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October 09, 2015

Verve Wedding Diaries #3: Why Shantanu And Nikhil Should Be On Your Shopping List

Text by Saumya Sinha. Photograph by Anshika Varma

Designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra gave staid Indian fashion a contemporary makeover and became trailblazers of red carpet dressing. As they celebrate 15 magnificent years, the bridal wear experts take Verve on a retrospective tour

Stepping into the big league
The idea of contributing to the luxury garment industry first entered their minds while they were still studying — Shantanu was doing his MBA at Ohio State University and Nikhil, a Masters in Fashion from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FDIM), Los Angeles. “I began to understand Nikhil’s flair for fusing Indian crafts and modernity during his graduate runway show in LA. He not only got a standing ovation for the collection he showed but also triggered a spark inside me to sell this unique craft in our own country,” says Shantanu. While Nikhil is the creative force of the company and Shantanu the commerce guru, together they bring a synergy that nurtures the brand and caters to the demands and desires of highly diverse sartorial connoisseurs.

The duo’s entry into the limelight came serendipitously with an invitation to participate in the second edition of the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai in 2001 to fill in the empty slot left by designer Raghavendra Rathore who withdrew at the last moment. “This was a huge moment as India had only just woken up to fashion as a serious medium and business forum through a platform such as this, and here was a chance to showcase our debut collection to the world so early on in our career graph,” they acknowledge.

Even though the idea of Indo-Western expressions in sartorial language is prosaic now, their partnership has inarguably facilitated the process to present it in a new light. Going by the philosophy of ‘progressive unification’, they paraded a revolutionary change for the style cognoscenti.

Travel tales
Over the years, the brothers have brought the wisdom of their expeditions into their works. And even though their designs have changed and evolved drastically, the idea of combining the novel and classic does not seem to waver. From Camel Safari (A/W 2006), inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s visit to the Pushkar mela in Rajasthan, Banaras Boulevard (S/S 2008) and Serenity of Ladakh (S/S 2009) to Sand Dunes (S/S 2013) — an ode to the luxurious traveller — and most recently Rani Sultanat (F/W 2014), inspired by the magnificent architecture of 1930s Istanbul, their collections are all results of ideas picked as souvenirs from the places they have visited.

Making an indelible mark
Once papped as star dressers after actress Shilpa Shetty wore one of their designs — a jewelled, embroidered empire-line emerald green gown — at the inaugural IIFA Awards show in London in 2007, there was absolutely no turning back for them. Ever since, the luminaries of celebrity and red carpet style have dressed some of the biggest names such as Serena Williams, Paris Hilton, Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone among others. Adding to their series of achievements, the dynamic duo pioneered the concept of the sari-gown and breathed life into the nouveau concepts of demi-couture gowns, à la mode lehngas, concept anarkalis and draped kurtas. They are also the third in the world after Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto to have collaborated with Adidas to launch a lifestyle-meets-sports line.

Looking back, the bridal wear experts share that “the past four years or so have just gone by in the introspection of the brand, thereby trying to seek more clarity and the right market focus. In this journey of self-discovery, we have become our work’s biggest critics in a quest to achieve balance, power and beauty, and complete authority over our product segment”.

Exploring new roads and expanding boundaries
Shantanu, who enjoys shopping at Soho in New York and Knightsbridge in London, admits that the brand would love to set up bridal standalone stores internationally. As of now, their primary focus is to open more brick-and-mortar menswear couture concept stores in the near future and they are eagerly looking forward to their upcoming showcase. “Our recent trip to Jodhpur and the Savage Beauty exhibition of Alexander McQueen’s work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has given us enough reasons to create something rather inspirational this A/W 2015 and we can’t wait to unveil it.”

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