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You’d recognise designer Suket Dhir in a crowd. Usually dressed in his own quirky creations, trademark bowler hat in place, he stands out with his flowy salt-and-pepper beard and shoulder-length hair. Very casual-chic. Much like him. And his clothes.

Dhir has been designing menswear for nearly nine years now, but the past four years in particular have been significant. He catapulted into global consciousness after winning the international Woolmark Prize for Menswear in 2016 (for his exploration of the trans-seasonal quality of Merino wool, and ombré ikat patterns on palazzo pants, flowy jackets and long kurta shirts), and since then his creations have been grabbing eyeballs. His ankle-length trousers, fitted jackets and tailored blazers pay obeisance to different cultural milieus, and appeal to dapper Indian men. At a time when designers are increasingly experimenting with new silhouettes, he is reimagining traditional ones to make them fit in the contemporary Indian man’s wardrobe. Think striking colourways, whimsical prints, and an interplay of textures.

Dhir's eclectic prints for Her For She.
Dhir’s eclectic prints for Her For She.
Menswear for women

This same sensibility now finds an expression in his first womenswear collection.

Titled ‘He For She’, every silhouette, pleat and motif in the gender-neutral line peeks into India’s rich history. There are tongue-in-cheek prints showcasing the royal life – Maharajas avoid their hunting escapades to play golf and maharanis are no more veiled but instead take selfies. There are long ikat shirts, belted jumpsuits, heavy linen blazers and trousers in indigo, mustard, salmon, reds and rust. The designer says the line is his cool and edgy menswear, albeit with an undertone of elegance. “I have tried to expand on what I already know well. It’s quintessential menswear done in smaller sizes and can be worn by women.”

There is the signature bomber jacket as well, re-created it in Duchess satin with sporty ribbed detailing. And to infuse an element of quirk, he has experimented with Kangra style miniature paintings in specification to ‘Raas’ and ‘Krishna Leela’ to create prints. The idea was also to make the pieces a part of everyday wardrobe. “We have washed the brocade to lessen its sheen, and have ensured that it is not just limited to being a part of occasionwear, but can be worn on a daily basis.”

Dhir's take on the Matrix jacket
Dhir’s take on the Matrix jacket
Making it work

Dhir has always been an advocate of sustainability and has explored the idea of slow fashion by experimenting with fabrics that age gracefully and can last longer. He is also of the opinion that women should pick up pieces which they can repeat later, which is what led him to experiment with brocade; his long coat, an off-shoot of traditional sherwani and referred to as the Matrix style jacket (yes, like the movie), is also inspired by the same tenet.  However, Dhir’s favourite pieces are the satin loungewear (libaas) pieces; pyjamas and nightwear shirt. “I wear them every day, even in my studio,” he says.

Kangra miniature paintings inspired Dhir's prints for He For She
Kangra miniature paintings inspired Dhir’s prints for He For She
Early life and influences

Born in Banga, Punjab, Dhir’s introduction to textiles happened early on. His grandfather, who was a reputed cloth merchant, influenced Dhir’s impressionable mind with his classic corduroy bombers, pleated trousers and overall great style. Dhir admits to fashion being a “mix of nature and nurture” for him. Even though as a kid he was instinctively drawn to aesthetics, exposure to different forms of style also came from his cousins and aunts living abroad.

After Dhir finished his schooling at Colonel Brown Cambridge School in Dehradun, he tried different courses, and when nothing interested him, he took up a job at a call centre and earned enough to travel across India. Design was something that he enjoyed, and decided to join NIFT in 2002. There he chose menswear to be his forte, and worked on a small line with sustainable techniques and traditional motifs. In 2009, he launched his own label alongside his business partner and wife Svetlana.

Since then, Dhir has chalked out an aesthetic unique to the Indian market. Without completely denouncing the maximalist insignias of Indian culture, he has repackaged them to fit in his uber-cool oeuvre. One of his biggest supporters is Mrs Anita Lal, founder of Good Earth, from where he started retailing in 2010, followed by the Taj Khazana stores.

Brocade pantsuits by Suket Dhir
Brocade pantsuits by Suket Dhir
Decoding the quintessential Suket Dhir woman 

“I won’t design anything which I won’t wear,” he says, and admits that he is his own muse for his menswear line. But over the past few years, he has seen Svetlana casually wearing his menswear pieces and that inspired him to create this line of 15 pieces. “I design for women who are free, are comfortable in their skin and with their sexuality,” he says. Over the years, Dhir has found his muse in women with individualistic taste, and he veers away from defining his market’s age bracket. “You can be 22 but can think like a 45-year-old; all you need to do is be sure of who you are,” he adds.

 

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.