She’s carved her own niche with her brand ‘Leanne Alphonso Couture’ in Nuvem after moving to Goa, from the city of dreams that others love heading to. She’s brought along to the state professionalism and high fashion, sans compromising on quality. NT BUZZ gets talking with this fashion creator Leanne Alphonso
Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ
While Leanne Alphonso was exposed to the intricate details of fashion at a very young age, the graduate in Economics from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, found herself excelling in fashion during her three-year diploma course and continues doing what she loves best.
The keen fashion enthusiast
“My mum used to do wedding gowns in Bombay and was trained under a seamstress who had done her designing in Paris, and that’s where I learned the finer aspects of design. But I never wanted to get into fashion as I wanted to explore the world. I was captivated by the world of fashion, but more so tutored in the detail of construction and fit,” Alphonso mentions as she adds that she also did three levels in French at Alliance Française and programming in computers as she never believed in being idle.
With nothing to lose, she applied for a three-year Diploma in Fashion from PV Polytechnic, Juhu. “Within hours I realised I had to answer a test, and with three colour pencils, out of 2000 students I managed to get through as there were just 35 seats,” recalls Alphonso.
Under the tutelage of fashion industry stalwarts like Hemant Trivedi, Wendell Rodricks and Neeta Lulla, Alphonso was able to hone her skills and realise her innate passion for fashion design. “I thought if I don’t get a job after completion of the course I would do an MBA in Finance as the family was in the banking sector,” she says.
Entering the fashion world
It was at the graduation show of the fashion school that Alphonso won three awards among several other achievements that she has been presented during her three-year training. “I was offered a position at the fashion house, Melange. This south Bombay fashion destination, pioneered by Sangeeta Kathiwada, was where I plunged into the high fashion world, dressing the discerning fashion elite ladies of the country,” says Alphonso.
From being nervous in 1998, to being guided and not being made to feel raw and new, and literally hitting the ground running, the hands-on experience led to a 12-year career at Melange. “It was here that I was able to weave my way through an extensive repertoire of fashion from Prêt-à-porter to Couture.” From three tailors who would do alterations, to having 13 sewing machines and outsourcing, she led the way to creating fabulous in-house collections and other collections that were taken offshore.
Exposure to the wedding fashion industry was an added feature of this decade-long journey, where she built her skills by covering all aspects of Indian and Western cultural influences. “I was able to understand the intricate nuances of Indian tradition in wedding fashion, be it North Indian or South Indian and everything in-between!” she says.
Bombay to Goa
Meeting her husband Bruce got her to move to Goa, though she always thought that her commuting meant settling in a city or somewhere outside India. So in 2008 she moved to Goa and was lucky to continue working with the very brand she started her fashion career with, shuttling between Mumbai and Goa. “I would spend 10 days at the unit in Mumbai and 20 day in Goa, and it was a nice transition for me and wasn’t a major cultural shock,” she says adding that it was her husband who told her that she could continue her passion and dress up the people of Goa.
Alphonso’s innate abilities, through rough and tumble of Mumbai’s fashion industry, in production and design has been the core to this growth. Being in Goa hasn’t held her back from connecting with her vast supplier and vendor networks from across the country as she is ably supported by her in-house production workshop and talent, both local and from across India,.
“People in Goa are in tune with fashion and I try to give them what they want from the West and what they are aware. Also, it is here that I moved to using fabrics other than eco-friendly ones, due to the weather as well as the dry cleaning facilities,” she says.
Earlier girls knew sewing as a trait that was necessary to get married. For weddings a local tailor was brought home and tailored the wedding garments at the home. “Now with new careers, travel and social media, the younger generation is more aware and well-versed with trends and styles. Goans are creative and very hardworking. They know colours well,” Alphonso says.
While girls initially wanted high fashion with whichever fabrics and budgets they could manage, they’ve grown into ladies with disposable incomes who now have a penchant for finer fabrics, besides having the discernment to choose and decide well,” she says.
Creating fashion far and beyond
“Someone who attended my wedding came up to me and loved the gown I had designed for myself. She asked me to design her gown the following year, my first order, thus I established my label Leanne Alphonso Couture over the last 11 years,” Alphonso says.
And since then, tucked into a cosy store within the courtyard of her home it has been a steady challenge to carve out a niche market. “From beginning work in the garage with one tailor and one worker, I was designing for a lot of Goans through word of mouth,” she says before adding that she is a hands-on mom of two children.
“It’s easy to connect with people across the world and we make garments with measurements sent via email,” Alphonso says talking about how she services overseas clientele and how her unit in Mumbai for dying and embroidery works while she coordinates from Goa. She loves sourcing textiles from the local market and has a crazy obsession for Indian textiles.
Love for desi textiles
During her course in Bombay, Alphonso’s first breakthrough with Indian fashion was when she learned about Indian textiles from across states. “As and when I started travelling, I worked with local craftsmen in Chanderi, woven fabrics, worked with kaarigars and have designed sarees too,” she says. Working with weavers led Alphonso to utilise every bit of the precious fabric to make something that can be worn or used as accessories like buttons or trimmings.
Fashion and trends continue
While Alphonso believes that the online market has impacted shopping trends, it is for special occasions and weddings that people do look at customising and styling with a designer. “At the end of the day, there is nothing like a fit and form to suit an individual body type. Couture and bespoke creations will always be cause for the twinkle in a fashion conscious woman’s eye,” she says.
While she can be seen being a strict yet caring mom, she says she would love to spend more time with her children Caleb and Annika. Emphasisng the importance of team work she says: “Thanks to a supporting husband and family, my team of creators in the studio who have stood by me through all situations.”
Been there, achieved it
Finalist at the Shoppers’ Stop All India Student Design Competition.
Styled TV anchor Sanjana Kapoor for the Amul India show and Economic Times Awards.
Worked with late Japenese jewellery designer Kazuo Ogawa for a few fashion shows.
Presented two Khadi exhibitions at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai and National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA).
Invited to design uniforms for the RAF special police unit Mumbai.
Designed staff uniforms for the Cinnamon Club London; a couple of restaurants and Corporatehouses in Mumbai.
Used traditional Goan Kunbi fabric for staff uniforms at Firefly, Goa.
Presented collections overseas at the Hilton Singapore and Dubai Ladies Club, UAE.
Clothes worn by Bollywood stars
Pic by Vipul Rege