Queen, Ali’s palette is vibrant –18 carat gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, honey topaz and lemon topaz. While she finds inspiration wherever she goes, she takes away much from the legendary work of her favourite eras – the Renaissance and the Mughal periods. “Though I craft keeping my international clients in mind, I love incorporating a fair bit of Mughal elements as well. I’m also inspired by designers Ambaji Shinde of Harry Winston and Robert Ahern of Van Cleef & Arpels, who was also my professor at the Gemological Institute, David Webb, and Cartier as a design house,” she says. Listing Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone as the people who wear her jewellery the best, Ali looks forward to the public’s reception to the store. “It’s not about money for me. I don’t love to design, I live to design,” she concludes.
www.farahkhanfinejewellery.net launches on October 5.