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March 21, 2016

Why You Should Know About Menswear Designer Suket Dhir

Text by Arthy Muthanna Singh. Photograph by Ankush Maria

Suket Dhir, who bagged the coveted 2015/2016 International Woolmark Prize for menswear, talks about about his subtle aesthetic

I am hooked (no pun intended) the moment I spot the itsy-bitsy unicycle on the label of an exquisite shirt hanging in Suket Dhir’s studio. “Small size,” I’m told. A regular cycle shows that you’ve picked a medium size, and a tandem bicycle denotes a large size. Quaint? Quirky is more like it. Add to that a penchant to usually have each button stitched on with a different coloured thread and the look is definitely not the ‘usual’.

Lado Sarai, near the Qutub Minar in Delhi, is where I have gone, to meet the designer that everyone is now talking about. “I can finally start making some money,” Dhir laughs, “and travel, and buy other designers’ clothes too, if I choose to. I’ve not been part of the bridal brigade and, in India, to make money you have to be a part of that. I do luxury leisure wear. Or, really, occasion wear on order. My aesthetic is very subtle. My clothes are for the wearer, not the audience. It has been my motivation — to reach that level of luxury, to reach that level of quality, with natural fibres that breathe and become softer as we keep wearing them.”

Nostalgia is what drives him — the past, history and antiques — and this inspiration is more than obvious in his references to old-world style and comfort, in general, and to his grandfather (“a man of stature — he was a very well-dressed man”) in particular. And, also the inspiration for the collection that bagged him the 2015/2016 International Woolmark Prize for menswear.

While wife Svetlana happily picks clothes off the rack in his studio to wear and carries them off effortlessly on her model-esque frame, Dhir has not, so far, been tempted to add womenswear to his line.

Their two-and-a-half-year-old son Zorawar uses the studio as his playground which allows the couple (Suket convinced Svetlana to quit her job and join him when things got too hectic) to work easy, without worrying about getting home late.

An NIFT product, who is still in touch with many of his batchmates and three in particular who have been a part of his journey, Dhir says that only one of them is still in design. But a constant mentor has been Professor Asha Baxi, a former dean who, very appropriately, was the one he took to Florence to receive the award.  “I owed it to her,” Dhir emphasises. “She is an institution by herself.”

In India, Shahab Durazi is someone he admires. “If I had the money, I’d wear Hermès’ everything. If I have to buy something Western, I’d rather go to the masters; I’d like to know how they do their magic! There is a lot of complexity behind simplicity. Always.”

When I ask what he thinks or hopes the win will do for him, Dhir elaborates on how the questions asked by the judges gave him the answer to this question — resources and contacts, and, opportunities to travel of course. “I’m a born traveller,” he adds. “I think we’re ready for the world and the world is ready for us.”

And already there has been a plethora of orders — from Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, David Jones…. He hopes that besides the winning collection, his label will become a permanent fixture in their stores.

He has finally gotten the appreciation he had craved all his life from his fiercest critic — his father. “I’m a very proud son today,” Dhir says gravely. “I’ve made my father proud.” And the joke being, “Until your photo is printed in the paper, Indian fathers see you as a nalayak!”

He reminisces over how December 29, 2009 became an important day in his life, a day he’ll never forget — the day he started work on his label with two tailors — about five years after he had graduated. He was a little lost and unsure as to whether to go to London for further studies or start something on his own. He had worked for two and a half years with Wrangler Jeans (Arvind Lifestyle Brands Limited) in Bengaluru. He was on a sabbatical of sorts, with no job and no money, when he met his wife-to-be. “She brought in the stability that I needed then,” Dhir smiles.

Good Earth was his launch pad — the first store to keep his collection under his label (Suketdhir). He says, “Our clothes are very organic; you’ll see that they have an element of femininity and a very strong element of nazakat too. Good Earth is primarily a womenswear store.

We were the only menswear collection there. Women loved our clothes and were picking them for their men.”

I meet Dhir barely two weeks after he has returned post receiving the Woolmark prize in Italy. And, I have to ask, “Has it sunk in?” He muses, “I don’t think these things ever sink in.”

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