Designers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra have portrayed the fierce Indian warrior on ramp many times, drawing inspiration for their collections from the armed forces, stories of valour and battle glory. Yet, through all their martial interpretations, they’ve somehow managed to steer clear of the colour red. The duo now admit to having finally bitten the scarlet bullet, quite literally, for their forthcoming Lakme Absolute Ultimate finale for the Summer/Resort 2019 edition of Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). Their collection “Recruit’ will see the designer brothers work with red for the very first time, in keeping with title sponsor Lakme’s new red, black and gold packaging for cosmetics. The “ultimate finale” on February 3 will see them put up a grand show at the imposing heritage structure of the Sophia College for Women in Breach Candy, Mumbai. Fitting then that the collection tells the story of women empowerment. “The starting point of ‘Recruit’ arises from the nostalgic past of India, but carries forward the empowered, yet dignified, emotions of the modern independent woman, who has fought for generations to negate any gender binaries,” explains Nikhil. Edited excerpts from a conversation about celebrating inclusivity and inspiring copycats:
Your first fashion week finale has been a while in coming.
It is happening to us 18 years after we launched the brand, and there is nothing more exciting than that. The first Shantanu & Nikhil finale on a platform like Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW), which has continuously given fashion and make-up a new dimension — is almost like being reborn in the world of fashion. It is the ultimate exam, the feeling is that it is our first and last show. For years, we have been talking about someday showcasing on a grand finale podium and now that it’s happening we are extremely humbled, and we have worked really hard.
You’ve described your work as being progressive and inclusive. Comment vis-a-vis this collection.
Our couture creations tell a story that arises from the nostalgic past of India, yet represents the diverse cross-cultural values of modern India. The ensembles in this primarily womenswear collection also carry forward the S&N ‘anti-trend’ design philosophy, through powerful drapes that have been reworked into exaggerated silhouettes, with dramatic mesh overlays over our edgy take on traditional skirts. Oversized capes are accessorised with eclectic medallion adornments, silk tassels and intricate gold embroidery, telling a progressive story of women of the past, present and future.
How is your exploration of gender neutrality different than other designers who work with androgyny?
We’ve adopted an egalitarian stance; the introduction of the signature S&N drape kurta is the result of adding voluminous silhouettes to the traditional structures of menswear couture. Both men and women possess feminine and masculine energies and we absorb those aspects in the stories that we tell. The S&N woman is fearless and emanates grandeur in a structured military jacket and drape kurta, while the S&N man represents dynamism through a fluid drape jacket. Our take on androgynous wear is rather unique, rooted in the nostalgia of pre-Independence India.
How has the label and, in turn, your clientele evolved in the last 18 years?
At Shantanu & Nikhil, we see our perspectives evolving each day. We are a team possessing varied visions but with the common goal of carrying our ‘India story’ forward. In turn, the Indian couture market has evolved due to the growing awareness of luxury consumers. Millennials see luxury more as moments that they can recall, rather than just pieces that they can buy. They no longer desire just couture ensembles, but they wish to purchase experiences. Hence, storytelling is an important element of our couture.
Thanks to social media vigilantes like Diet Sabya, it has become apparent that your designs are being copied widely. Could you please comment?
We are always happy to inspire young talent and it is a compliment when designers look at our ensembles as the starting point of their creations. However, since our creations are signature to our beliefs, we are aware of what we resonate and are certain that our outfits will always be unique.