The seamless integration of the Indian tradition and western expression is now commonplace. And without a doubt, Shantanu & Nikhil have played an important role in aggregating the transition into the brand. The age old Indian culture has an undying character and spirit, but stagnation was harmful for its charisma So they took a step forth and thus the brand's philosophy, "Progressive Unification" Culling the essence of Indian tradition and blending it carefully with fleeting modernity, evolving phenomenal design and free expression is not just their expertise, it is their passion.
RK : First of all thanks a lot for accepting our invitation for an interview. it’s a great pleasure to have you as our Guest. Let’s start from the first question .When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer? What is your favourite part about being a fashion designer? What inspires you when you are creating your designs?
Shantanu : Both Nikhil and I were pursuing our higher education in the US from 1995 to 1999. I had successfully completed my MBA from Ohio State University while Nikhil had done his masters in fashion from FDIM, Los Angeles. I began to understand Nikhil’s flair of contemporising Indian Crafts during his final graduation runway show in LA. Not only did he get a standing ovation for the collection, but he also triggered a spark in me to sell his unique concept in India. It was then, when I quit my job in Ohio and decided to settle in India to give a structure to this business model. Once marginally set with some infra-structure, I called Nikhil after 6 months to join hands and nurture the Brand with a keen sense of art and commerce in our minds. Hence the birth of Shantanu & Nikhil in the year 2000 – A Brand that has always celebrated contemporary India.
As a brand, ‘Shantanu & Nikhil’ is deeply inspired by the grandeur and nostalgia of the rich Indian heritage, which has been long lost. Over the years, our collections have drawn inspiration from many elements and emotions rooted in India. Amalgamating this with our signature contemporary drapes, sartorial silhouettes and narrative details has only aided in the essence of Shantanu & Nikhil. We have aimed to capture the essence of nostalgic India which is translated in collection showcase depicting modern India.
RK : Today, ‘Shantanu & Nikhil’ is a familiar name in fashion around the globe. Could you please tell us a bit about the evolution of the brand?
S & N : The couture space in India has witnessed an evolution of magnitudes and that has definitely aided our spectrum of growth. ‘Shantanu & Nikhil’ will be completing two decades in the Indian Luxury Industry, having witnessed the invention of our signature drapes has been an impact step in resonating the contemporary ideals of our brand. Moreover, we have reached a stage where couture is not just about selling outfits, the ensembles communicate a story to the wearer in order to replicate the celebratory values of the occasion, so as to make them relive the experience each time they adorn the piece of couture. Thus, we as a brand have transitioned from selling couture to making the luxury customers experience the whole tale of the ensemble.
RK : In your own words, how would you describe the signature/classic ‘Shantanu & Nikhil’ style?
S & N : The S&N style is an amalgamation of structural creations and exquisite drape. All our collections are consistent with a focus on always creating distinctive and powerful silhouettes with a touch of contemporary Indian embroideries that represent modern India in our creations.
RK : Let’s talk about your latest collection for Spring Summer 19 ‘Recruit’, which is stunning. A lot of people focused on the diverse casting choices. What’s your top pick from the collection?
S & N : The collection saw a lot of success and appreciation. The ensembles carried forward the S&N Anti-Trend phenomenon through powerful silhouettes that had been reworked into exaggerated drapes. Our personal favourite from the collection was a structured jacket styled with a corset belt and a traditional skirt.
RK : When starting a new collection, where do you begin? How many drafts of a design might you go through before reaching a finished design?
S & N : The design process begins with a lot of ideas which involves creating inspiration boards, mood boards, sketches and illustrations. The first draft is a rough sketch of the idea which is then translated to cloth using muslin to observe its structure. It is also draped over a dummy to see how the final garment might look like. Many additions and subtractions take place throughout the designing process. The garment is then created using the selected materials and embellishments. The whole process involves many layers and each step is crucial for the final result.
RK : What are your favourite materials/embellishments to work with?
S & N : At the S&N atelier we love to play around with leather which is also prominently used in our latest collection ‘Raj-Kumari’ in the form of appliques. Metallic textures, chains, brooches which have become an essential part of the S&N look. We also enjoy working with tonal embroideries which is a signature S&N technique.
RK : Are you more intuitive or more analytical when you are designing?
S & N : Both, Intuition stands at the forefront for us with which the collection is driven and helps us stay authentic and relevant. Our thought process transitions to become more analytical once the collection starts to come through.
RK : What do you think about work ethics and what kind of ethics you believe in following while working with fashion?
S & N : A dedicated work ethic is tacit however, freedom is the key element and is essential in the field of fashion. My team and I believe that we should create what we intuitively consider is right for each design and then follow it through as smoothly as possible.
RK : What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your brand? What challenges did you face?
S & N : The fashion industry is vigorously dynamic, and design is always evolving. Every new project or collaboration we take on comes with its set of challenges. We many times arrive at situations where how we ideated a particular garment does not necessarily translate into the final creation. However, as a brand it is important to take calculated risks and experiment as much as possible. One key learning through it all has been, challenges will always arise but that shouldn’t prevent us from pushing our creative boundaries and we practice this learning till date.
RK : How would you benchmark Indian fashion industry globally?
S & N : The Indian fashion industry today is predominantly known to showcase our cultural heritage and ethnicity and is heavily influenced by years of tradition. Even though some of our traditional techniques and embroideries have reached the forefront of international fashion, our country still primarily serves as a source of inspiration internationally. We feel India is considered to be a flavour for the international fashion scenario but not essentially Indian design aesthetic and trends being the muse for fashion designers globally.
RK : Which celebrity have you enjoyed working with the most, and what did you design for them?
S & N : We have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented and influential people in the Indian Film fraternity and the sports industry. Designing for celebrities has always been an exciting and a fulfilling journey and we are grateful for the friends we have made along the way. It is difficult to name just one celebrity with whom we have enjoyed working the most. We have worked with the lovely Deepika Padukone, she is a force of positive energy. It’s been a delight to have worked Dia Mirza, Shilpa Shetty, Neha Dhupia and a few more who are now dear friends of ours. We recently worked with Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan which again was a lot of fun.
The big take away from working with all these talented celebrities has been to see how such different personalities have effortless carried off our ensembles and connected with our brand philosophy making it look as their own.
RK : What's the biggest misconception that Indian women have about Fashion?
S & N : An Indian woman today are well informed about fashion and design, the disconnect however, happens when they are slightly unsure about what prints will work for them. A popular misconception would be that black makes them look slim which leads to them not experimenting with other colours. Whereas, silhouettes can actually play a vital role in defining the shape of the body, certain drapes can make them appear slimmer irrespective of the colour or print they chose to wear.
RK : What skills according to you are necessary for a successful fashion designer?
S & N : The fashion industry is highly competitive, along with a deep knowledge about the craft it is crucial to be self-aware and true to your aesthetic and creativity and also be up-to date with current trends. Successful fashion designers needs to trust their creative instinct and follow their intuition without hesitation to be able to design authentically and flourish in this dynamic industry.
RK : What advice will you give to young girls and boys who want to pursue their career in Fashion Designing?
S & N : Everything around you can act as a source of inspiration if you observe it with a critical eye. Surround yourself with design to help you move closer to finding your design aesthetic and vision. One should identify their creative goals and invest in themselves to fuel a hunger for learning and be able to thrive in the industry.
RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.
S & N : Art is like music; art is the only language that is truly democratic. By the virtue of its word it means inclusion of people from all backgrounds, cultures and demographics. So if art is true democracy then I think we need to applaud the fact that through Independence, freedom of speech, design and expression which is sometimes neglected, an artist is a true freedom fighter for the people and for me deserves the same level of respect and appreciation as that of an innovator or a scientist. Always looking for newer horizons to explore, an artist can truly change the view of the world.