A Bejewelled Encounter – Moni Agarwal

A Bejewelled Encounter – Moni Agarwal, Hyderabad

She’s one of the most talented jewellery designers the country has seen, most definitely in the top five from South India. Hyderabad’s Moni Agarwal made headlines this year when she got tennis ace Sania Mirza to walk the ramp for her at the recently concluded India International Jewelley Week. No stranger to stars and their adoration, the pretty designer from the city of Nizams has dressed some of the biggest South Indian names from movie stars, to socialites and top businesswomen. And they’ve all got high words of praise for her supreme talent and verve.

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RITZ spends time with the effervescent designer, taking time to delve a bit deeper into her psyche to understand her design philosophy, her penchant for all things that glitter and her zeal to be the best at what she does.

She’s the go-to girl for unique, imaginative creations in diamonds and pearls. An expert in gemology, Moni Agarwal, jewellery designer par excellence is also one of the most well-known faces on Hyderabad’s business and social circuit. From having top movie stars and sports stars flaunting her startlingly different pieces to having made a name for herself in the jewellery business with her cutting edge design and eye for detail, there’s several different facets to her personality that she says are still unexplored. She was the first South Indian designer to be invited to the prestigious India International Jewellery Week and took it upon herself to showcase the rich heritage of Hyderabad at the event.

Having created a name for herself in the business for her delicate Nakshi work and her Bhagmati series of jewels, Moni has always garnered inspiration for her designs from the rich cultural heritage of the city that she calls her home. “Not only is Hyderabad my beloved home town, its also, for any artist, a haven of constant inspiration,” she tells. “There is a plethora of iconic culture and design that surrounds you, and in my case, has engulfed me, ever since I was a little girl. The tremendous Nizami influence on the city has found its way into my own design language, specifically in my Meeravali Collection. The Mughal architecture, the delectable cuisine, the kayda and tehzeeb; the very essence of Hyderabad fills each pore of my being, and manifests in some form or fashion, in each design of mine. For my latest collection Zohrakshi, it is the ‘flower’ that has served as its primary influence. The beautiful gardens of Hyderabad have spoken to me, and found their way into my subconscious.”

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Speaking about influences of history and culture on her work she clarifies, “There is however one point I want to emphasise here. Many people perceive only the old and classic to serve as a muse. My jewellery and design aesthetic is all about drawing from the timeless and historic and giving them their rightful place in the present time. I try and do this by staying true to my roots, yet marrying those roots with the contemporary. In some sense, you could think of it as fusion. And here is where Hyderabad also really inspires me. It’s the perfect metaphor for fusion – for seamlessly and successfully merging ancient and modern, timeless and trendy. At the heart of this great city is its legendary heritage, while its beating soul is cutting edge information technology! It’s a truly amazing place. I owe Hyderabad my everything,” she tells with deep emotion and pride.

Born into a traditional Telugu South Indian family, Moni married into a Marwari household. However, she’s quick to rubbish the mindset that people generally attach to inter-caste marriages, choosing instead to think more broad-mindedly and embrace each religion and caste for what it is and not what it dictates.

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“Too much is made of this inter-caste ‘adjustment’. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for a moment being insensitive or dismissive of the huge adjustments people, especially women have to make when it comes to this aspect of their lives. Having said that, I feel, with my generation, times have changed. And changed for the better. See, small peculiarities will always be there – that’s what makes communities uniquely beautiful. Having said that, in my case, my husband and I, my in-laws and I, we get along so wonderfully, that the few and far between ‘adjustments’ that one has made, have been made happily, without even noticing them actually. People, in essence, are the same. Fortunately for me, our two families have similar values and similar life philosophies. So you tell me, where really is the big adjustment?

As for changing after marriage… Everyone changes. But again, I feel it is less because one’s status has changed from ‘single’ to ‘married’ and more because you’ve grown and evolved as a person. I love being married. I love being a ‘bahu’. I am more responsible. I am more appreciative. And I am a better person. All of which, I’m loving! As for my name – it was, and remains Moni!”

Taking the personal route we ask her how she met her husband and how the two families accepted the news of their relationship. She tells us, “I met my husband through common friends. Our families only wanted to ensure that he and I got along, so in that sense, one can’t really say there was any real opposition.”

Her romantic heart and nature are possibly one of the many factors that contribute to Moni’s creativity and she has no qualms in proclaiming the same to the world. Considering her love for the dramatic and penchant for design and style was she expecting a romantic proposal? She laughingly divulges, “My husband proposed to me very sweetly and romantically over a candle-light dinner (and that’s the extent of details you shall get, no more)!”   We continue to cajole her, goading her for details on the first date and here’s what she shares. “First dates are sacred, I’d want it to be between just him and me, forever! Having said that, we’ve made many memories together that I’ll cherish. Both of us love to travel, so we’ve been to some lovely places the world over. Beach destinations are a hit with us. He is a businessman with interests in edible oil and other sectors.”

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And is he a strong backing both emotionally and literally as far as her work is concerned? “ As far as supporting me in my work goes, he’d better, or he’d be in deep, deep trouble! Jokes aside though, his biggest way of supporting me in my work is to give me the freedom to explore. When you’re in love, you have to set your loved one free. My husband practices that adage completely, and I adore him for it!”

Recalling her childhood, Moni tells us how she was a naughty, but good kid. We ponder on this contradictory description of herself and she responds: “Contradiction? I don’t think so. No one is black or white. We’re all shades of grey aren’t we? So when it was study time, I’d be a good girl. When it was play time, I could be quite the prankster and trouble-maker. I remember once locking my grandmother in her store-room because she loved being in there anyway, and it was this big joke in the family! But silliness aside, I think what defined me as a child, and come to think of it, continues to be my most admirable, if sometimes annoying quality, is my curiosity! I was always a very very curious child – as curious as a cat! But it wasn’t curiosity for gossip or slander, rather intellectual and knowledge-based curiosity. A genuine hunger to explore, find out, and soak up as much as I could. I drove everyone around me crazy asking questions constantly… I still do!,” she adds in a laughing aside.

So how did a person as curious as her get into a creative field like jewellery design. Why not science or mathematics where she could let her mind run wild solving puzzles and asking infinite questions? What, we ask, has been her strategy to choosing design as a career option.

“Since you’ve asked about strategy let me say at the very outset, I have never strategised. I don’t know how to. I simply can’t. I sometimes wish I could. But no such luck. I design by instinct, gut, and inspiration. If there’s a trend I don’t catch, a season I miss, so be it. I got into jewellery quite naturally. Ever since I can remember, I was obsessed with jewellery. I would admire all the jewellery I’d see around me – from the classic Satlada Necklace to the timeless String of Pearls. It made me go weak in the knees! With that kind of impact, it is hard to imagine doing anything else. I would get inspired when I travelled, read something poetic, and connect it to all the stunning jewellery I’d been exposed to growing up, and something, somewhere, inside of me would germinate organically and the designs just came pouring out!”

From organic growth of design to the heights of glamour and glitz, Moni Agarwal’s name has now become synonymous with movie stars. From getting the best celebrities – be it the hunky Rana Daggubati, or the ethereal Soha Ali Khan and tennis ace Sania Mirza to walk the ramp for her, she’s had more than her fair share of adulation and praise from them.

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“Without meaning to sound pompous, I think true creativity attracts the best people. At least in my case, that’s been my experience. Only if a celebrity genuinely respects and likes your creation will the endorsement come your way. It’s as simple as that. I never use a connection or remuneration in the mix. Best you ask these people how and why,” she tells us with a smile.

And what would she have done had she not been a jewellery designer?

“Now that’s a very scary thought. Like a friend of mine who’s a very talented singer told me recently, “Just because I’m not singing professionally doesn’t mean I’m not a singer.” I think even if the world didn’t know me as a jewellery designer, and you weren’t asking me these questions right now; I’d still be creating jewellery. Maybe just for myself, but it would still be what I’d be doing! It’s my first love. And its not that I don’t know how to do other things, I’d just rather not!”

Strong words from an equally strong woman, we think!

In keeping with her passion and love for design Moni plans to continue her forage into the design world at a much faster pace than she’s been doing so far. “I’m excited about a few specific projects that are in the pipeline. Possibly a book, and a totally different type of jewellery line. It’ll all fructify in good time,” she tells.

So where does she see herself five years from now?

“Right here, hopefully,” she tells with her trademark tinkling laugh. “But seriously, I want to be right here in this beautiful city, amongst my families and friends, doing what I’m doing now. I would like to have had some more collections that I’ve felt charged and compelled to create. I would like to have expanded my retail footprint a little more. But mostly, you’ll find me right here, with my repertoire of designs and travels, having increased!