MUMBAI — On a recent afternoon in her second-floor office here, as women in vibrant silk saris and billowy cotton kurtas went about their business on the street below, the designer Falguni Peacock bent over her desk, appraising an illustration she recently did of Taylor Swift. In it, Ms. Swift wears a large gold hoop in one nostril, and a string of pearls swept up her cheek, connecting it to her ear: a style popular in India since the 16th century, though not in American pop music … yet?
“We’ve dressed everyone,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyone” meaning the grandes dames of Top 40: Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna. In March, she designed a gold gown for Beyoncé with a bodice that seemed painted on and a train like a scrunchie. “Now, we have to dress Selena Gomez and we have to dress Taylor Swift.” For the latter Ms. Peacock’s company has conceived two beaded bodysuits with tassels at the bottom, a specialty perhaps surprising for those who associate this country with modest if colorful formal wear.
“Earlier, India was known as a place where all the designers would do jodhpurs, they would send fabric here to get their beading and crystal work done,” said Ms. Peacock. “But India has gone to another level. We can make what a designer in Paris would make.”
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, a designer from Calcutta, recently collaborated with Christian Louboutin on a collection of sari-draped, hand-embroidered heels, and wants to dress Meryl Streep. Anita Dongre, a favorite of Bollywood actresses and the Duchess of Cambridge, made a play for the high-end closets of New York when she opened a store in SoHo last year. But Ms. Peacock and her business partner husband, Shane Peacock — yes, it’s their legal surname, a vestige of Mr. Peacock’s British grandfather — are the rebel punks of India’s high-fashion scene, eschewing traditions like block printing for marabou feathers and peddling catsuits rather than kurtas.
“They’ve always been one of our first calls,” said Rob Zangardi, stylist to Ms. Lopez, Ms. Stefani, and other famous women. He and his styling partner, Mariel Haenn, discovered the line in a Los Angeles showroom a decade ago. Falguni Shane Peacock designed his favorite outfit of Ms. Lopez’s many, a white fringed mini dress in which she shimmied on “American Idol” in 2011. “They do glam rock, that perfect mix of glamour and music, which very hard to find,” Mr. Zangardi said. “It usually either goes very Vegas showgirl or, for lack of a better term, old Gaga, a shoulder pad-y future. But they have that perfect balance.”
The company’s red carpet credentials are also growing. The singer Rita Ora wore a mesh, peplum gown embroidered with graffiti to the February premiere of “Fifty Shades Freed,” and later that month, the actress Susan Kelechi Watson wore a sheer lavender shift speckled with stars and plumage to the premiere of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Paris Hilton sheathed herself in one of the line’s more risqué dresses, a gray swirl of beads with a plunging neckline, for an Oscar viewing party in Hollywood.
“Everyone was coming up to me asking, ‘Where’d you get that? It’s so gorgeous,’” Ms. Hilton said. She first discovered the line at a 2012 fashion show in Goa, India. “Every time I wear something of theirs, that’s how it is. Their dresses cause a lot of attention.”
They might also be right for a moment when actresses are increasingly resisting being objectified, either by men or corporate entities. (As the Western world reeled from sexual-harassment revelations last fall, Falguni Shane Peacock printed a run of women’s T-shirts that read “Fearless. Strong. Powerful.”)
“We’re not stuck on, ‘it has to be Gucci or Prada.’” Mr. Zangardi said. “Best dress wins. We want to use new, exciting designers that not everybody else is using.”
While the line may be unfamiliar to couch critics, the E! host Giuliana Rancic wore a nude Falguni Shane Peacock gown with gothic black beading to the 2013 Costume Institute Gala, which feted the exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” That could describe Mr. and Mrs. Peacock’s working environs. Their design studio is a hive of activity, with the constant din of ringing and buzzing phones, darting assistants, and trays of steaming chai being whisked through the halls, en route to 175 employees who require it to bead and sew. Even more heated arguments happen in the founders’ shared office, where they sit in matching high-back chairs.
“Sometimes, I’ll make a dress full-length, and after two hours I’ll walk in, and the dress is short,” said Mr. Peacock. “We’ll have a fight: ‘short is better, long is better.’”
“We’ll both walk out, the piece will be lying there,” said Ms. Peacock.
“Maybe after three months, we’ll pick up the piece and say, ‘Let’s do it short,’” said Mr. Peacock. “Or she’ll send the piece to a celebrity, they’ll wear it, and she’ll say, ‘See, I told you short was better.’”
When Falguni, 41, first met Shane, 44, he was her boss. She had recently graduated from art school, and Shane hired her to paint illustrations of a line he was working on with another woman. (Shane started designing as a child in Bangalore, going with his grandmother to the tailor to oversee the making of the short dresses she favored. “When she’d wear them, everyone would tell her she looked very pretty,” he said. “But maybe that’s a general thing you tell grannies.”)
Their workday would bleed into the wee hours, and for eight months, Shane drove Falguni back to her parents’ home in Mumbai. “One day, her mum popped the question,” he recalled. “‘You all are roaming around, coming so late, I don’t know what society will say. Do you have any intention of getting married?’ I was like, oy.”
Shane thought they’d start with a date. Getting Falguni to agree to coffee took months. “She was very conservative,” Shane said, and partial to wearing salwar kameez, a long sleeved, loose fitting top and pants set. “I would ask, ‘Do you have a pair of jeans?’ She would look at me like I was telling her a bad word.”
These days, Ms. Peacock favors lace bomber jackets, skinny jeans and high heels. Her husband, who was in a rock band when they met, dyes his goatee cerulean blue. They married in 2001 and started their clothing line the following year, seeking to stretch Bollywood’s sartorial boundaries. They were told their necklines were too low and feathers didn’t work, but when Priyanka Chopra starred in their 2006 ad campaign, they took off, getting a slot in London Fashion Week and crossing over to New York Fashion Week in 2011, courting wealthy clientele while they bejeweled bodysuits for Fergie and Shakira. Their New York run came to an abrupt end in 2015, when Mr. Peacock, as he puts it, “fell into a major depression,” for causes unknown.
“There were times where I wouldn’t leave the room for one week,” he said. “I didn’t come to work for one year.”
“It was torture,” said Ms. Peacock. “Everyday, to see an empty chair next to me, I was heartbroken.”
Visits to temples, churches and soothsayers helped lift the fog, along with some behavior modification. Mr. Peacock used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day; now he won’t touch alcohol, tea, coffee or even carbonated beverages. “Ninety five percent of my intake is raw,” he said, over lunch at an Italian bistro near Falguni Shane Peacock’s headquarters, where he cheated with a piece of broiled salmon.
They hope to return to New York’s runways in September. “If you don’t show at fashion week, something is missing,” Mr. Peacock said. “It’s like eating food without salt.” In the meantime, there are bodysuits to bedazzle, frocks to festoon, bridal clients to cater to — they design about 100 couture wedding outfits per year — and an athleisure line to popularize.
Then there’s their 16-year-old daughter, Nian, recently returned from boarding school and contemplating where to go to college. But “if we make her something, she doesn’t want it,” Mr. Peacock said. “She’s more of an H&M and Zara kind of girl.”
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