'It took us two months': Dubai designer on creating Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's dramatic 'hood gown' for Cannes

UAE-based Gunel Babayeva of Sophie Couture designed a dress that made the actress talk of the town on her first and only red carpet appearance at the Cannes Film Festival this year


Somya Mehta

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Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a 'mystical hood' gown by Sophie Couture at Cannes 2023
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a 'mystical hood' gown by Sophie Couture at Cannes 2023

Published: Fri 19 May 2023, 5:10 PM

Last updated: Sat 20 May 2023, 12:16 AM

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who’s been a regular at the Cannes Film Festival, stole the show with another head-turning appearance at the coveted red carpet recently. The global actor frequently graces such occasions, enchanting the audience with her remarkable sartorial choices, whether it is traditional saris, alluring cocktail dresses, or exquisite gowns, and this time was no different.

Bachchan donned a beautifully structured design by UAE-based couturier Gunel Babayeva, founder of Sophie Couture, incorporating delicate aluminium accents that created a powerful silhouette. The ensemble, which boasted crystals carefully selected from Sophie Couture’s exclusive Cannes Capsule Collection, took over two months to come to life in the brand’s elaborate atelier based in Baku, Gunel tells Khaleej Times in an exclusive conversation.

Gunel Babayeva
Gunel Babayeva

The designer, who’s been bombarded with inquiries following the overwhelming response to Aishwarya’s appearance at Cannes, deep-dives into the experience of working with the global star and why comfort in couture is paramount.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Your gown for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has been making headlines. How are you responding to the heart-warming reactions?

I'm very happy because since last night, I've been receiving a lot of calls and messages, and everyone is congratulating me for this achievement. It's a drama gown, so there's always a risk factor, but all the reactions have been so positive. Especially since Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is a legend. It's an honour for Sophie Couture to be able to dress such a star in the world of fashion. Each designer has their own point of view in fashion, we have different tastes, we have different views. And it's very, very supporting when you see that very experienced stylists, very big stars, love what you do. It gives me more confidence and energy to work.

How was the experience of working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to create the 'mystical hood' look?

She's an icon, and she's very professional. She has done this so many times and is so experienced when it comes to red carpet looks. It was very easy to work with her. She's very calm and patient. She was so supportive and showed professionalism in each step of the creative process. When you work hard and you have a dream, it feels wonderful when other people, especially such influential personalities, show faith in your work. It's a very big achievement for me.

How long did it take to put this look together?

We started making this gown around two months ago. It incorporates very detailed hand-beading work, which is a very laborious process. You can see from the close-up pictures we posted yesterday before the red carpet. The entire gown is hand-beaded with crystals, metal and small beads, which took over 60 days to complete.

Where was the gown made?

It was made in Baku. We also have a very big atelier of around 100 people working in the fashion house. I work very closely with the tailors to make sure everything is perfect for our clients. We had a few fittings with Aishwarya to achieve the perfect silhouette for this look.

Did she reveal what attracted her to your label?

Of course, she said she's loved our designs from the beginning. For this particular look, she wanted something modern but also something that could stand out as it was the only red carpet look of hers at Cannes. We're very happy that we were able to create this simple, elegant, modern, but stand-out gown for her.

How did you brainstorm for the 'mystical hood' gown with Aishwarya?

So, I've created a special Capsule Collection, dedicated to the Cannes Film Festival, which has about 20 different designs and I'm sure that it's only the beginning of this red carpet journey. The collection was inspired by sea creations. When it comes to Aishwarya's gown, everyone knows how beautiful her face is, how ethereal her eyes are. Every time I look at her, I see something mystical about her and I wanted to make the mystique in her eyes stand out with this gown. I'm sure that with this hood, we were able to make her gorgeous eyes stand out.

How was her first reaction when she saw the gown?

She was in love with it because I think it's the first time she's wearing a hooded gown like this. I was nervous but she was very confident. She was sure that once she trusted me, everything would be perfect. Our gown is very different. She has never worn anything like this before. She usually goes for outfits that are more romantic and soft. But this gown is very modern and dramatic, so people can see her in a different light.

Can you take us through the details of creating this gown?

The most difficult aspect of this gown was the structure because the fabric is very stiff. It was very difficult to make the hood stand in a particular way. But at the same time, we had to keep in mind that she'd be walking with it on the red carpet, on a very hectic schedule, so she needs to feel comfortable in it.

The most difficult moment for us in production was making the structure, to make sure it stands well but at the same time, isn't too heavy for her, so she's able to walk comfortably in it. She said she felt quite comfortable in this gown, which is a win for us. We used beaded fabric with aluminium accents and a lot of crystals all around. We had over 10 people who worked on it.

When you work with a global star, they also have their notions of how they'd like to be dressed. How do you incorporate their style and preferences whilst also safeguarding your own voice as a designer?

So, first we created some sketches for the gown, which we showed to Aishwarya. We showed her the sketches and only proceeded with it once she gave us a goahead. She loved our look and didn't request any changes. It's very important for me as a designer that each of my pieces showcases the DNA of Sophie Couture.

Sketch: Gunel Babayeva
Sketch: Gunel Babayeva

How important is comfort in couture? Especially, on the red carpet, when there's immense pressure to make a statement.

I'm a woman, too, so when I create something I always think about how confident and comfortable I am. When you're not comfortable, you can be confident in yourself you know, you will be thinking, 'Oh, I cannot move my hand or something is scratching me', and that impacts how you feel. It's important even on the red carpet because they're human beings, not mannequins.

Can we see more of Sophie Couture on the Cannes red carpet?

Well, I've created a special capsule collection for the Cannes Film Festival, and I'm sure that this is only the beginning. I cannot give more information for now but you should definitely keep an eye out.


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