Ashley Rebello, celebrity stylist and the man behind Salman Khan’s fashion statement, speaks to Guardian 20 about his journey in fashion, and his recent project, which involved styling all the costumes for Salman’s Eid blockbuster Bharat.
Q. When did you realise that fashion design was your true calling?
A. In college I began styling clothes for my sister and mother. I used to advise them on what they should wear and what didn’t look good on them. And to my surprise, they would listen to me as well. Soon enough, I realised that I wanted to be a fashion designer.
Q. What was the biggest challenge that you faced while styling costumes for Bharat? This being a historical period drama, it marks a departure from all your previous work.
A. Well, getting the costumes to represent the different eras was a difficult task. Getting the 1947 act completely right was a huge challenge for me because if anything were to go wrong, it would have created a huge mess. In the Partition scene, we had to dress around 3,500 people in a day and that was our biggest challenge. My team used to be on the set at 4 a.m. every day, but the shooting could only begin by 12 p.m. because it took hours to get the entire supporting cast ready. But the fact that critics have lauded the art direction and costumes in the film has made me really happy.
Q. Of the five different looks that we see Salman Khan donning in the film, which one is your personal favourite and why?
A. Well, I personally loved the circus scene the most because it allowed me to be at my creative best and I felt like there was so much to do in it. A lot of discussion went into that particular scene because we had to study the dressing style of trapeze artists. But that wasn’t all, as Salman’s character is a trapeze artist and a biker too, and that added an all new dimension to it. Now the whole trapeze look had to not only appear authentic, but it also had to look like that of a biker at the same time. So getting the costume to represent both the tasks and still maintain their individuality was an interesting challenge.
Q. You have worked with Salman as his stylist for almost 12 years now. How has his taste in fashion and style evolved over the years in your view?
A. So a lot of people tell me, “You know, Ashley, it’s you! You have done such good work with Salman’s style and costume.” But I feel that it’s him. Because Salman really loves clothes. Anything that he wears, there is so much passion with which he carries it. He would come to me and tell me how we could do this to a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, tweak something here and add something there. So he makes many inputs to whatever is being done. Apart from that, Salman can pull off anything you give him. He is so good with clothes, he will look fabulous in anything, and I think that solves a lot of my problems.
Q. You have worked with a lot of big names in the film industry. Which particular collaboration has been the most memorable one for you?
A. Well, personally, I would say I’ve had the best experience with Aamir Khan. It was such a learning experience for me because he has so much knowledge and he is so passionate about his work, and the way he does things.
And of course, apart from him, I’d say Mansoor Khan, the man who introduced me to the world of cinema. Only yesterday, I was at the screening of a movie and his daughter was also there, and that was such a high moment for me because she was a child when I started working with him, and now she’s all grown up, ready to be an actress. I was so thrilled that the daughter of the person who introduced me to movies is actually there to see the biggest projects that I have done.
Q. This was your first time working with Disha Patani. How has the response to her outfits in the film been so far?
A. Oh, Salman and a lot of people told me that they were stunned by what I had done to Disha Patani. They said that the yellow outfit I gave to Disha in “Slow Motion” [a song in Bharat] was fabulous, but honestly, I feel like you have to give it to Disha that she has the body to carry anything and look fabulous in it. In fact, after that, so many actresses came up to me complaining that I never make up time for them and that it is unfair and how I should do more in the women’s apparel industry. But if only I could take out the time!
Q. What is the one thing that you enjoy most about working with Alvira Khan Agnihotri, as the two of you co-own a clothing line, Ax2?
A. I love Alvira’s vishesh tipanni, or her commentary on everything. She always tells me what looks good and what doesn’t, so she gives me that space. What I also love about her is that she lets me express myself. She knows my creative space and she knows that I’m good at certain things and she lets me do it my way. She’s only handling the backend work right now and lets me handle the creative aspect. She fights with me a lot too, but I love her with my heart and she makes my life very easy.
Q. Which was that “I-made-it” moment in your fashion career?
A. The fact that that people keep repeating me in their films makes me grateful. Like when Suraj Barjatia called me and told me that he would want me to do the costumes for his film again, and this time not only for Salman, but for the entire film, it was overwhelming for me. But what really makes me proud is that I have had the chance to work with everybody from Sanjay Leela Bhansali to Abbas-Mastan, and the fact that they keep repeating me is what I take as my personal high.
Q. What is the fashion trend of the season that you are in awe of? And which trend do you want gone for good?
A. The fashion trend that I really like is all the neon colors coming back in vogue. But if there is one thing I cannot stand, it is these bell-bottom pants. They don’t give shape to anybody and they look horrendous! I personally feel they should be thrown into the dustbin!
Q. Is there a difference between designing for fashion labels and styling costumes for films?
A. There’s a huge difference because in styling you just pick up outfits from anywhere and put them together, but costume designing involves a lot of hard work. It involves immense research along with love for what you’re doing. So you can say that costume designing is huge in terms of the skill and expertise that one puts into it… It is all about your taste and creativity.