While words such as ‘self-love’ and ‘acceptance’ have only just started to become a part of our fashion vocabularies, a handful of designers has always seen them as the ethos of their brands. We explore a conversation with design personalities who are beyond ordinary
Nikita Taneja, Ete
On keeping plus-size glam
In 2020, when the pandemic hit our shores and people were clinging on to their jobs, designer Nikita Taneja took a gamble and left hers at the luxury label Gauri & Nainika. She gathered a team of pattern makers and master tailors, and started her own label, Été – a size-inclusive womenswear brand that caters to the minimalist-chic aesthetics of modern women. “Été was born after years and years of being a witness to and experiencing fat-shaming,” Taneja says. “Well-meaning advice dished out by family from time to time about being too skinny or fat is often laced with a tone of judgement. I aim to celebrate the feminine body through tailoring and patterns designed to honour every part of us, not play it safe like most dedicated plus-size brands that handicap individual expression. If a woman with bigger arms wants to wear sleeveless or to flaunt her midriff, she should be able to do it with confidence.” With sizes up to XXXL available on its website in frilly mini dresses, midriff-baring co-ords, and tailored pantsuits, Été is giving women the choice to dress glamorously.
Akshat Bansal, Bloni
On his signature agenda clothes
“Bloni is a gender-free fashion house inviting everyone to explore and experiment with wearing whatever fits their energy,” says Akshat Bansal of Bloni, who has established himself as one of the most exciting names in Indian fashion. “The Bloni experience is about encouraging a collaborative exchange of ideas with our patrons, which means bringing together their individualism with our aesthetic, and turning made-to-measure garments into extensions of their personalities. The very ethos of the modern, luxurious fashion that we create at Bloni transcends plain creativity. It explores the congruence of the wearer and their clothing that enables self-expression.” A design anarchist, Bansal has been injecting his creations with a spirit of rebellion and nonconformity since the brand’s inception in 2017. He translates his Saville Row learnings about impeccable tailoring into clothes that honour the human form, and has been doing so before gender-neutral clothes became a cool buzzword in fashion. Just look toward his collections that almost always feature hypnotic kira kira or glossy reflective surfaces across jackets, tops, and pants made from hybrid textiles that make his clothes both stylish and environmentally sound.
Nutan Dayal, Turn Black
On fuss-free functional clothes for all
‘Minimal’, ‘effortless’, ‘timeless’, and ‘size inclusive’ are a handful of adjectives that the makers of Turn Black use to define what fashion means to them. Turn Black drew from the idea of nothingness, the absence of colour, and perhaps even the Metallica song Fade to Black to make clothes that are free of the biases, confines, bondages, and arbitrary ways of society, where being stylish was once a privilege only reserved for the thin. “We have celebrated size-inclusivity from the very beginning,” says Nutan, founder of Turn Black. “Our bodies are constantly changing and we understand that. We want women –âÂÂ¯no matter what shape or size – to feel confident and comfortable in what they wear. At Turn Black, we aim to create every piece to be dynamic enough to accommodate the ever-evolving you.” Indeed, women of all shapes and sizes can pick clothes from a buffet of minimal, well-cut, and meticulously tailored designs, of course, all in black. As a label that’s lobbying for self-love, Turn Black is against the body-shaming practice of levying ‘fat tax’ that they find is particularly archaic and has no place in fashion, especially in 2022. “We are still surprised when someone asks us if there is an additional cost for bigger sizes. Every day, we struggle to love our bodies in one way or the other. This just makes it worse. We are glad more people are talking about this openly.”
Shivan bhatuya And Narresh Kukreja, Shivan & Narresh
On a lack of representation in luxury fashion
Designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja of Shivan & Narresh can be credited with the elevation of swimwear – a virtually non-existent category in India – to luxury. “From the beginning, our aim was to design offerings keeping in mind the quintessential Indian silhouette,” the duo reveals. “As a brand, body positivity is something we stand for passionately and support through our creative language.” One of only a handful of brands that are mindful of women whose body shapes go beyond what has been deemed acceptable, the designers are aware of the lack of representation of women. “Consciously or subconsciously, we have bifurcated fashion into labels: plus-size, regular size, model size, real-life, etc. These tags end up becoming the start of a binary living that puts us into socially-acceptable boxes. Everywhere, we are trying to fit into these pre-approved ideas, forcing people to fit in or stand out. It has become essential for the fashion industry to collectively break out of this singular vision to normalise change. We need to constantly emphasise through our ideology, work and narrative that body positivity is not seasonal. This is only possible once you start accepting one’s natural body silhouette through communication, campaigns, and the general brand language. Your audience will see that and recognise the design culture you stand for as a brand,” they add.
Pranav Kirti Misra, Huemn
On understanding gender complexities
“What you wear is who you are,” says Pranav Kirti Misra, co-founder of Huemn, who is navigating the gender-agnostic clothing space with a clear-eye approach. His preferred tool: a perfectly-stitched oversized T-shirt featuring abstract prints of the works of other mavericks like Charles Bukowski, which is fast becoming quintessential in changing the conversation around how society is dressing. Since its inception in 2012, the Huemn label has identified itself as sartorially non-binary. Its sweatshirts, co-ords, shirts, and denim are designed to suit the bodies of anyone who wants to wear them. And, although 10 years have passed, and terms such as ‘gender-neutral’ have become a part of the cultural lexicon, Misra believes we are still in the nascent stages of understanding the concept of gender. His own understanding of the subject comes from collaborating with artists who have helped him build a community conscious of inclusivity. For Misra, representation, or its lack, extends beyond the fashion industry and is an issue more complex than what meets the eye.
“There are so many parameters – physical, emotional, psychological, etc – that play a collective role in defining gender,” he says. “Currently, we are still learning. For society to become a safe space for people to flourish without gender barriers and associated phobias is going to take a long time.”
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