Interview: Rachel J Amirtharaj, Celebrity Fashion Designer and Founder of La Fantaisie

Rachel J Amirtharaj

Interview with Rachel J Amirtharaj, Celebrity Fashion Designer and Founder of La Fantaisie

Rachel J Amirtharaj is a highly influential name in the Indian fashion industry, having made a successful 7+ year stint in the field.

Her passion for fashion, resourcefulness, management skills, and unwavering dedication led her to establish La Fantaisie in 2013, a brand that quickly became one of the leading, innovative, and unmatched brands in the bridal apparel space.

Rachel’s unfulfilled dream of having the gown of her dreams at her wedding inspired her to start La Fantaisie and fill the dearth of beautiful and elegant wedding gowns in the country.

As an astute, intuitive, and enthusiastic entrepreneur, Rachel has won national accolades such as the Ravishing Design Awards 2017 – Incredible Wedding Gown Designer Award, and she is amongst one of the self-made HNIs in India.

She has worked with Bollywood celebrities includes Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Jacqueline Fernandes, Rani Mukherjee, Neha Dhupiya, Sushant Singh Rajput, and many more.

Rachel has also designed for Femina Miss India Aditi Arya, further solidifying her niche in the fashion market.

Rachel’s journey to success has not been without challenges. Despite being born as the granddaughter of Thoppil Anto, a renowned Malayali theater actor, playback singer, and music composer, she has shattered societal norms to lead a self-made life.

Prior to starting La Fantaisie, Rachel wore many hats, including being associated with several government bodies such as the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Election commission India, as well as being the owner and founder of SpeakWell Academy.

Rachel’s educational background is impressive, having earned a Master’s in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, an M.Sc IT degree, and a Bachelor’s in Computer Application.

In summary, Rachel J Amirtharaj is a successful, innovative, and influential entrepreneur who has made a name for herself in the Indian fashion industry.

Tell us a little about yourself

Rachel J Amirtharaj: What I am today is something that I had always aspired to become, especially when you come from an orthodox middle class background where things are not so favourable for women.

I was born in Coimbatore and brought up in Port Blair, Andamans, but I was able to build a life that I wanted to live.

I am an Indian Institute of Management Bangalore alumnus with my masters in Management, an M.Sc IT degree holder with a Bachelor’s in Computer Application.

Now that I look back how far I have come, what surprises me I left a thriving career as a government employee in the Ministry of Science and Technology, to build a dream that is taking me to places and helping me put smiles on my clients face.

Can you tell us about your journey as a woman founder in the fashion industry and how you navigated any challenges along the way?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: Being a woman entrepreneur in any industry is a tough task for so many obvious reasons and some more, and it is the same for fashion industry.

People don’t believe in your capabilities, you face trust issues from your family — let alone outsiders. Whether you are looking for funding or negotiating a deal, nobody would put faith in your business because of your gender.

Even though we are living in the 21st century, it gets difficult to engage investors for genuine investment opportunities without a man on the table.

There have been several occasions when, I being the face and brains of the company have to seek support from my manager to crack a deal.

And, what’s worse is that it doesn’t stop here. The environment is so unfavorable as even at work, people start taking you for granted creating an unfavorable environment for women — making it challenging to find the right people.

Kindly brief us about La Fantaisie and its specialization.

Rachel J Amirtharaj: La Fantaisie is a leading destination for bridal fashion. It is my passion and love for creating beautiful and memorable moments for the bride poured in a dress.

I started La Fantaisie over a decade ago limited to a store, and now we deliver pan India. We specialize in creating the most suitable and exquisite gowns for weddings, special occasions, and more in the most attractive prices.

We are not limited to a selected collection, but go beyond where clients can get custom-made gowns. From princess gowns to body-hugging mermaid style, anything your heart desire, La Fantaisie will design it for you and will be delivered at your doorstep.

What inspired you to become a fashion designer, and when did you first realize you had a passion for fashion?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: I have been a very driven person, always looking out for my purpose in life, and I guess this is something that I wanted to do since my childhood days — to make people feel special, and, one of my personal experience made me think about building La Fantaisie from scratch.

It was the smile on the face of the bride while walking down the aisle in her white wedding dress — these intense, beautiful moments that are engraved in our memories for lifetime, this is what inspired me.

As a christian, I had seen many brides wondering where to get their bridal gowns from, and many who would buy would import it from China or some local stores, and they were never happy.

The quality of the gowns was poor, the fabric used, designed outdated, and they’d never feel like themselves.

In India, there already was a dearth of good wedding gowns boutiques, and that is when I realized I wanted to start La Fantaisie.

Now, we deal in classic gown collection, specialize in making gowns that using corset, bones — how it has been for so many centuries, and new modern outfits for the modern age women.

Can you tell us about your creative process when designing clothes for celebrities? How do you approach each project?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: For me each project is of equal essence, whether it is curating a new dress for a celebrity or a designing the perfect outfit for a bride.

I approach them with utmost honesty and my creative process starts with understanding the need of the client first — as it is something they have to appear in.

So for celebrities, we consider the occasion/purpose of the outfit, for example if it is for a premier or the opening of a store or just any other appearance.

It depends, and the mood board varies totally as it has to be from scratch to match the vibe, background light and even to the kind of music at the event.

After setting the mood board, I start considering other important parameters like the person’s body type — cause every person’s body type is different and no two people are same.

We next consider their height, weight, personality, and preferences as I want to make them look and feel like themselves — so that they feel comfortable and enjoy their day whatever the occasion be.

I design a dress that extends to their version of imagination, but also the very best version of it.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the fashion industry, and how have you overcome them?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: There are innumerable challenges that I have faced in the fashion industry since day 1. Struggling to be taken as seriously as your male counterparts, being taken for granted, and feeling disrespected for having an opinion that is not valued or appreciated.

It truly is difficult and challenging to defy the social expectations, especially when you need a male figure to make negotiation, to make deals or to make a statement for you — even when you are the face of the company, the driving force, the founder, and the creator of all the beautiful things.

I have been able to overcome these challenges by letting my work speak for myself. I have worked super hard, invested more that I could to bag opportunities where I designed customized attires for Deepika Padukone in Finding Fanny, Anushka Sharma in P.., K, Jacqueline Fernandes in Kick, Rani Mukherjee in Mardani, Neha Dhupiya in Santa Banta, Sushant Singh Rajput and a lot more.

Something that I have learnt, and I could say that has helped me is to never shy away from making conversation, networking is key to make businesses work, and also, keep knocking doors — cause some day people will back down and let you do what you’re best at.

What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers, particularly women who are looking to break into the industry?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: My only advice to aspiring fashion designers is to shatter socially accepted norms and write their own journey.

People find it astonishing to see women networking, connecting, making relevant contacts — and that is where any entrepreneur, male or female, should start from.

It is hardcore truth and reality of the fashion industry. Simply put, if you are aspiring to become a fashion entrepreneur, get into networking.

There is nothing more powerful than networking, if you can find a mentor, someone to look up to, hold onto them.

Don’t be hesitant to promote yourself as business owner. Be resilient if you want to be successful. Any comment that tries to put you down, take it as a challenge and prove them wrong.

And be persistent. Make a plan and stick to it, but have that agility and flexibility so that if something goes south you have room to change and readapt.

You might think there is so much competition, but anyone who has a good product, smart marketing and great networking will catch its fish and will have nothing to complaint about — you can make your way through it.

Fashion industry is an ocean and anyone who takes their boat into it and sail confidently, will never come back empty-handed.

Also, you’ll need to make sacrifices, be ready for that — if you have to be good at something, which will make you a good entrepreneur in the fashion industry.

Your designs have been worn by many high-profile celebrities. How does it feel to see your creations on the red carpet and in the media?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: Coming from an orthodox, Christian family, where we were not even allowed to watch Television as a children, it feels surreal to see my own creations being worn by celebrities on television.

I had to stand against all odds to make this dream of mine happen, it feels great that I have been able to accomplish what I set my heart to. And, I see celebrities wearing my creation on television and in media — it is like my dream has come true.

What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur

Rachel J Amirtharaj: People judge you from the clothes you wear, and good clothes have an impact on your personality. People would classify you based on what you wear, and if you have money you are treated respectfully.

So, I wanted to be rich — always wanted create my own name and place in life without being dependent on anyone, and I learnt it very early that achieving this dream would not be possible with a job. So, to reach and achieve my dreams and make my mark, I had to become an entrepreneur.

Your designs are known for their intricate detailing and luxurious fabrics. How do you source materials, and what goes into creating a truly exceptional piece?

Rachel J Amirtharaj: As a designer, especially a bridal fashion designer, it is of utmost importance for me to ensure that the fabric that I use in my gowns is of the highest quality — because it is not just the designs that make the dress what it is, it is the fabric, the backbone of the dress, that adds glam and grace to the dress.

Leaving no margin of error, I source the material directly from the originating point. I have set up professional relationships with vendors who build fabric, and so, in that way I get top class and genuine fabric.

When you are wearing authentic fabric, the dress you wear speaks volume, it just changes the silhouette of the entire outfit and how it makes you feel. You feel so classy and elegant.

What goes into creating a truly exceptional piece is something that you can’t put in words. We follow a process for each piece that is to understand the purpose of the dress and set up a mood board for it.

We ask the client several questions, over the period of designing the dress, her preferences, understanding her taste, the event, her body type and whatnot, and once this all is decided, we form a team, all of us craftsman — cause it takes time to put imagination onto a fabric, sometimes over a month.

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