On a sultry Delhi afternoon, a cup of tea at designer Suket Dhir’s studio spells bliss. The room is big and airy, with a rack full of pastels and prints, the sunlight falls on an old wooden chair just right, and the Qutub Minar stands tall when you look out the window. The desks are busy, with computers, files, fabric swatches, a rattle and a toy car. There is a baby blanket on the floor with building blocks. “This is the full team, the three of us,” says Dhir, pointing to his wife Svetlana and Zorawar, his year-and-a-half-old son.
For a four-year-old label that has been shortlisted for the India and Middle East (menswear) round of the International Woolmark Prize this year, the studio vibe reflects no chaos, not even an electric excitement. It’s calm, just like Dhir’s clothes and persona. “I went into a shell for a month when the Woolmark nomination was announced. Why were they inviting me? I just make pants and shirts. I began questioning myself, and then finally sent a sketch with a proposal concept,” says the 35-year-old menswear designer. That he has never showcased at a fashion week but gets noticed irrespective of that only narrates the story of his quick success.
With time, the menswear designer, with his flowy beard and salt-and-pepper mane, has created a niche for his label, which is all about comfortable, quirky silhouettes, parrot and umbrella prints and fabrics that breathe. “I am my own muse, I design for myself. Personally, I have a problem with synthetic fabrics because they cause body odour. You need clothes that breathe, it’s that simple,” he says. This is why he uses linen, cotton, wool, silk and even hemp. The “organic” or “natural” term in his clothes are necessary, he mentions, yet he stays away from being called an activist. So instead of polycotton thread mostly used to stitch clothes, Dhir uses pure cotton. This effort also makes his clothes more expensive. Recently, he created a line using “cool wool” that can be worn in the summer, for Woolmark.
Dhir also runs a weddingwear and womenswear capsule but these are not his priority.
With “less is more” as his fashion philosophy, Dhir doesn’t believe in loading his clothes with branding. Even then a Suket Dhir garment is easily recognisable — just look at the double seam with a jaali on the side of a shirt. It’s his signature, one with a funny story. “In 2010, I had a meeting with my first buyers ever, Good Earth. I had sampled the entire collection on myself, but 20 days before the meeting, I gained weight. So, I asked the masterji to add an inch on each side, with a jaali in the middle. And it worked, they loved it. Since then the double seam has been part of all the garments,” says Dhir, as he runs behind Zorawar with a glass of juice.
The roles in the studio are clearly defined — Dhir handles the creatives, Svetlana manages the business side of things, while Zorawar keeps them cool and calm with his presence all day. For someone so confident in his demeanour, it sounds like Dhir was born in fashion, while the story is quite different.
He is, what you may call, “an accidental designer”. Born in Banga, raised in Delhi and educated in Dehradun, Dhir tried BCom, BCA, design and also worked at a call centre much before he found himself at NIFT, Delhi.
Before launching his label, Dhir designed a low-budget line for denim brand, Wrangler. “I was on this journey of trying to figure out what I did not want to do in life, through that I found my calling. I didn’t know fashion, I just knew that I was better dressed that my peers in school, and that one Sunday a week, my friends would borrow my clothes,” he says, with a laugh.