Ladies' tailors: In Mumbai

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on July 03, 2015

Manish Jolly, whose family business specialises in stitching only blouses, says he can create the garment without taking any measurements   -  Paul Noronha

Manish Jolly int his work shop   -  Paul Noronha


It’s a wonder what powers 25 years of blouse-cutting can endow you with. Manish Jolly, whose family business specialises in stitching only blouses, believes he can now create the garment without taking any measurements. “I can look at a woman and figure out the size. Sab nazar ki baat hai (it’s down to observation skills),” he says from his shop in Kemps Corner. At his workshop, junior tailors help stitch the blouses, but the authority to cut the material lies only with him. He guarantees that his clothes don’t need further alteration once he’s done with them.

Customers who flock to his workshop are usually armed with a snapshot of a Bollywood actress from a film or red carpet event. Jolly, like most blouse tailors, has learnt to quickly master the style that is trending. He watches every Bollywood flick to get a heads-up on what could next catch the fancy of his clientele. “The last film I saw was ABCD (Any Body Can Dance). But nobody wore a blouse in that,” he informs.

The latest fad, he says, are backless cholis with three-quarter sleeves, a la Deepika Padukone in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. “She wore three different cuts of blouses in that film. I can copy all of them. Jaise computer main file copy hota hai, ek baar blouse dekhne ke baad uska design mere dimaag main copy ho jaata jai (like a computer copying a file, my mind can register a blouse design with a single glance),” he says.

Many of these celebrity blouses were, in fact, first created at tailor Sanjay bhai’s workshop in Santa Cruz. He enjoys the reputation of tailoring for nearly every actress in Bollywood today. Sanjay bhai may have lost count of the number of years he’s been in the business, but he clearly remembers that his first few assignments were for actresses like Meenakshi Seshadri and Shilpa Shirodkar, which makes him a veteran in the field. The Ram-Leela cholis are among his most popular creations. “I make whatever the costume designer creates for a particular character. They take a lot of inputs from me too. I feel happy when I see their copies in the market after the film releases,” he says. Amongst his most ripped-off blouses are Vidya Balan’s from Parineeta, Sushmita Sen’s from an item number in Fiza, Sonali Bendre’s in Sarfarosh and Madhuri Dixit’s in Devdas.

Pali Hill resident Sunila Malhotra has been designing her own blouses for a while now. She enjoys playing with different necklines and cuts. As compliments began coming her way, she quit her maths teacher job at a city college and turned professional blouse designer. Having built up an extensive client list, Malhotra encourages them to experiment with her original designs. Nevertheless, there will always be the request to replicate something from a film. In her experience, there’s always a clamour to own a Sabyasachi lookalike. “His blouses are also one of the toughest to make. You need to take tiny pieces of cloth and put them together, which is why it takes longer to make,” she says.

One of Jolly’s strongest selling points is that Sabyasachi Mukherjee farms out a lot of tailoring work to him. He admits that when he gets a bulk assignment from the designer, he makes a blouse from the unused material and sells it cheaper. In fact, he has the designer’s consent. “What Sabyasachi sells for ₹15,000 in his store, I can give you for ₹2,100. And it is the exact same thing,” he says. Given that he’s privy to Mukherjee’s secret cuts, a bulk of Jolly’s assignments involve replicating those designs. While he knows this makes him a favourite with a lot of South Mumbai women, he also sounds a tad exasperated. “Abhi main thak gaya hoon. Sabyasachi ka copy karte karte main aadha Sabyasachi ban gaya hoon (I am fed up… I’ve become half-Sabyasachi now),” he rues.

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Published on July 03, 2015
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