A love for India emerges in the heart of many Europeans who are otherwise uninitiated into its culture by birth or geographical orientation. However, their heart is helplessly in love, possessed by a pressing desire to belong, to feel the Indian sun on their skin, live amongst the heat and dust and, if possible, never go back. It is this ‘Indophile romance’ that brings many design professionals to India, especially from the fashion capital of the world, France. Beader Jean Francois Lesage, his father, the late Francois Lesage, chandelier restorer Regis Mathier, textile expert Peter Ascoli and luxury consultant Veronique Poles lead this list.
I met Veronique at my own platform, Royal Fables, along with a dear mutual friend, Jasmine, who had actually brought her there. To begin with, she passed off as yet another European soaking in the most romantic of the Indian bastion: princely India. But after one conversation with her, I realized this was an Indian soul who was also blessed with French instincts towards art and design, an evolved design addict who has ‘been there, done that, only in the end to realise that God is in the small things.’
Veronique Poles, the brain behind Poles Luxury Consultant, is also the voice of the Paris-based Federation of French Custom Couture Creations in India. To her credit goes the initiation of many cross-cultural promotions between India and France, the collaboration with Ekaya being the latest one, in which French couture creators worked with the master weaves of Benaras, each inch of the silk and brocade custom-crafted for these couturiers in various shades of gold and ivory.
She laughs as she recalls, “I’ve always been enamoured with India since I was a young lady in Toulouse. Looking back I wonder if in my past life I was actually an Indian. Well, in those days I could have passed off as a Kashmiri belle, given the outfit that had become my fashion statement by default. Except at that time I did not have the faintest idea that what I wore looked like a French version of the kurta and shalwar.”
The best part is that it was all put together by her. “My grandmother got me a vintage sewing machine that also had a foot paddle. She gifted me two metres of very fine black silk to stitch. What I created from my subconscious was almost the silhouette of a shalwar. With that I would add a gilet kind of a slip in soft white textile which women wore those days more as inners. From the curio shop I would pick up silver anklets and earrings which I wore with chappals to the university!” And there she would be, Veronique Poles, a stunningly beautiful Frenchwoman born in Toulouse, looking like she had just returned from Srinagar.
Veronique started her career working with Louis Vuitton in the training department. “While I was in Paris, I got the chance to work very closely with Michael Burke (now the CEO of Louis Vuitton) and Patrick Vuitton, the great great grandson of Louis Vuitton. I was asked to work on a project, to create a document that traced all the discontinued products of the brand for better aftersales services.” And it is here that she discovered the many commissions by the Maharajas of India and, as her awe for India got cemented further, her need to go to India grew. “I knew that I would reach these shores for sure at some point,” she shares.
After Paris, she went to work in the US, with not a word of spoken English in her vocabulary. “That was a terrifying experience that I lived to share.” To make it easier for herself, she created a catalogue with prices for each product, “that helped me make sales quickly, leading to the best turnover on the east coast that year.” “I also worked at Hermès for a few months,” she adds. She then returned to Paris and started working with a design agent. “That was the year 2000, when India was still regarded as an IT destination or a country which was ready to consume European luxury much like China.”
Veronique came to the country thinking that Indians would want to consume luxury made in France. However, once here, she was in for a surprise. India had so much to offer! It was a reversal of her theory. “India and its people are totally consumed by their own indigenous treasure trove of luxury. They in reverse have so much to offer to the world with their handmade creations.”
However, her first experience working here was not the most charming. In fact, it was disheartening and an experience “that hurt but was also a big learning for me.” For the first few years all she did was pick up design consultations, but she also travelled to the most indigenous of Indian destinations: From regal Udaipur to earthy Mahabalipuram, from enchanting Jaisalmer to breathtaking Coorg. “The country also holds a great history of rich and refined princely design from which emerges a unique luxury that is handmade, steeped in culture, and linked to the roots in the most subliminal manner,” she says.
“Many luxury brands go to India for inspiration, particularly for embroidery. India has as much potential as the French do, if not more. India needs more support and needs to provide greater value to its own brands instead of looking towards the West. My role then was to convince French designers and buyers to turn their attention to India, telling them about the Indian luxury market. I was among the first to start this conversation back then. I spent three years as a speaker at conferences trying to ready them for India.”
And now when so many platforms of exchange have opened up, the Poles Luxe Consulting is not just busy pursuing design assignments but also pottering with craft, creating collectibles like spectacular masks that Veronique crafted during the pandemic. The first set was designed for her own use. “I feel blessed to be in a country like India where I think we have handled the pandemic quite responsibly. And then I started designing for friends and associates. I wanted to de-dramatise the situation, and stay classy and elegant while wearing a mask. I started the process with elaborating three hand-embroidered masks with my own personal style and French touch!”
Her jewel-masks are an absolute must-have fashion accessory. It uses the know-how of skilled karigars, revisits some techniques of embroidery and focuses on the high quality of the components used. “Each mask is an art which touches the soul,” she says.