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Fashion
July 13, 2020

Boys And Their Toys

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

Product and interior designer Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar is diversifying into fashion with his label, Koy Toy Boy, inspired by the uninhibited workers at his construction site, who also showcase the subversive garments for his campaign.

“I didn’t conceptualise this brand because I felt that Indian men lacked representation in fashion; I did it to celebrate the sense of style our men already have,” clarifies Kunaal Kyhaan, the founder of the freshly launched label Koy Toy Boy, who is well known in the design circuit for being the creative director and founder at both the architecture and product design space Studio Haus and the interior design studio The Koy Store. As part of his design practice, Kunaal spends a lot of time at construction sites, and it was while working on one of these projects that the delightfully outlandish printed shirts of the labourers drew his attention. The people he is used to interacting with swear by a minimalistic sartorial sense, often relegating anything outside this subjective constraint of dressing — unless created and endorsed by renowned designer brands — to the lowly echelons of “tackiness”. Kunaal, who movie fiends may recall as playing a young Rahul Khanna in Fireflies (2013) and appearing as Aarif in Fitoor (2016), instead saw beauty in the naturalness of his workers’ flair; he realised that their self-coloured hair and spiritual trinkets (which could be misconstrued by the general public as “flashy”) are, in effect, part of a way of being that claims a space they otherwise aren’t allowed to inhabit.

Koy Toy Boy made its Instagram debut in September last year and, until five months ago, when the first campaign image popped up on the feed, served solely as a platform for acknowledging the uninhibited, subversive India where bedazzled men appeared decked out in heavy jewellery. There are also story highlights showcasing NSFW discussions among the queer community: times when they were caught in compromising situations, a peek into their darkest fantasies; there’s even a highlight specifically dedicated to sharing titillating thirst traps. Kunaal created the account as a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community to interact, engage and revel in their sexuality. And even though he is now using it to market his brand, he has retained that sense of mystery and mischief, interspersing images of his clothes with tongue-in-cheek photos, like one of a phallus-inspired buffet counter.

 

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For starters, Koy Toy Boy has just launched its collection of jewellery, which includes chains, pendants, necklaces and studs crafted from semi-precious coloured stones. Their complete line of bodywear — the website only has only body harnesses on sale for now in that section — can be viewed in the exclusive videos and images Kunaal shared with us. “Before we start, I have to tell you that all the models you see in my campaigns are actually the workers from the construction sites I oversee.” While the obvious questions of agency and power dynamics arise, he explains that his motivation lies in providing a more visible medium for individualistic self-expression and encouraging an inclusive, non-conformist outlook on “desi” men’s fashion. “Since my inspiration for Koy Toy Boy sprung from them, I couldn’t visualise anybody else modelling the clothes. In the visuals, I retain a delicacy of mischief while being socially responsible at the same time. And they didn’t even require much art direction while shooting; their swagger is inherent and unmatchable”, the designer beams over the phone. 

Excerpts from a conversation…

The aesthetic sensibility of your fashion and accessories label, Koy Toy Boy, is distinctly different from that of your design practice, Studio Haus. The former is print-based and OTT while the latter is solid and minimalistic. Did you consciously stray from the philosophy of your design studio while conceptualising your fashion label?
In many ways, I would say all my brands are somewhat connected to each other. They all aim to pay homage to our cultural bedrock, taking reference from the vibrant lives of Maharajas, as well as their exotic rituals and gem philosophies. When I sat to pen down Koy Toy Boy’s story, I visualised jewel-studded models with charismatic body postures having a unique and uninhibited personalised style. I channelled these factors into designing and curating my first drop, which embodied a quintessential “desi” vibe. 

The furniture and art objects at The Koy Store are inspired by the rich materiality and iconic motifs of our culture. Interestingly, Koy Toy Boy’s collection is strongly inspired by my design studio’s motif library this season. The cosmos pendants are a miniature realisation of the cosmos marble legs and the Gajra necklaces lined with idli-shaped crystals are a derivation of my Pebble Sconces marble lights. I’d like to believe that all my brands are tracing the same path, presenting our country’s rich cultural deposit in a contemporary light. 

As of now, most of the clothes we’ve seen follow the principle of logomania. Is that something you’re going to stick with, going forward?
I celebrate materials in my furniture design practice, whether it’s a unique graphic marble or textured wood. With Koy Toy Boy, I wanted to adopt a similar identity but give it a little twist. I used the logo and the words “koy toy boy” as a material to create an identity for the brand that is distinct and celebrates this graphic language while still being inherently individualistic. I see it as something that I can develop further in the future. 

Do you think brown Indian men lack representation in mainstream fashion? Did you start this brand as an attempt to increase their visibility?
I am very inspired by the raw aesthetic that I encounter across people and class — one that celebrates logomania, healing stones, and bold individual styles, often inspired by their communities and their communications within it. There are different norms amongst these communities on social media, predominantly in the erstwhile TikTok and Facebook universe. 

I created Koy Toy Boy as a reflection of this premise and to connect with individuals who have their own innate sense of style. These “desi men” are trend-centric and don’t shy away from flaunting vibrant colours and bold prints. I found a void in our culture as far as a brand that ‘regular’ people could relate to and have a sense of ownership about. In some way, I want to normalise and promote our norm of wearing excessive auspicious accessories and bright colours. 

What is your design process? How do you translate the “desi man” aesthetic into clothes?
“Drafting” — the phase in which the ideas come alive in the form of shapes and structures — comes naturally to me as an architect. Sketches are my preferred medium of translating my visions into reality. Working on patterns and prints is therapeutic; the process of playing with forms, scales, and repeats is equivalent to doing a jigsaw puzzle. During a museum visit in Delhi, I came across the mesmerising Bankura horses of West Bengal in the form of beautiful terracotta sculptures. I have used those patterns in Koy Toy Boy’s collection, which, at first glance, look like blocks of colour variation. On closer inspection, a spread of miniature horses emerges, lining together in a three-way colour palette, like a traditional houndstooth pattern. 

There is a strong affinity for checks and patterns among desi men — shirts that have graphic prints competing with contrasting colours. Their unabashed boldness to experiment and consider it a fashion statement stood out for me. The prints in my collection are a direct framing of this preference — blending pop colours with ironic graphics. 

How do you maintain a balance between being inspired by Indian men and not objectifying them?
I promote self-expression through my campaigns at Koy Toy Boy. The intention is to celebrate diversity, individuality and sexuality in order to enable inclusiveness and non-conforming values. There is nothing vulgar or out of reach with regard to the models who star in my shoots, but what definitely stands out is the effortlessness with which they pose. All the models you see in my campaigns are my workers from The Koy Store who are extremely stylish and natural. I am inspired by this ease and natural swag. To me, objectification occurs when there is a sense of discomfort in the model or the viewer, and it makes you want to look away. 

How do you plan to incorporate size-inclusivity through your brand?
The Koy Toy Boy fit is universal and gender fluid. The shirts are over-sized and can be styled according to the tastes of the user. 

Most of the images on Koy Toy Boy’s Instagram feed features submissions from photoshoots done by independent photographers. How do you make sure the men in the pictures have been photographed with their permission, especially since consent and the lack of it plays an important role in queer issues?
Since the inception of Koy Toy Boy, I have tried to promote a set of values: consent, authenticity and a commitment to social good. The brand started off as a visual mood board and the pictures shared were from reputed photographers, design blogs, archives and direct submissions. Giving due credit to the owners of the images as well as the individuals who feature in them has allowed us to create a community of friends within the network. Besides, a lot of our recent work includes original content created by us with consenting individuals, in addition to direct submissions. 

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