Nikita Jaisinghani, 27, is a cute as they come. A big talent and personality in a petite, elfin-like package. Unconventionally chic and sexy. With the perfect oval face and laughing eyes. A contagious smile. And an easy, pleasant manner. She breezed into Dharma Productions’ office at Khar wearing cream paperback pants held up by a silver belt, a green spaghetti top, and red sandals, her hair left wild and loose and tumbling down to smooth toned shoulders. “I’m a tomboy,” she said, introducing herself, “I’m easy in dresses, phata hua jeans, I do a lot of traveling, running around, I must look good but not with things popping out, so I prefer to be comfortable, but at the same time stylish and presentable.”
I thought she looked intriguing and exciting.
Dharma Productions is Karan Johar’s film production and distribution company. And Nikita is the personal stylist of the celebrated filmmaker and TV impresario. She advises him on new fashion trends and clothing styles. She dresses him up. Nikita is the main reason, I think, why KJo proudly takes his look to Instagram every time he steps out. Whether to the airport, to a film festival in Berlin or an awards function in New York, to a shoot on location in Bulgaria, a happening Bollywood party at Dubai, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the India Economic Summit in Delhi, to the studios for Koffee with Karan or the Dharma Productions HQ at Andheri.
She didn’t study to be a stylist. Nikita was studying commerce at the MMK College in Mumbai. After which she studied animation at MAAC but quickly found she could not sit at at a computer for long. She told me, “I was impatient. I like meeting people and conversing with them. Animation was hard work. I asked my father to invest in a fashion school where I could do a styling course. He replied, ‘Get out!’” But where one door closes... A friend who was working as an AD (that’s Assistant Director in Bollyspeak) for Yash Raj Films’ romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan in 2011 asked Nikita to join him.
Her only experience in showbiz had been some backstage work for the stage and floor management company On Cue. And she had helped out another friend with the Hyderabad round of the Miss India beauty pageant. Her love for fashion and styling people grew slowly. First a door opened into Bollywood. Then a window. The costume designer and film stylist Niharika Khan who was working on Vidya Balan’s The Dirty Picture in 2011 was looking for an assistant. Nikita was it. Then Niharika in her kindness put Nikita, who was then 20, in touch with Student of The Year costume designer Shiraz Siddiqui. This was Dharma Productions’ big ticket release in 2012 introducing Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra. The Karan Johar-Nikita Jaisinghani connection happened.
Nikita next joined Anaita Shroff Adajania, the leading fashion stylist, costume designer and fashion director of Vogue India, on the sets of KJo’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil where she helped style Ranbir Kapoor. “I was wondering what to do after that when he (Karan Johar) asked me to style him for the IIFA Awards 2016 which were being held in Madrid. When I got the call, I was in Goa for my brother’s wedding. I left, came back to Mumbai, gave him a presentation, and got the job,” she said simply. What did she do that impressed KJo? “I decided to go classic,” she recalled. “I got him a Tom Ford suit. You cannot go more classic for a man than that. And for the IIFA green carpet, I decided to play it safe and keep it Indian, and went with Manish Malhotra.” But the change she wanted to bring about in Karan Johar, till then Bollywood’s most quintessential dresser, only happened a year later. During IIFA 2017 in New York. “He wanted to stay classic. I told him, ‘You can also be quirky and fun and still play safe,’” Nikita said. KJo liked the idea of being fun. He was open to experimenting. People noticed the chic and sharper change immediately and gasped when he stepped on stage to host the evening in a velvet blazer, tailored waistcoat, bow-tie, Alexander McQueen lapel pin and shoes from Christian Louboutin.
Was Karan Johar aware of all these brands? “Yes, of course,” Nikita is quick to defend her celebrated clotheshorse. “He has a taste and an eye for brands, he may not wear all or show them off, but he is so good. And he knows what he wants. For instance, he will say, ‘I want a red velvet jacket.’ I show him one and two or three options. He’s happy and will say, ‘Let’s go with this!’ It’s been a lot of day-to-day experimenting, lot of fun, I tell him, ‘Wear this, try these shoes...’ and I started Instagramming his look, people saw a new Karan Johar, he got rave reviews and was happy.” When he shops for himself, does KJo seek Nikita’s help. “No. But if he sees something he thinks I can use for an event later, he will pick it up and send me a picture asking for an opinion. I always say, ‘It works!’ because he’s got great choice. You simply can’t say ‘No’ to Karan Johar.”
Nikita has styled other celebs too. Like Siddharth Malhotra for his ads, Akshay Kumar for his TV show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, Varun Dhawan on and off for different events.
But the bigger challenge was styling Ranveer Singh last September for the Maxim cover. “His fashion sense is outrageous but he is comfy with whatever he is wearing. Nobody else can follow him. They won’t be able to carry it off. He’s made that niche for himself. He’s a brand by himself. Ranveer doesn’t play it safe. He’s crazy, cut from a different cloth, and too good to work with. He has so much energy. Anything I’d put on him was like a second skin. He was open to new ideas, to experimenting, he’d just say, ‘Why not? If you think it works – it works!’ It’s overwhelming to work with him.”
She’s working every day on Karan Johar. “He keeps me busy round the clock,” Nikita said. “It’s a great platform I have. I have grown up seeing KJo. Fashion comes through him. Not just him, it’s in his every film, it’s in his house, with his kids, his mother.” She travels everywhere with him and for him. “I have to go earlier and do a recce, locate the best stores, because after he lands, we have lunch, then it’s quick-quick-quick, let’s shop-shop-shop, it’s very hectic but so much fun! He’s always like, ‘What’s next, what’s new?’ I have to look at what I am styling him for. A formal event or fun? If it’s a happening thing, I get accessories on board, because Karan Johar has to be fashionable, but he’s also always classy. I am happy when the day is well spent. I have to be proud of myself today because I’ve got to come back to that tomorrow.”
What’s a stylist’s definition of style? “Hmnn, it’s developing an individuality with what you’re comfortable wearing,” Nikita explained, “You have to be comfortable, but what you’re wearing should reflect your personality when you walk out. It should be like a another skin. People should remember who you are.” And fashion? “Fashion is parallel to style,” she said, “It’s similar, seen on the same board. But fashion is more connected to brand consciousness. What are you wearing? Who are you wearing? Whereas style is normal – how you put high street higher. Fashion is more out there. Style is being there, but simple. Fashion cannot be simple. You understand?” I didn’t. So Nikita Jaisinghani patiently said, “Sonam Kapoor is fashionable, but Alia Bhatt is stylish. Now do you get it?” This time I did.
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