Growing up with four highly opinionated sisters, each one with a distinct sense of style, was the best way to understand women, grins Danish designer Uffe Frank. Dressed in a tailored white linen shirt, tapered trousers and tan loafers, from his menswear collection, he tells us how this intuitive understanding led him to design school in Copenhagen, into the iconic fashion houses of Europe and eventually to Bengaluru, where he has launched his eponymous brand of clothing and accessories.
“I spent three decades in Milan, Florence and Rome, working with Giorgio Armani and Valentino, bringing out collections every year, designing wedding gowns for European royalty,” begins Frank. The two iconic dress he created for the royal Danish wedding in 2004, when Crown Princess Mary tied the knot with Prince Frederik, are still talked about in fashion circles. “I used to have a schedule that ran through the day, never taking breaks and working insane hours. You have no incubation time for ideas, and that is very important. I felt the need to try something different, more creative, less manic. India was always on my radar as I have been coming here on short visits over the last few decades. I met up with Jacqueline Kapur (founder of the Casablanca lifestyle store) on one of my trips, who suggested I give Pondicherry a chance,” he continues. With its relaxed vibe and European connect, the town worked its charm. “I found a typical Tamil courtyard house to rent, redesigned the interiors to suit, painted over the red oxide floors in rich gold leaf, arranged my pictures and art, and called it home,” says the globetrotter.
With a production unit up and running in Pondicherry, Frank has major plans for the Indian market. “I work with pure silk, cotton and linen to bring out a line of menswear and womenswear under the label Uffe Frank. Our line for women covers classic separates and dresses with lots of drama, femininity and flow. Wearability is key. I want to dress real women, not catwalk models,” explains the designer (the first name is pronounced oof-feh, if you are wondering). Bengaluru, he promises, isn’t going to get yet another retail point. “It is a salon, where you can come in, chat over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, while I create something that suits your individuality, your profession and your lifestyle. I can also transform saris that you no longer wear into a dress or jacket that you will enjoy wearing.”
Born and raised in Copenhagen, Frank, 53, first caught the attention of the national press when he won a major fashion design contest as a young student at age 17. Declining plum internships at major fashion houses in Europe, he chose to apprentice with the Danish queen’s personal tailor for six months, to learn the art of handcrafted couture. “He was a stern, portly man who would down a bottle of wine with his lunch, and then take a siesta. We were in awe of him, and though he did not have much to say, I did pick up on that royal essence of style he brought to his garments, and the simple way he had of saying something complex. It came in useful when I was commissioned to design for theroyal wedding much later, in 2004,” he recalls.
There are no wrong trousers. All are good to go. Try ultra-wide or tapered at the ankle. You can even wear those drop-bottom harem pants. This is a season of opposites — just don’t wear them at the same time!
— Uffe Frank
In Armani’s classroom
After design school and some freelancing, Frank landed his dream job with Giorgio Armani. “He loved my designs, my work and the fine attention to detail I picked up from the queen’s tailor,” he remembers, adding, “I immediately moved to Milan. Working with him was surreal, seductive and hectic. He always travelled with a large retinue — PR people, his personal assistant, bodyguards, friends and family.” It was a world where black limousines were waiting to take him wherever he needed to go. “He treated us like family, but was also a tough taskmaster and could not tolerate the smallest imperfection. He could spend 20 minutes practising his signature before deciding which pen to use for a book signing. His own wardrobe was simple — midnight-blue T-shirts with black or beige trousers mostly. Or one of his signature suits,” shares Frank. The legendary designer had a way with suits, and this was closely observed. “He literally gutted them, sliced out the shoulder pads, cut the pants fuller, made everything softer and added his palette of earthy colours— dusty gray and green and brown. And he gave women the power suit at a time when working women were trying to figure out what to wear in offices. “My time with him was very well spent. But my mum fell sick and I moved back home for a while. Her passing hit me very hard and I took a while to recover from the loss. That’s when I first came to India.”
Hoping for a complete change from Europe, he visited Goa with his sister. “It was not so touristy then, back in the 80s, and I simply loved the laid-back vibe.” Frank spent the next few years between Florence, Rome and Milan, and a couple of years working with another fashion icon, Valentino Garavani. “He was all about aesthetic perfection. Everything around him was in high definition — Italian, elegant, classic, dans l’air du temps (the mood of the moment) and always refined. It was a great experience, but like I said earlier, I felt the need to try something different, something more creative, less manic, so India presented the best challenge.”
The collection is available at Raintree in Bengaluru. Priced from Rs 5,000. The salon is expected to open in April.
Uffe manages to make you look feminine and yet not too simple or casual. You will be noticed, that is for certain. His flowing lines and fits are not designed for just models who are in the 45 kg, 1.75 m bracket, fortunately. My daughter, Ayesha, has some lovely dresses from his label — Jacqueline Kapur, Casablanca
Brand new space
Bengaluru can soon hope for Frank’s version of Milan’s famous concept store, 10 Corso Como, a real point of reference for fashion lovers and hipsters. One can soak up the elements of art, culture and lifestyle, and spend an entire afternoon flipping through elegant photography or fashion books, getting lost among the clothes, bags and shoes on display and end the experience with a cup of tea in the garden café or a cocktail at the lounge bar. Frank’s Pondicherry home (pictured below) reflects his taste in art.
Of the two dresses Frank made for the royal Danish wedding back in 2004, the wedding dress is still remembered. Made from ivory duchess satin with a gently scooped neck, it had a fully lined skirt, the silk panels allowing the lace underneath to peek through, and a six-metre-long train. Meanwhile, the blood red silk gown the princess wore to the gala the night before the big day, has since been featured in several exhibits, including official portraits.
Frank’s rule book
Forget the stark, chic dress for a change and experiment with overblown corsages, cuffs marching up your forearm, dramatic jewellery and complicated shoes.
Fuchsia is the hottest colour to wear. It should feel like a stab in the eye. Azure (aka ultra-blue) is a close second, followed by canary yellow and emerald green.
Go with one shoulder. If you want all of spring’s key trends wrapped up into one tidy little package, a one-shoulder, floaty dress with corsage detail should do it.
Art Nouveau-ish is the way to go. Try high waistlines, great tailoring, silky blouses and bouncy hair. Grab a tux or a tuxedo scarf with a flirtatious fringe. Invest in chic white trousers, a silk wrap dress and aviator shades.
Platform heels have stayed on, but the mood is frivolous. Consider picking up some seriously nutty shoes — with curved or cone heels. If your shoes aren’t noticed by strangers, you’re missing the point. Make it big, bold and beautiful — be it pearls, beads, crystal, chains, jet, jade, the lot.
Go for cuff on cuff, stacks of bangles, a host of brooches. Even spikey, gold hoop earrings. Trash power-dressing, sequins, swing coats. Also forget shiny leggings, body con, big shoulders and slogan tees (ugh!).
Made for India
For India, Frank promises a line of organic fabric made from banana, pineapple, bamboo and soya, under the label UFO (Uffe Frank Organic). There is also European-style footwear and a range of embroidered leather jackets and jewellery in collaboration with temple jewelry designer Vasudha Shirodkar. “I once made a series of jersey dresses that, although synthetic, were exceptionally wearable. I found this fabric in Italy that draped like a dream and bought up all 600 metres of it. I used double drapes around the neckline so it gave the garment weight, used minimal seams and left the hems raw. They were a huge hit because they fell so beautifully and you could stuff it in your suitcase and wear it without worry about creases! I’m planning to bring out a similar line of dresses for India,” he says. Jaya Velu of Raintree confirms that Uffe Frank’s clothes are for the modern Indian woman with a global sensibility. “They are smooth and flowing, for real women. His designs are never too extreme or conceptual, but very wearable,” she concludes.