Every Man For Himself
Last year, I set out with two of my guy friends on a mission: to find the perfect sherwani. The occasion was one of their weddings, and he was quite clear about what he didn’t want — asymmetrical silhouettes and OTT embellishments. The brief was clear but the search, overwhelming. Five stores and hundreds of fabric samples later (the groom also knew that he wanted breathable textiles as it was a summer wedding), we finally found the right match. Through my friend, I observed that the millennial Indian male consumer has developed his sartorial cognizance. But, is there enough supply available for this growing demand?
According to Raymond’s 2018-19 annual report, India’s apparel market is majorly driven by menswear, with it accounting for 43 per cent of the total market. The shift in behaviour is quite visible. From my father going to the local tailor to get his yearly quota of trousers and shirts stitched to my brother spending hours browsing through e-commerce apps to update his wardrobe, there has been a significant change in the way men shop. Rajiv Purohit, lead designer at Good Earth menswear, explains, “#menlovefashion #menlovejewellery #kohlinedeyes #menindrapesaresexy are hashtags I use to describe men’s fashion today. We lost this somewhere with men. Men today are involved and self-aware, like they were until the ’60s. They know what they want to wear, what fits work for them, and how to accessorise and take care of their bodies, inside and out. Even if unsure or apprehensive, men are more willing to experiment today. They are shopping for themselves, and they are shopping for entire looks. As a designer, it’s very important that I give styling ideas on how to mix and match, or dress up and down with the same look.”
In 1989, multi-designer store Ensemble showcased Rohit Bal’s first all-menswear collection. Following this, designers such as Manoviraj Khosla, Raghavendra Rathore, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Cue by Rohit Gandhi + Rahul launched their ready-to-wear lines for men. In 2009, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) organised the country’s first ever men’s fashion week, in association with Van Heusen. That year was an important one for the industry as designers started breaking away from the kitschy, almost costume-like, approach to fashion and started presenting pared-down silhouettes that would sell on a global platform.
The shows had to be cancelled after a few seasons due to the lack of sponsors, but they opened the market up to a whole new world for menswear — contemporary designs constructed with indigenous fabrics, a unisex aesthetic and Indian minimalism. Fashion designer Raghavendra Rathore weighs in on the evolving menswear segment, “Markets develop as society evolves via technology, lifestyle and governance, alongside the businesses that cater to the market. Compared to a decade ago, the consumer has a higher global exposure, and their expenditure has also grown exponentially. Today, male consumers have a more significant voice in the fashion marketplace. Their dominance in sunglasses, watches, and other leather accessories has seen an upward demand, which makes them the ideal target in the retail multiverse. The bespoke space, in particular, has always been male-dominated. Men have always encouraged designer brands to offer scintillating products and their appetite for customised ensembles has grown considerably.” In 2010, Suket Dhir retailed his first organic menswear line from Good Earth that included uncomplicated separates like jamdani shirts, brocade jackets and bandhgalas. In 2014, Antar-Agni by Ujjawal Dubey presented structured drapes on the runway, which pushed forward the idea of gender-neutral clothing in India. Over the years, veterans such as Arjun Saluja, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, JJ Vallaya and Tarun Tahiliani have steadily built on this contemporary narrative with occasion wear that features androgynous separates, floral prints, embroidered shawls and sequined sherwanis.
A slew of womenswear designers also launched exclusive menswear collections in order to diversify their consumer base. Amongst these were Manish Arora (for Koovs in 2016), Shivan & Narresh Man (2016), Amit Aggarwal (2018), Bodice by Ruchika Sachdeva (2019), and Rimzim Dadu (2019). Streetwear and athleisure also found prominence on the runways, which led to the launch of cutting-edge labels such as Bhaane (2012), Huemn (2012), Sahil Aneja (2012), Dhruv Kapoor (2014) and Nought One by Abhishek Paatni (2016). In October last year, Good Earth Sustain launched its first menswear collection Abeer. “I want men to be dressed as beautifully as women. Abeer is a global man, rooted in tradition and, hence, storytelling is an integral part of his life. I wanted to reintroduce men to my love for India and handcrafted fabrics and techniques and how these looks can be an integral part of everyday lives and not just the special moments,” says Purohit.
Design intervention was not the only factor that compelled the Indian man to elevate his wardrobe from cookie-cutter to idiosyncratic. Pop-culture and the social zeitgeist also played a major role in transforming the notions of traditional masculinity. When actor Ranveer Singh stepped out in a skirt for the Bajirao Mastani promotions in 2015, people sat up and took notice. Here was a man (who was otherwise the epitome of what one could define as conventional Indian masculinity) wearing a quintessentially feminine silhouette and owning it. This appearance was followed by some of his other iconoclastic and, sometimes, bizarre looks that altered the rules of menswear in the country at a mainstream level. Men started searching for something cool and different — something that brought out their individuality.
The launch of contemporary multi-designer menswear stores — Curato in Mumbai (2018) and Dapper in Kolkata (2019) — was a big step in organising the sector’s retail industry and bringing all the options under one roof. Curato was launched in October 2018 in Mumbai by Shibani Bhagat and Tanisha Rahimtoola due to the lack of a unified retail platform. “During my wedding preparations, all the men in my life grappled with the same problem of where to shop. There was no customised experience for men, where they could find the best collections and a variety of apparel, all under the same retail space. We found ourselves making countless trips to individual designers or tailoring units at multiple bespoke outlets from all over India, which was both time-consuming and expensive. That’s when we realised there was a prominent gap in the market,” says Bhagat. Today, Curato stocks close to 40 brands, including brands such as Khanijo, Anurag Gupta and Arjun Kilachand, which span over a spectrum of occasion wear, athleisure separates and accessories for men. Rahimtoola explains, “Our modest yet unique enterprise was conceptualised to fight the rigid fashion binary. We don’t promote anti-global fashion but what we would like to call the ‘owing our own’ concept.” The gap between affordability and luxury is also being filled by upcoming labels such as Andamen, Bareek and Rouka by Sreejith Jeevan. And when we say affordable, we mean separates that fall under 3,000 rupees.
Today, Instagram has become a key player in changing the landscape of menswear, making it inclusive and one-of-a-kind. Enter Jaywalking, a label championing streetwear, that doesn’t show its models’ faces in the posts — only the clothes. The label’s designer Jay Ajay Jajal wants consumers to feel that anybody can wear the outfits. Tailor & Circus, a body positive unisex innerwear label, doesn’t believe in posting overtly sexual images on the ‘gram. Along with this type of consciousness, there is also a heightened sense of responsibility amongst contemporary labels to help create a sustainable economy and circular supply chain for their garments. In October 2018, Lota, an ethical fashion label that works with textile scraps, sold their debut collection of ‘wasteful shirts’ on Instagram through an auction. Delhi-based designer Jenjum Gadi works with native handlooms and, sometimes recycles his old collections to create his menswear line. In order to augment socio-economic sustainability amongst the rural and urban sectors, Raymond Ltd. joined hands with the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in 2017 to launch Khadi by Raymond — India’s first branded khadi label for men.
So how would you categorise the menswear segments in the country today? Business, casual and wedding wear? Well, menswear has definitely moved beyond this established catalogue. Today, men have a whole spectrum of personalities to choose from — minimalist or maximalist, athletic or eclectic, as long as it’s true to themselves. Choose what works for you. I know a friend who has only black T-shirts in his wardrobe and a colleague who makes his own shirts. My brother has every possible shade of blue pants in his closet and, that too, in two different weaves — cotton twill and denim. He understands that both the fabrics fall differently on his body. Another acquaintance has a sizeable collection of white sneakers because he believes that they work with everything else that he owns. It is 2019, and the rules of dressing up are that there are no rules. Fashion is a powerful tool that not only makes a statement but also starts meaningful dialogues and, if done right, can subvert conventional perceptions.
The system of menswear retail in the country is clearly going through a shake-up, and while brands are still on the fringes, they are testing the waters of this disruption and experimenting with their approaches to redefine Indian masculinity.
Location courtesy: Ensemble, Kala Ghoda
Multi-designer store Ensemble in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, offers men the same rigorous curation and service that it has given women for over three decades, under the stewardship of executive director Tina Tahiliani Parikh. As a pioneer in both design and luxury retail, the store is often looked up to by industry insiders for a sign of what’s to come. When the brand launched its menswear space in 2016, it signalled a serious commitment to developing the market for men’s style in India. Ranging from everyday wear to ethnic clothing and bespoke tailored garments and accessories, the store houses leading menswear labels such as Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna, Rishta by Arjun Saluja, Dhruv Vaish, Antar-Agni and Karan Torani. For a true-blue customised experience, Ensemble also extends their services to their patrons’ homes and offices.