KARISHMA SHAHANI, Founder, PRINCESSE K Label
To start with, tell us a bit about how did Princesse K come about? Also elaborate about the venture per se.
Princesse K is an independent handbag label based out of Mumbai, India. The ideology of the design house is to produce an interesting mix of constructed designs for the discerning woman who has a keen intperest in fashion.
Having studied for a Masters of Science in Luxury Goods & Services at the International University of Monaco, the inspiration behind Princesse K came from my experiences while studying in the French Riviera. Witnessing style at its epitome in France & Italy and coming home to a royal cultural heritage of craftsmanship, I created Princesse K - an amalgamation of western influences with an Indian twist to each and every creation.
We currently retail out of various multi designer stores in Mumbai, Pune, Ahmadabad, and Bangalore. A store in Nepal, Mad About Bags, too retails Princesse K. We also retail bags online through our website www.princessek.com
The name sounds pretty interesting; is there any particular story behind it?
Actually, there is! Princesse is the French word for Princess. My label name is an ode to my education and stay in the French Riviera. I studied and resided in Monaco, which is also famous for Princesse Grace Kelly, who is a timeless style icon. I got to learn about her life and was also lucky enough to witness a stunning exhibition on her life and her love for fashion and style. This inspired me to name my brand Princesse K - K is for Kelly and coincidentally K is also the letter of my name.
Tell us about your journey leading to the beginning of this venture? Was there any particular ‘ah-ha’ moment that led you to begin the same?
I have always been interested in fashion since I can remember. I started my career as a journalist but even there my special field of interest was always fashion. I knew that eventually I would want to own my fashion brand where I could contribute my creativity along with making a business out of it.
The Masters of Science in Luxury Goods & Services from the International University of Monaco was a design cum business degree which exposed me to European luxury brands, more so Italian and French handcraftsmanship. I graduated in 2008 and started Princesse K in July 2009.
There was no particular ah-ha moment. I chose to design bags as one size fits all, and I believe a handbag is the most important accessory as it can make or break an outfit.
What qualities are required for one to succeed in such a venture?
A formal educational training in design definitely helps but I won’t say it is necessary as I believe some people are gifted with great design skills and are naturally creative.
One also needs to exercise patience as results are not instant and a lot of trial and error is involved in production and to get your desired result.
Financial backing is also an important requirement to succeed, as one needs to invest a certain amount in order to project the brand in a premium position.
Besides this PR, marketing and word of mouth publicity are also a major factor that helps to spread the word and popularize the brand.
What has been your USP for making Princesse K a success?
Indian elements with a contemporary twist have been the pillar of our design philosophy, starting with our first collection titled "Indian Monsoon". I think, therein lies the USP of our brand in particular that has appealed to our customers throughout. Indians living abroad have taken a stronger liking to this quality and it has been a hit with the foreign customers as well. Our customers in India have also expressed their appreciation for the creative use of Indian fabrics & elements such as Tie & Dye, Ikat, Bandhini, Khaadi teamed with contemporary silhouettes.
Princesse K has crafted a gorgeous array of unique and sophisticated designs and our forthcoming collection will use the idea in a similar manner.
Apart from the design philosophy, our brand has been able to identify a multi-purpose use of our handbags in the customers’ lifestyle.
The label transcends its character to a woman who visualizes the use of the Indian spirit of this collection into her various endeavours – be it a lunch out with her girl friends or her resort wear wardrobe allowing this collection to travel to various destinations and merge into varied fashion cultures. The versatility has been an important aspect in making the brand successful till date.
What challenges did you face along the way to making this venture succeed and how did you overcome them?
Starting any business anywhere has its shares of ups and downs. From sourcing the right kind of craftsmen to creating an informal office space set up, constant research and weighing out the pros and cons of each situation resulted in the best way to overcome these challenges.
I was extremely selective with the look that I wanted my finished product to have. Hence, I did do a test run with several craftsmen before zeroing down on my team.
The advantage of starting a business in India was firstly access to skilled workmanship which helped me realize my designs and secondly the choice of traditional fabrics like Ikats, hand woven brocades from Patna, Gujarati tie & dye & Khaadi which I combined with contemporary designs and used in my first collection. My next collection too has taken advantage of different kinds of embroiderers and their skill and has resulted in some pretty funky pieces.
Which have been some of the most memorable milestones in this journey of yours so far?
The feature on style.com, a globally renowned fashion website, is the most memorable. (Here is the link for your reference - http://www.style.com/trendsshopping/itemoftheweek/080309_PrincesseK_Bag/)
Another one would be where my sister whilst visiting the office of Vogue India was carrying the Lace & Satin tote. The editor of the magazine instantly recognised the handbag from the style.com review. That was an instant high and thereafter many clients have recognized the bag from style.com. Another has been a feature on a style blog highheelconfidential.com which has lead to further exposure of Princesse K to Indians residing outside the country.
What have you learnt about yourself and the world at large in this journey so far?
Along with a test of nerves, an initial hiccup that I have experienced is streamlining productions and making sure I meet all my deadlines, like any other enterprise.
Princesse K is still at a naive stage and I would say as a brand, I am still very young. The learning process is always a constant and there have been trial and error moments. Having said that, I have observed within a single collection itself, the buying patterns and tastes of an Indian consumer and an International consumer do differ. From a design perspective, a hint of drama never fails to impress. Actually, almost all consumers of today embrace their individual design sensibilities on their sleeve.
Did you, at ever point, regret your decision of stepping into an entrepreneurial venture with hardly any blueprint to follow in time of need? Also, did you ever feel you would have been better in a predictable, routine 9-to-5 job?
I have never regretted starting Princesse K. It was inevitable that I would start an accessory label as I have always been interested in fashion from a very young age. I have done the whole 9 to 5 job routine by working as a journalist and found that it did not suit me as I needed to be creative in my own time and space. Starting Princesse K has given me the freedom to create and experiment with designs in a manner that allows me to get the best out of my time.
What success mantra will you give for those who would want to follow in your footsteps?
The best piece of advice to others entering the same line is very simple. Remember to never compromise on quality - because nobody would want to end up with a broken handbag while out.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My vision for Princesse K is for the bigger picture. I see the brand expanding on a global market and I hope to achieve this vision soon. To start off with, I would like to retail at international stores/outlets and I hope my current endeavour of building an international client database will lead to it.
With my second collection ready, I aim to create a more diverse presence within India too and experience newer and fresh retail formats. Slowly and steadily, I would like to build the brand Princesse K into a luxe-chic brand, accessible to the globally fashionable women.
We are also releasing a range of man bags under the brand name of Lord K. The collection should hit the shelves in Jan 2010.
- as told to Reshma Kulkarni