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How the edgy fashion label Huemn is questioning, and breaking, stereotypes

For Shyma Shetty and Pranav Kirti Mishra, co-founders of the label Huemn, fashion extends beyond sartorial finesse. It’s easy to understand this when you look at their creations – they talk about, disrupt, and most importantly, question the world we live in. Be it exploring the idea of sexual liberation or celebrating body positivity or focusing on sustainability, the designer duo’s edgy, contemporary designs have found of a way of making their presence felt in a burgeoning Indian fashion industry.

Pranav Kirti Mishra and Shyma Shetty
Pranav Kirti Mishra and Shyma Shetty

So it comes as no surprise that the ready-to-wear label has intrigued the global fashion cognoscente as well. Last year, they were scouted by Sara Maino, deputy editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy and head of Vogue Talents, and got a chance to showcase their creations at Milan Fashion Week. It is here that Elisabetta Paroli, one of the curators of Pitti Uomo, the renowned bi-annual trade show in Florence focusing on men’s clothing and accessories, took notice of their collection and extended a special invite to them to showcase there this year. “We showed our first men’s collection there. The line comprised of 35 separates with rich embroideries inspired by the landscapes of Kashmir,” says Shetty, who returned from Florence last week. Huemn joined 37 other labels as part of ‘Unconventional’, Pitti’s project reserved for the feistiest versions of luxury street style and now are working towards extending the line with womenswear that they will be showcasing in the upcoming India Fashion Week.

The Beginning
Image: Courtesy Huemn
The Huemn Project, inspired by children’s doodles

Huemn’s narrative is steering Indian fashion in a new direction. Since the inception of their label is 2012, it has piqued the interest of designers, Gen-Z influencers, and those on the lookout for edgy designs. So be it their popular gorilla sweatshirt, denim distressed bandhgala, foliage dresses, or T-shirt dresses with elongated sleeves, every piece of clothing is an exquisitely crafted piece of armoury – an antithesis of all that’s regular and monotonous. Add to that the fact that they have worked with trans models such as Taksh Sharma, and created outfits with provocative slogans and gender fluid silhouettes, and it is evident that Shetty and Mishra’s references come from the world around them. “It is one thing to make garments and one thing to make fashion,” says Shetty, who studied at NIFT Bangalore, where she met Mishra, originally from Lucknow. “Fashion has to be informed by what’s happening around the world.”

Image:Courtesy Huemn
Backstage, at Huemn’s AW ’17 show

After graduating in 2009, both Shetty and Mishra moved to Delhi, where they honed their skills at different labels for a year – Shetty at Dozakh, and Mishra at Abhishek Gupta and Nandita Basu’s Fightercock. “We always wanted to be entrepreneurs, we wanted to drive culture and wanted to create meaningful ready-to-wear garments,” Shetty says. Their first collection was titled ‘Working Class Heroes’, and since then they have stopped naming their collections. “Names are for yourself. When a customer looks at your creation on the rack, it is a garment. We like to keep it more ambiguous, take what you can from the collection and make it your own” explains Shyma.

Huemn beyond fashion
Gillean Mcleod for Huemn's LA Stories
Gillean Mcleod for Huemn's LA Stories
Ethan Peck for Huemn's LA Stories
Ethan Peck for Huemn's LA Stories

Based out of Delhi, and with a team of 15 embroiders, Huemn is a label that is tapping into the zeitgeist. Photography and the work of Mark Hanauer, an LA-based photographer, is a cue for a variety of their prints and embroideries. Case in point: Their AW ’14 collection. Not only was it inspired by an image of Charles Bukowski clicked by Hanauer, the duo soon forged a collaborative relationship with the photographer resulting in a series of photo essays titled ‘Huemn Stories’. The LA and New Delhi edition is out, and a Srinagar series is set to launch soon.

Huemn AW’17. Image:Courtesy Huemn
Huemn AW’17

Their Winter/Festive 2017 line, showcased at Lakmé Fashion Week as a part of their Huemn Project, exhibited their concern for the environmental impact of fast fashion. Models clad in signature Huemn silhouettes – patchwork jackets, trousers, sequinned shirts – stood silently with eye patches in a dimly lit setup. All upcycled pieces were created using waste material from labels such as Antar-Agni, Bodice, Dhruv Kapoor, DRVV, and Ikai to name a few. The highlight of the show was a models laying on the ground wrapped in plastic, pointing to the pollution the fashion industry is responsible for. Their AW’17 collection at Amazon Fashion Week looked at the varied gender and religious identities co-existing, but with violent undercurrents. Models walked in chalk stripped shirts, boiler suits with burqua-inspired hoodies, sarees with quilted shawls, and puffers with exaggerated shoulders, representing social angst.

“Creatives have to be cultural provocateurs. Fashion has to be new; it has to provoke an emotional response; whether you like it or not is secondary,” says Shetty reflecting on her work. “Indian fashion has to completely deconstruct and construct again. We are sitting on a database of knowledge; we need to envision it in a better way.”

The duo also run Huemn Project, a subsidiary label encouraging collaborations between musicians, chefs, and artists. In the past, they have given their spin to the humble white shirt and created a capsule collection of it, shortly followed by another inspired by children’s doodles. ‘The Ramie Project’ is the latest addition, a photo series capturing the essence of Indian streets. The project was in collaboration with the Meghalaya government and the French embassy, where 15 designers came together under the supervision of designer Hemant Sagar.

A resilient narrative

For Shetty and Mishra, fashion doesn’t stop at the runway. Their seasonal campaigns are equally intriguing. For their AW ’17 shoot, they collaborated with photographer Aman Makkar and featured models such as Merrylin Boro, Shyamli Panda, and Malkeet, known for their unconventional looks; TJ Singh, an androgynous model; and influencer Tanya Bedi who promotes body positivity, to create thought-provoking imagery. The brand’s website even has a non-binary category on its E-shop. Huemn has also recently signed on Reebok again as a product collaborator for the coming year, with the idea of giving Indian buyers fresh imagery. 

There aren’t too many labels like Huemn, ones that have understood its identity and has found a niche clientele who identify with them. Which is exactly why they stand out. Every design of theirs is a more than clothing – it’s a message. Interpret it how you want.

All images: Courtesy brand

How the edgy fashion label Huemn is questioning, and breaking, stereotypes

Anupam Dabral

Sr. Associate Editor

It was while studying fashion journalism at London College of Fashion that Anupam developed a keen interest in the anthropological aspect of the discipline; for him, fashion only makes sense when seen in the context of its environment. He is always on the hunt for great stories, and in his spare time binge-watches films/shows starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

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