Shivan & Narresh created a successful line solely for holidays. Then what pushed them to create a line of wedding wear for the millennial?
By Nidhi Raj Singh
After creating India’s first exclusive holiday wear brand in 2009, designer duo Shivan Bhatia and Narresh Kukreja could have rested on their past laurels. Instead, they chose to diversify. Excerpts from an interview with the men behind the brand who changed the way Indians take a dip in the ocean (and how they emerge from it).
How has the cities of your birth influenced your design sensibilities?
Narresh: I am from Delhi and Shivan is from Kanpur. Being born and raised in Delhi, the humdrum of the fast-paced city life always excited me. Shivan has spent a sizable portion of his childhood amid the botanical areas of Madhya Pradesh. A lot of his creative sensitivities, thus, come from this early age exposure to the flora and fauna, especially insects. Both our sensibilities are reflective in our designs where present day elements are juxtaposed next to the modern silhouette.
Your collections are often inspired by destinations and vacations.
Narresh: As designers, we are constantly looking for inspirations from new places that we travel to and discover unique elements in the art, architecture, flora and fauna that catch our eye. Our design trips to Japan and Seychelles were translated into our latest collections, Araki Series and EdoMer Series, respectively. From Japan, we took inspiration from the elaborate work of Japanese contemporary photographer Nobuyoshi Araki and his provocative imagery that was reflective in the botanical prints of the eponymous collection. EdoMer Series captured the historic 17th century Edo Art aesthetic.
You two met in NIFT Delhi. How did your friendship develop?
Shivan: Yes, we met during our undergraduate studies in NIFT Delhi. With our complementing skill sets, we partnered and participated in international design competitions. One of them was Mare di Moda Beachwear Awards 2006 held in Bali and World of Wearable Art Awards 2006 in New Zealand that bagged us scholarships to pursue our education in Italy. While studying together, we decided to collaborate professionally.
Did you both want to design beachwear?
Narresh: Our exposure to the life and design in Italy gave us a fertile ground to explore swimwear and resortwear, which is considered as a mainstream fashion category in Europe. We wanted to bring the same element to India.
Do you have different roles? How often do you agree to disagree?
Shivan: While the design process is common to the both of us, I handle the production side of the brand and Narresh oversees marketing.
You have always maintained that you would like Indian women to be comfortable in swimwear. How are you achieving that?
Shivan: Indian women have always had a special relation with water and their recreational activities have been around water bodies, whether it were the Mughal stepwells or river banks. So, it was more than natural for us to conceive an aesthetic that married our heritage with a western concept of a swimsuit. We achieve this through our designs and experiment with silhouettes, cut-outs and technologically-advanced fabrics in pleasing colours and prints.
What were your initial thoughts about setting up something that was new to Indian fashion scene?
Shivan: The acceptance of swimwear in India is limited. It was challenging for us to setup and develop a business. Although we were apprehensive, swimwear was one of the few categories that allowed us to amalgamate our love for art and fashion. The absence of manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing and communication channels were some of the initial hitches, along with training manpower, tutoring the retailer and most importantly educating the consumer to buy the right swimsuit. We did overcome these.
Two men designing beachwear for women: normal or extraordinary? Do you take inputs from women around you?
Narresh: We understand the importance of their opinion and judgment, constantly taking their inputs. Being men, designing for women is an advantage as our approach towards composition is completely unbiased and free of personal views and opinions. It is easier for us to push creative boundaries.
Do you still work with the Lycra USA you were introduced to during your stay in Italy?
Shivan: Yes. Lycra is an important fabric for us. It is resistant to UV rays, chlorine, sunscreen, oils and lasts three times more than the regular swimsuit.
What are the other fabrics that you use?
Shivan: Apart from Lycra, we use light neoprene for lehengas and skirts, crepe silk for saris, silk satins for scarves, cover-ups and kaftans, satin lycra for playsuits and Italian polo jerseys.
Your neoprene skirts got a lot of takers including your fellow designer Masaba Gupta. Tell us about its functionality.
Narresh: These are substitutes to a bride’s heavier counterparts that weigh her energies down. Owing to its functionality and ease of travel for destination weddings, the neoprene skirts are lighter options.
What’s the idea behind the bikini sari?
Narresh: A modernistic bathing suit that takes care of Indian societal sentiments. It can actually be draped in ten different ways. It can travel effortlessly from a beach to a bar, from a cocktail party to a destination wedding just by draping it over the shoulder.
Your surface texturing is stunning. What are the techniques you use?
Narresh: It’s our signature Skeinwork. The handcrafted metal-brushed skeins are elaborately structured and layered into exhaustive patterns.
There are only a handful Indian beachwear brands. Your take?
Shivan: The swimwear market in India is at its nascent stage and has a long way to go in terms of awareness and appreciation. Over the years, with the evolution of the consumer demographic to a well-travelled global one, the need for swimwear and resort wear as a lifestyle option has matured, which has subsequently seen a growth of acceptance of the products. We have observed imitations and copies around, but the colours and prints does not do justice to its real value that our connoisseurs relate with, especially our technologically-advanced textiles and strategic cuts.
Who has been your muse?
Narresh: We, as designers, have been intrigued by the unique anatomy of the Indian woman. She is blessed with feminine curves that can be flaunted gracefully through our designs. The distinct body type with smaller torsos, fuller bust and hips, make Indian bodies look fabulous in a swimsuit.