Published: Verve Magazine, Features, November-December 2005
Photograph: Akash Mehta
When Falguni married Shane Peacock, together they conjured up a funky treasure trove for the tired fashion victim. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh chats with the creative couple behind the flamboyant designer label, who work 24/7 and suffer from Sunday morning blues!
The Juhu studio is warm and snug, tastefully embellished with touches that are all Peacock. Settling myself in on an olive love seat with golf motifs, I look expectantly at Shane Peacock seated across me on an animal print settee; he appears as reticent as he is known to be. The other half of the duo – Falguni Peacock – chirpy, bubbly and innately hospitable, bustles about attending to things while talking at breakneck speed.
They could be just any newly married couple, bickering good-naturedly over minor differences, suddenly quiet, otherwise talking over each other, and completely head-over-heels in love with their three-year-old budding fashionista daughter. The conversation flows over a coffee and then some tea.
Theirs is a fairy-tale story of how a self-reliant, salwar kameez-clad Gujarati girl came upon a pig-headed, Christian boy. Ironically, Shane, who was a member of a rock band, had always fantasised about meeting a ‘propah’ traditional girl who didn’t smoke, drink, or ‘go wild’, and there she was. But Falguni wasn’t easy to woo. With a delighted chuckle, she recalls how Shane once asked her out for coffee and told her to come wearing jeans. When the usually conservative dresser obliged, he knew he had won her over.
But conventional as she seemed, Falguni was a career woman through and through. Even before she got married, she had started her own clothing label and Shane, meanwhile had also studied fashion design. It was not long after their marriage that they pooled their talents into the flamboyant and unique Peacock brand.
Their success didn’t come easy. Shane started college, studying engineering at the behest of his father, and Falguni who came from a background of chartered accountants and lawyers, was greeted with equal scepticism when she chose to become a fashion designer. In the end she settled for a Commercial Art degree to make her family happy but working in an ad agency only made her unhappy. Reminiscing, she says, “I told my father, in no uncertain terms, ‘One day I will be a really famous fashion designer’. Unfortunately, my father isn’t here to celebrate my success, but he would have been so proud.”
Shane faced similar rebuke at home when his preference for spending his days sketching outside class was discovered. Horrified at the thought of his son becoming a “ladies tailor” or even worse, being gay, his father took him to task. The rebel in Shane sprung forth and he walked out on his family. Falguni interrupts, “It is really his live wire nature that got him to where he is right now.”
Chasing those dreams, however, was easier said than done. He was forced to give up his indulgence – the rock band, he over-stayed his welcome at a friend’s house by a year and jobs were not easy to come by. It was a while before he thought about doing something on his own.
Shane drags us back to the present. “Let’s not talk about the past; it is only the present and the future which matter.” With the slightest touch of regret but no resentment, he states thoughtfully, “If I had my family’s support, I could have reached here faster. It is frustrating sometimes to think about the extra years I had to put in to get here.” Immediately distracted by his daughter, noticeably the apple of his eye, he reflects on his relationship with her, “She calls me Shane – and I like that. Calling me ‘dad’ would put that extra distance between us, which I don’t want.”
Their marriage was the turning point of their personal and professional lives. When Falguni married Shane, together they conjured up a new vision for discerning dressers. Today 90 per cent of their business comes from the international market, and the Peacocks are a global brand. Ironically, it is the Indian market that they seem unsure of. Appreciative of the attention they have been receiving nationally, they still believe that India as an organised market has a long way to go. Shane explains that selling an outwardly simple outfit for the equivalent of Rs 40,000 abroad would be no problem at all; it would be valued for the style, the cut and the label. In India on the other hand, he states matter-of-factly, “People want their money’s worth. A woman seeing a price tag of Rs 40,000 would ask for the piece to be heavily embellished so it looks like that much karigari has gone into it. Simplicity, which is really more my style, won’t work as easily here as it does abroad, at the prices we retail at.”
Falguni joins in by stating that they know their target audience, “We don’t want anyone and everyone to wear our garments. We are very selective about our clients and our stores. It is the cream of the crowd that we cater to and as long as they appreciate our work, we’re happy.” She says they would rather sell limited garments than drive volumes. It quickly becomes clear that Falguni is the hard-nosed businessperson of the two. Shane seems to read my thoughts, adding, “Falguni is the more pragmatic of the two of us, she sees the commercial viability and makes those key business decisions.” But they both agree that, “At the end of the day, you have to ensure that your work is commercial. You can’t make a masterpiece that is admired but never worn. We want it to sell, but in our style and on our terms.”
Shane strongly believes that talent alone was not the only deciding factor in their successes. Instead it is largely through smart marketing that they have been able to make themselves be seen and noticed. To promote their line, the Peacocks tried working with models, but were not happy with the results. They explain, “Models didn’t provide a value addition. You can’t identify with them, they don’t seem entirely real. Spectacular garments can’t be remembered for just that. So we decided to take on celebrities to build relevance.” That eventually turned out to be quite a marketing coup. They look at each other and smile. Falguni continues, “We set about getting the people we wanted. It was not easy convincing Manish Malhotra, himself a very successful designer, but we managed the impossible. Rita Dhody’s campaign was the most talked about. She is a flamboyant and sensual woman and epitomises glamour. Each person is very different and since we can’t change the character and personality of each, we just take their image and make it even more attractive than it is. Nawaz Singhania’s campaign was tuned into her personality; the lines were slightly more conservative, the look more accessible”.
Shane reiterates, “We want even the most ordinary looking woman to look and feel beautiful in our clothes.” As Falguni strides up to one of the racks and pulls out an outfit to demonstrate, Shane emphasises that they are known for their plunging necklines. That doesn’t mean they don’t make cover-up pieces like kaftans and such, but a large number of their designs carry their signature low necklines. “We cater largely to the kind of woman who is a lot more conscious today about fitness, health and fashion. Everyone wants to look younger and more attractive, and that’s where our necklines come in,” he laughs.
So what is their signature style? Clothes for the woman who is not afraid of going over the top. Shane deliberates and then says, “It’s all still quite new and experimental for us. Four or five years down the line we’ll know exactly what a Peacock piece is meant to look like.” They know what’s important to them, though: “Women feel slimmer and sexier in our clothes. We want a woman to show her feminine side, look like a woman, go slimmer on the waistline, let the garment flow, not be rigid. It will always be funky and distinctive.”
They’ve been echoing each other’s voices for so long, that I begin to wonder about any creative differences that they may have. “Oh, we fight a lot – on everything, but mostly work. We’re both very independent and that is what brings us at loggerheads. But our differences just seem to resolve themselves.” As Shane calls time out to talk to a friend about a trip to the Maldives, I wonder if taking time off from work helps stimulate creativity. “There are barely any holidays for us! We’re always stressed, and all of our travel is work-related. At the most we take one day off to shop (Falguni by the way, loves to shop!). We just don’t know what to do at a beach – it’s almost too stress-free. A city is the perfect place for us, like New York.” Pausing for breath, Falguni suddenly bursts into laughter and resumes, “Even on our honeymoon, in Kerala, we got bored and cut the holiday short!” Shane who finds most pleasure in spending time with his daughter Nian, adds, “Sundays bore us.”
What about giving each other space, I ask. Falguni is quick to assert, “Even if we are together 24/7, we are still doing separate things.” Shane joins in, “We handle separate factories.” As a woman though, it is difficult to manage home and work. Falguni agrees, “The baby came sooner than we had planned.” She makes a quiet mention of the fact that she owes much of her professional success to her mother, who takes care of her daughter, enabling her to keep these busy hours. They are both the creative heads of their line. “We don’t want to be dependent on assistants,” he says, and adds, “The day I feel money is more important than autonomy, I will outsource our designs to employees. That day isn’t here yet!”
So what’s in store for the future, besides more stores and new tales of success? Falguni clinches it by stating their vision, “If a person walks into a crowded room, and if what she is wearing is recognised as a Peacock from miles away, we would have achieved our dream.” Shane adds, “Some people have called us the Cavalli of the East – but we don’t want to work under anyone’s creative shadow. Our fashion house, as it will be in the future, will be sustainable enough for our daughter to carry on the tradition. We want our line to find mention among the top ten global design brands, we want to be a household name…and to live up to our unique surname, to be a Peacock is to find success in it.”