Amidst the inner landscapes of his mind, Suket Dhir’s natural proclivity is to turn towards the painted visions of an idyllic world, subtle contouring of figures, and the animated playfulness of characters, as imagined by celebrated Pahadi masters of yore. While this might seem a tangential take-off point for a fashion designer, Dhir has taken the ultimate plunge by outing his inner, and laying it bare for the world. As his debut capsule collection for women launches, this low-key designer, on perpetual slow mode, is still wondering what the fuss is all about. “I have been trying these garments on Svetlana [his wife and muse] for seven or eight years. With the opening of the store, the time felt just right to launch this collection.”
Dhir reminisces about how Anita Lal of Good Earth mentored him to take the plunge, despite being aware that he was never going to be part of the proverbial fashion cycle, and the subsequent launch of his eponymous menswear collection in 2011. Since then, his streak of individuality has only taken stronger root, and is perhaps today borne of a supreme confidence in being aware of what he is not. So, when stores and buyers ask for the forthcoming season’s take-off point, he happily answers that there isn’t one, since he doesn’t know quite what that means. Slow fashion couldn’t have asked for a better ambassador.
Winning the 2015/16 International Woolmark Prize for menswear was to cast him in the spotlight, compounding expectations about a prodigious talent about to set the runway aflame. But nothing could have been further from the truth, for Dhir is perfectly happy to stick to his comfort zone of innovative textiles and prints, and unprecedented detailing, much of which is invisible to casual observers. Details like dissimilar threads that fasten buttons, or a slender velvet line concealing the joint that attaches a mandarin collar to a Nehru jacket are purely within the realm of the wearer’s world.
From left: Vibha Hooda, Amardeep Behl, Prachi Yadav, Nirmal Kaur, Svetlana Dhir, Suket Dhir, Marina Hiramatsu, Ruma Satwik, Manish Chopra, Vikramaditya Sharma
Post Woolmark, in his own words, his aim was to milk the experience rather than the success of the award. What emerged from this was a change in his world view, and a rigorous understanding of the need for ruthless processes and systems. A nuanced understanding of the importance of merchandising, evolving a brand strategy, and bringing on a CEO as his company moved away from a proprietorship to a private limited entity—all steps to inform and guide his growth in the long run, and a far more pragmatic utilisation of opportunities that came his way, rather than the low hanging fruit of short-term visibility and hype.
His continued preference for masculine silhouettes with a tinge of androgyny, rounded shoulders and a softening of the line is what traditionally drew in a large number of women buyers to his menswear. Consequently, when he decided to create a line for women, it was an extension of his menswear collection. Could a man’s sherwani become a long trench coat that women could team with a sari? Did playful night suits only have to be for men? And what if brocaded fabrics were treated as a canvas for his aforementioned print designs? Does wedding wear need to be confined to the wedding day and the family album, or could it possibly have an afterlife? These are the questions he seeks to answer with this womenswear initiative.
Make no mistake, however, for amidst these intellective departures, a strong sense of craftsmanship and a keen understanding of textiles inform Dhir’s production. Pant suits, bomber jackets and even playful pyjama suit silhouettes come with the requisite fabric weight to even out the ethereal quality of the imagery they portray. Colours and textures, from naturals to patterned ikats, brocades, cashmere and merino blends to the extensive use of khadi are precise, with no scope for excess. Ruthless editing of the line seems an obsession and less is more defines his racks as he steers clear of stories in his garments. Forecasters looking forward to Dhir’s next collection should be prepared to enjoy his clothes for a little bit longer, as adding to an urban landfill is not part of his agenda. However, catering to women who share an understanding of selfhood and are not hesitant to show it, very much is. Oh and this range seems to have excited a lot of men too—did we just see fashion go on a round trip?
Photograph: Pranoy Sarkar
Styling: Pujarini Ghosh
Hair and make-up: Blossom Kochhar College of Creative Arts and Design
Production: AJ Productions
Location courtesy: Amazon Fashion Studio
All clothes, Suket Dhir. From left, on Tiwari: Leather shoes, Rs 2,490, Zara. On Kaur: Leather shoes, price on request, Clarks. On Hiramatsu: Leather shoes, Rs 2,890, Zara. On Chopra: Leather shoes, Rs 7,599, Adidas. All accessories, models’ own