Haute couture is intended to be fantasy wrought in fabric and handicraft. A more judicious observer might consider the whole exercise an elaborate waste of time: months spent with backs bent, toiling over details often so minute, that only the person wearing the garment is intimately aware of their presence.
Yet, in an assembly lined world, it’s only couture that allows fashion designers to truly challenge the rigidity of their own limitations. And to be successful, you must first believe your own beautiful trickery, before you can expect others to fully immerse themselves too.
This is what prompted Shantanu & Nikhil to first set up independent couture shows, free from the constraints of the FDCI’s couture week. Their most recent presentation took place at the Bikaner House in Delhi, where Bollywood stars Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra served as showstoppers, that uniquely Indian ingredient in the fashion industry cocktail.
But from the handcrafted leather-bound invite that first arrived at my desk to the Audi that picked me up from the airport, it was clear that a personalised touch would permeate every step of the experience.
“If you want to weave a narrative, you have to pay attention to every detail, from the show invite to the venue to the final collection. It can’t just be about selling clothes,” explains Shantanu Mehra, one half of the designer duo. “We want to share the Shantanu & Nikhil world with the people who are close to us, which is why we began showing couture in this format and will stick to it.”
The clothes themselves drew inspiration from the designers’ prevailing fascination with India of the 1940s, but were reimagined in a modern post-MeToo context. Drapes introduced a delicate softness to the menswear while militaristic detailing added edge to their signature dramatic lehengas. Restrictive corsets were offset by elegant wrap skirts, embroidery was used sparingly to highlight not overwhelm. It was a delicate two-step: anticipating your clients’ aspirations while meeting their actual needs.
“Independence derives its inspiration from the three most luxurious forms of freedom: freedom to choose, freedom to live and freedom to call oneself proud citizens,” read the press note. It takes a certain kind of self-awareness to recognise that in India, the very idea of freedom is a luxury. It’s proof that while Shantanu & Nikhil have always trained their eyes skywards, their feet are firmly planted on the ground.