It’s one of the those days when the sun isn’t visible but beads of sweat form on your brow five minutes after stepping out of the cool of your home. The dusty bulldozed road of Lazimpat seems less dusty today; courtesy heavy rains of last week. A quaint sign signals ‘Crossroad Apparel’ next to the Shangri-la, you push the door and are welcomed by a mesh of colors left, right and center, molded into floating gowns and summer blazers. A large artful logo, of plain white writing on black, at the very front screams ‘SUBEXYA BHADEL’.
I am greeted by Subexya’s sister Jenika who explains to me that Subexya was finalizing a fabric order someplace else and would be with us shortly. I think of the last time we met; Bhadel in her workshop upstairs; ill, fevered and watery-eyed, but still dressing up a model; sewing up the hemlines and giving orders like a seasoned general of sorts. She had been so unwell that she’d been unable to answer my pestering questions about her then-recent line, but chose to see me anyway and pen her answers. The dark brooding space above the neat shop is where the magic happens; lined with naked mannequins and river-like spools, red, black and white, fed into machines that give birth to sequined dresses which have graced bodies of the likes of Priyanka Karki and Sahana Bajracharya, and more recently, the common mass.
A young couple walks in to check out the latest offering. An intern busies herself with assisting the woman with possible color choices. Ten minutes later, a former Miss Nepal walks in from the changing rooms, dressed in a body-hugging blue dress for an event in the capital. As she leaves, a French-looking woman with her 6-year- old comes in, greets the intern warmly and looks around interestedly at the stacks of clothing laid in front of her; this followed by a much older woman coming in and poking at the racks for long gowns; her very-tall son standing nervously behind her, unsure of what to do at a women’s store.
Bhadel then walks in, pink-faced and panting, spots me and rushes to give me a hug and begins to profusely apologize for keeping me waiting. She sits down to take a breather, still all sorry and explaining. In person, she is petite and incredibly cute; always smiling, a dimple carving itself permanently on one side of her chin. She is wearing a light flowery pink dress; a similar design which I’d earlier spotted in the store. She’ll later tell me how she adores Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney. Her neatly braided hair is starting to unravel from all the bustling but she still grabs my hand and hurries me off to a late lunch.
I feel glad that she remembers me even though our acquaintance had been short and quite a while ago. Instead of me rolling the ball of questions like always, she questions me about my work and life in general. We cross the bustling road hand-in-hand, Bhadel dodging on-coming vehicles with ease and laughing at my clumsy road-crossing. ‘You’re supposed to wave at them to stop from killing you!’ she laughs.
We enter the quiet solace of Bhumi and Bhadel tells me that this is among her favorite places to dine; a quiet hideout from the ridiculous buzz outside. Comfortable wooden interiors and oil-paintings greet us as she leads me firmly to a table with a view of green a few feet away. She bustles about, asking me to take orders when it’s she who looks famished, finally settling on her favorite piro aloo and momocha whilst telling me about her recent line ‘Uptown girl’ that premiered at Nepal Fashion Week 2014.
‘It was my best show till date. Priyanka was my show-stopper for the evening, as she always is. I remember clutching her hand and waiting in anticipation for reviews as the show came to an end. People began thronging me, showering me with orders and compliments. The entire collection sold out within hours! I literally cried backstage!’ she reminisces, snacking on her lip-smacking aloos.
‘Uptown girl’ was a collection inspired by the everyday working woman, thus was marked with corporate-feel suits, trousers and dresses. Though Bhadel often uses traditional Nepali jewelry in most of her premiers; she switched to using more modern elements like pearls this time around. Needless to say, the risk paid off.
She talks some more about her friendship with Priyanka Karki, who is akin to her best friend in the industry. They first met at a designing competition where Bhadel was a participant and Karki a judge. She remembers being shy and awkward around the then Miss Teen and going into specifics about her fabric and design while Karki nodded on politely. Bhadel goes on to say how she’d been taken on by her beauty and grace even then and has inspired numerous designs in her collections, past and present.
Our momo is here in gold-plated bowls. Bhadel politely places a few on my plate and laces them with the aromatic achaar. ‘Khau na!’ she insists. She makes a good host; all smiles and laden with food. We talk of Crossroad next; her brainchild.
How did Crossroad happen?
‘I rented a small place in Lazimpat when in my 1st semester doing my MBA. That was in…2008? Duita gaadi change garera aunu parthyo dindinai!,’ she shakes her head, amused at the memory of the inconvenience. ‘I would open the shop and get to cleaning it mid-day after college; scrubbing floors and dusting my machine. I started out with one machine; now I have ten’. She adds how she had interned at local garment factories for months before she learnt both the trade and art that was fashion designing; not to mention the toll it took on her education with her hands flying everywhere; impromptu presentations and eleventh hour assignments (not to mention the not-so-occasional ‘bunking). Crossroad began taking shape with her carefully molding every nook; slowly adding staff, one by one, when finally her sisters have joined her label and now help as managers by day and friends by night.
It is easy to see how fond she is of her siblings. Her face lights up with a warm glow when she talks of them, of their potential success. Her sisters help her with both administration and planning new lines. One of them, Ashrita, is the spitting image of Subexya. I comment so and she laughs it off telling me that’s not the first time she’s heard of that. Bhadel is also incredibly fond of children; made evident when she gushes about the youngest of her siblings, a little boy who is barely 10.
The next question forms itself.
It is past six in Kathmandu and Bhumi is now lit with warm lights from ceiling-hung yellow bulbs and faint candle-lights. In the yellow glow of everything, Bhadel turns a fiery shade of pink. Her dimple makes its presence and she confesses how she’d never really talked to the media about her personal life much, but now that she has turned 28; her parents are slowly poking at her with the biha stick. For a while, she ceases her smooth flow of talk and sits idle sipping water, contemplating on whatever is going on behind the everyday. And as suddenly as she’s made a decision, she confesses to being in a long-distance relationship for over seven years now and how she hears faint marriage bells in the distance. And like someone who’s not had a chance to gush about it for many years, she tumbles into excited banter about him; how they met on a silly chat-site and how they exchanged details on the now obtuse Hi-5!, how they first met at Basantapur ko dhoka with a flock of excited girlfriends in tow.
Sprinkled confetti could only last so long though, when he announced that he was leaving Nepal for the States. Bhadel is positively giggly now as she thinks back to the day when he had thrown a party to ‘celebrate’ his going-away, when all of a sudden he’d pulled a ring out of thin air and put it on her left hand. Sotto voce, she recalls girlishly how she’d thought being roped into long-distance was a terrible idea but by now, their relationship is old news to their families.
But even the whispered giggles and excited flush cannot mask how nerve-wrecked she is by the thought of having to leave everything she has built and move to another country. In an unexpected take, she tells me that she has never really travelled outside the country; a surprising discovery when one looks at such a chiseled artist. Her movements quicken and she gesticulates wildly thinking of Paris and all its possibilities and a hidden mania of sorts is revealed. Travel and travelling companions she has romanticized well enough to be completely consumed by the very thought of it. She enviously talks of a foreigner friend who is unburdened by the traditional ideals of marriage and children. ‘I feel Nepal is incredibly narrow when it comes to…. so many things. But this is home’, she finishes simply. This is where she has put in individual bricks to forge an empire. How could she leave, really?
Another hour goes by. If you have unburdened eyesight, you can almost make out tiny buzzing moths circling the halogen around you. She asks someone to fetch coffee for me. I decline. She insists. You don’t feel like you’re with someone famous when you are with Bhadel; talking to her is like reconnecting with someone you lost touch with in high-school. She is interested in my life as much as I am in hers and she frequently questions me about what I thought of this or what I made of that. That is until her phone starts buzzing every 15 minutes and she has to take calls or reply to texts to sort through fabric orders among other nuances. Her flowery-dress and round sunglasses remind you irresistibly of the beach or, of cool waters and her sitting with her feet dipped in the cool. Not the intense businesswoman sitting in front of me.
‘Sorry about that’, she apologizes for the third time, having taken another call. Every day for her is the same; she can’t stop; not even when she twisted her leg a few weeks ago and was bedridden for a month. Her secret indulgence then, is watching movies; she watches at least one every night before bed. ‘My dad was stunned one day when he saw CDs covering almost every inch of my room. I don’t have the patience to download movies; I just buy them off the racks. ‘Letters to Juliet’ and ‘The Devil wears Prada’ are among my favorites’, and she launches into excited explanations about everything Helen Mirren.
She is among the few designers who are actively trying to use home-grown fabrics rather than import everything from spools to accessories from our neighboring countries. Bhadel talks of plans to launch a line where everything is made from ‘breathable’ fabrics; with the likes of hemp and has plans to move to mass production soon. One hand fiddles with the biryani in front and the other absentmindedly on the keypad of her cell-phone. It is late now; I stand up to take my leave. She gets up to give me a warm hug and laughs that she’ll explain to my dad if he gets peeved at me for getting home after hours. I leave grinning; secretly pleased that I have a famous designer to back me up.
(By the time this article is published, Subexya will most likely have tied the knot.)