At a quick glance, Bhaane is an upbeat, contemporary brand that is India’s answer to labels like Supreme and Off-White—but when you look closer and get a peek at their vision, it’s more than what meets the eye. The clothes narrate a story woven with details that often don’t require ornate ornamentation. For instance, Bhaane’s A/W 2022 collection taps into mythology, specifically into Maharabarata—a subject that has been a source of inspiration since time immemorial, and yet, the collection brings out a fresh perspective of gender fluidity in our history.
In an insightful conversation with Creative Director Nimish Shah, we talk about what Bhaane represents, the importance of storytelling and how this collection digs deep into our cultural history.
ELLE: Can you take us through the process of how you thought of Mahabharata as an inspiration for your collection?
Nimish Shah: “The whole conversation started last year when Anand and I were discussing categories and how the whole intention of the brand was to create beautiful clothes and let people express themselves with not fully stylized looks but still giving them individual separates. He came up strongly with the idea of gender identity and how we mark the separation between menswear and womenswear. We discussed not having gender binaries in our collections or in any way we present our brand. That struck a chord and we started thinking more about the concept of gender identity, the history behind it and how we are relearning these notions from western countries. But there has been deep literature in our own culture about this and we started reflecting back on various aspirational characters within mythology and oral history.
Also, while I was reading The Palace of Illusions, it struck me how Shikhandi’s character is so beautiful, androgynous and energetic in purely human form without really stating the difference if it’s a man or a woman. I read deeper about the reincarnations & rediscoveries about how one is born a certain way and then feels a certain way wanting to transit, similar to what our queer community is going through. Back then, clothes became instruments for expression to show how you feel and how you want to project yourself. So, I felt like going back and finding inspiration within our cultural characters, making sense of our modern contemporary notions of identity.”
ELLE: How was it to find out that the concepts of gender identity and generic dressing were deep down expressed in Indian history before we started relearning them from western countries?
NS: “So, even from sartorial choices, draping a garment like a sari is perceived to be feminine now, but even a dhoti is beautifully draped which is not considered feminine. Similarly, wearing jewellery, it’s not only women who wore jewellery in earlier times. If we go back to our ancient civilisation, clothing was really about textiles and its solving purpose of covering one’s body but everything was gender fluid. It was not necessarily blouses used to cover women’s breasts. There was a lot of romance in clothing and attention to detail. To define a certain character within mythology, there is such deep discussion and process behind clothing. So, all this was always a part of our culture; it just got washed out with a lot of mid-modern notions.”
ELLE: How important do you think it is now for brands to not just design a collection but have a story behind it? Especially the kind of target audience that Bhaane has, they look for a story and relatability. Do you think everything is accounted for now while purchasing?
NS: “Yes, of course. I don’t think people coming to Bhaane are looking for any trendy or cool outfits in the market. People shop at Bhaane to discover and question where these clothes are made and why is it made like this. It’s a very engaging conversation with our customers when we do pop-ups or certain in-stores or even online where we get questions about the inspiration behind it. There is a general sense of awareness now and they want to know the story and engage. It’s not just traditional sales but a lot more conversations with our customers. These are just romantic small talks, not like they are shopping from Bhaane because of these backgrounds but customers always love to take back home a piece of the story with them and pass it on.”
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ELLE: How did you interpret the whole idea of taking inspiration from mythology in your designs?
NS: “It’s very personal when it comes to interpretation into designs because a lot of inspiration comes from the story. In The Palace of illusions, the way they describe reflection on water or magic and mysticism—it’s replicated through glitter or what that fluorescent colour would have been. It translates and comes together when I do my research for the theme of the collection and then somewhere or the other they overlap. I wanted to include a little shine for a minimalist brand that was never expected of us, hence there are few pieces made of entirely shiny fabric. Similarly, we have taken Zari and made pants out of it which are not practical but are visually impactful. There are lots of vest coats like choli with a lot of stringy details. The print for the collection is the lotus garland that Amba leaves at the gates. The rest of the collection is also the imagination of what Mahabharata would have been in full colour in today’s clothes. The clothing depicted so far is just someone’s interpretation of the writings into artistic rendering—so this is kind of a further image of the same.”
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ELLE: What are the different textiles you have experimented with in this collection?
NS: “I love artisanal textiles as much as industrial ones, so we have used artisanal textiles like the handwoven Khadi from Bengal. We have done herbal dyeing on the tracksuits to give them a contemporary look but the feel is still traditional. Then we have some romantic lotus laser print techniques on denim which uses less water and a permanent pleating technique done on recycled polyester. We like making clothes which are smarter by taking lots of industrial developments across textiles and replication of the traditional ones.”
ELLE: Do you think sustainability now needs to be looked at from a holistic approach and not just in a one-dimensional way?
NS: “I feel sustainability is a very badly marketed thing now. A sustainable design is inspired by a sustainable lifestyle. So if you consume well and maintain then you are fine. Everything in moderation works fine. Similarly with designing, If you already know how a particular creative expression will impact the environment, you need to control it. A holistic approach has to be taken towards everything—for instance, industrial textiles like Lyocell and Tencel are doing exactly the same thing as cotton but they just have a bad reputation compared to cotton or Linen. There is a lot of work to be done in relearning and unlearning what is right and relevant today.”
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