She was never considered the typical Bangladeshi model; with supernatural height almost touching the 6 feet mark, lanky and dark skinned, most of her countrymen turned their backs on her.
The rest of the world, however, was more welcoming – such has always been the irony of Bibi Russell's life.
On the personal front, the rebel inside, never stopped once to prove her worth and we were extremely delighted to be able to enjoy an exclusive rendezvous with the maestro herself.
Even amid her extremely busy schedule, which includes intensive international travel, the eminent 'deshi' designer took out some of her valuable time to chat with us over tea.
In our small tête-à-tête, Bibi Russell shared her thoughts on the prospects of modelling, gamchha, and the way forward for the next generation of models and designers.
There are so many people working relentlessly to place Bangladesh on the world map, and one of them surely is Bibi Russell. The designer has experienced an illustrious life with a top-notch modelling career with the likes of great international brands like Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gaultier etc.
Having had the opportunity to live in an advanced and privileged world with all its luxuries, Bibi Russell chose to come back to her motherland, instead and work directly with the weavers in the rural peripheries of Bangladesh.
She did all this, just out of sheer love for the country and its people.
“Bangladesh is deep rooted in my soul,” said the eminent designer. “There is nothing in the world that I like more than to work with its people and for its people.”
Bibi Russell has led the way for local designers since a really long time. Following her lead, Bangladesh should have been way ahead in the field of fashion by now, but ironically the real scenario is quite on the contrary.
Russell had points to share on this note.
“All designers of the world must have some sort of authenticity to be able to make a mark in the world market. Without authenticity and distinctiveness, no designer in the world would be able to carve a niche for themselves,” she explained.
Bibi Russell continued her discussion about Bangladeshi fashion industry by admitting how talented the national weavers and artisans were - “Our country is full of gifted people; our weavers are one of a kind with extreme talent and mastery over their field of work. We also have the abundance of some of the most unique textiles in the world; 'Gamchha' being one of them.”
Almost everyone knows about the incredible position the humble gamchha has been brought to by the efforts of Russell alone. Because of Bibi Russell the gamchha has entered the prestigious high fashion market of the western world. Celebrities and international figures like Antonio Banderas and the Queen of Spain endorsed the material extensively.
Bibi Russell enlightened us with further information on the popular and quintessentially Bengali cloth, “Gamchha is like a national symbol for our country. There is not a single video or documentary of freedom
fighters, where they are not wearing the special material as an accessory, tied as a knot to their waists or as a head covering. How can such a relevant material die out with time? Why should we let it? And hence my struggling endeavours to revive the gamchha industry.” Passionately speaking, the maestro delved deeper into the wonder that is the gamchha.
“Gamchha is 100 percent cotton material and one of the most comfortable clothes a Bangladeshi could ever wear. I have tried to introduce the gamchha as a fashion garment, developing saris, lungis, and panjabis from the unique fabric,” she said. Bibi Russell's gamchha is quite famous all over the world, which is why even a wealthy family from India specifically ordered the designer's gamchha to adorn their family wedding parties.
“Yes, I would love to see a day when our country's beauties adorn themselves in gamchha saris on their wedding days. That very day, I'd feel like I have accomplished something with the material.”
Gamchha is not the only textile or subject material that the eminent designer has focused on; she had worked on numerous Bangladeshi items including Grameen Check, Rickshaw Art, the Satranji, etc.
“It is not possible for one person to work with everything, I encourage the next generation to come forward and research about their heritage materials, motifs and culture and build on for the future,” she said.
Any interview with the eminent designer would be incomplete if detailed discussions were not made about the world of modelling, Bibi Russell beamed as if expecting such an initiation.
“Modelling is a respectable profession and models should first respect it themselves with all their heart. Professionalism is a must and reverence should be prevalent.”
“The organisers and designers must also pay equal respect to the profession, because it is a major part of the fashion industry and as important as any other job,” she declared.
Bibi Russell repeatedly noted need for paying due respect - “Be it to the craft itself or to the employees, people must pay their due respect and work towards a united goal ensuring a positive future for our textiles and weaving industry.”
Because of few great thinkers like the famed designer herself, traditional textiles like the gamchha and Grameen check have progressed back into the mainstream in leaps and bounds.
It is the dream of the ace designer that future generations be able to bring it forward to a point where Bangladesh's lost glory regarding textiles is revived. With strong aspirations like these and a united effort, maybe someday we might just be able to save our dying industries and revive our glory textiles like gamchha, khaadi and muslin.
By Mehrin Mubdi Chowdhury
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Oshin, Fardous
Wardrobe: Bibi Productions
Make-up: Farzana Shakil’s Makeover Salon