Back To The Origin: Designer Duo Shantanu & Nikhil Get Nostalgic About Their First Collection

These are some names that are definitive of the Indian fashion industry: Anita Dongre, Anamika Khanna, Raghavendra Rathore, Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla and brothers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra. You’ve seen them take a bow with their showstoppers on countless runways but we bet you can’t recall their maiden collections. In fact, we wondered if they could too! So we asked them to jog their memories and take us back a couple of decades, to their raw beginnings. Here are stories of working out of backyard tailoring units, discovering classic trends from fashion faux pas and more, as the creative visionaries share anecdotes from their rookie days.

In this 5-part series, next up is designers Shantanu & Nikhil. The creative brain behind the brand, Nikhil Mehra, talks to us about his early tryst with fashion and how it gravitated his brother to join in on the journey.

How It Began

Nikhil shares, “My interest in fashion sparked when I was in class 7. I used to manipulate the uniform, which was a little tragic, to make sure that I looked good in school. Following my passion, I went to Pearl Academy and then to the United States for further studies. Shantanu was from a business background, and when he came to Los Angeles for my graduating line, he looked at me and said we should start a business from this. He is not a designer but a businessman, and he is better at commerce than I am. Shantanu brings structure and sets a path to my creative chaos.”


Image from Shantanu & Nikhil’s early collections 

First Collection

“Lakmé Fashion Week, 2001 was where we showcased our collection for the first time. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the actual inspiration behind it because it was just so arbitrary. I remember there was a collection inspired by the Nihang warrior group; and another one called After Death, which was influenced by the last days of Jesus Christ. It took us 4 to 5 lines to figure out the voice of our brand. It is such a deep and emotional process.”


Image from Shantanu & Nikhil’s early collections 

Hurdles & Challenges

“We were always contemporary in our process, which was a little ahead of its time for the audiences here. Sometimes we would go through with a creative idea and make the product, but nobody bought it because it wasn’t what they expected. I clearly remember the team I started with: Kundan was my master, Raees was my tailor and Iqbal was my embroidery guy. It was a compact team and many of them are still with me. I would teach them how to drape, as they had no prior training in professional garment-making. The store was on the second floor of my house. There was no proper landmark and yet, somehow, people used to come up to the terrace to buy clothes.”


Image from Shantanu & Nikhil’s early collections 


“I remember a shoot from the early 2000s where we had to play ourselves. Shantanu was dressed like a corporate guyinashirtandatieandIwasinmy creative junkie mode in a ganjee! The shoot was extremely comical and the pictures are something we still have a great laugh over. In 2007, we made our first foray into couture with Shilpa Shetty Kundra; she had urged us to customise an emerald green, empire-line, fitted gown with a trail for the IIFA. This is when the Shantanu & Nikhil cocktail gown was born, which then went on to replace the lehenga as the go-to cocktail outfit.”

Image from Shantanu & Nikhil’s early collections 

Reinterpret Or Pass? 

“Looking back, I would personally love to lay more focus on editing down the collection and presenting outfits as coordinates, as opposed to full ensembles. As we progressed on our design journey, we nurtured a new narrative of luxury with millennial energy; so we’re already on the path.”

Reinterpreted sketch by Shantanu & Nikhil 

Picture Courtesy: Shantanu & Nikhil 

Find ELLE’s June 2021 issue on stands or download your digital copy here.

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