Ahead Of His Time: In Conversation With Designer Kaushik Velendra
Meet 29-year-old Kaushik Velendra, the boy who went from costume designing in the South to doing his first fashion show ever at London Fashion Week, and is achieving what many only hope to, in just a year.
I’ll say this bluntly, and you may contest, but find me a resume as studded as Kaushik Velendra’s. I’ll wait. At all of 29, the Bengaluru-born boy who moulded and sold candles to earn his bread, moved to Chennai at 16 to become a “light boy” on film sets, leading to work in the costume departments, and then became an assistant costume designer. No, that’s not all. After becoming a personal stylist to actors like Kamal Haasan, he applied to the Mecca of fashion, Central St Martins, and became the first Indian-born designer to do menswear fashion MA. He presented at London Fashion week within three months of launching his label, and was nominated for the LVMH prize within weeks. Onward and upward to dressing celebrities like supermodel Alton Mason for the Grammy’s, and our very own Ranveer Singh for Filmfare Awards. October marks a year of launching his own label, and he’s already presented his next collection at LFW in September. While the world is battling the pandemic, Velendra has moved into his new atelier, which is Alexander McQueen’s former studio, at Hoxton Square. With an aim to change what Indian fashion stands for on the global map, Velendra is here to keep traditions alive, with a twist.
You’ve dressed Ranveer Singh, who pretty much is the most fashionably experimental actor in India. With celebrities sporting the changing reality of fashion and their fluidity, how do you think the paradigm of menswear has shifted?
Menswear is always changing and evolving, and it’s evolving more these days because men have become more conscious about how they present themselves, and are getting influenced by art, culture, music, and different movements. But I’m not trying to change or bring in fluidity. What I’m trying to do is retain the masculinity of menswear, and give it a new direction. The outfits are beautifully masculine, and yet different in their approach. I’ve internally constructed my outfits on the base of activewear, so they’re body centric, irrespective of who wears them, they’ll take the shape of the person’s body. That’s the kind of change I’m bringing about in the principles of menswear.
You said your aim is to put India on the global fashion map. How do you plan to do that?
Whatever I’ve done in the past one year, I was the first India-born person to do it. I recently got to know that there have been thousands of applications at CSM from India, and almost all of them have my name as reference. That’s what I have wanted to do — to be able to create that channel. I have created a path that people can follow. I was listed at London Fashion Week as the first menswear India-born designer. When someone talks about any Indian designer, they think colour, embroidery, beading, etc. I’m trying to show a completely different side of craftsmanship, and the quality of work that can come out of our country. This is me, and I am representing a whole new version of India, wherever I go.
Do you think Indian fashion has become more gender fluid? Where do you think the limitations in Indian menswear here lie?
I decided to work with Ranveer Singh for this very reason, because the country looks at him as a role model for men’s extreme fashion. The minute I put him into an outfit like the one at Filmfare, it created a benchmark. The outfit was a non-Indian outfit, but was rooted and made in the country, and that links the West to India in a different manner. It shows that if Singh can pull it off, everyone else can too. People are changing the way they think about menswear, and it is a Bollywood-centric market, so that’s what defines the trend.
What’s your personal style like?
I’m always busy, and always running around, so I like being in activewear clothing so I ensure I hit the gym always. I like the center of attraction to be my work and my personality. Now I’ve started wearing my own clothes, own shirts, etc, and that’s going to be my new look for a while.
With the power look silhouette at your Autumn Winter show at London Fashion Week, do you think silhouettes in menswear are being explored to their full potential?
A silhouette doesn’t belong to a category, and that’s my design process as well. Technically, you’re dressing up the human body, and there are a lot of silhouettes for the human body that have developed over the years. Things have gotten exaggerated, or minimal, and it’s a continuous process. Menswear, globally, has witnessed this. In India, however, it’s a different subject. Maybe men like to dress up, but when it comes to experimenting, you have to have a broader perspective, and break out of stereotypes. Fitness is also a very important factor in defining your silhouette, to be honest.
With the pandemic’s onset and the digitisation of fashion weeks, also the number of fashion weeks that have multiplied over the years, do you think fashion weeks are relevant?
Absolutely. It’s your platform to showcase your work, where everyone comes together. I agree, we may not need so many shows. I, for one, want to stick to a seasonless collection. I want to create a one massive collection that can be shown twice a year instead of four times, and do smaller salon shows, like Coco Chanel used to do.
India had its era of male supermodels, but that’s somehow diminished, with the emergence of Bollywood showstoppers. Do you think the male supermodel is an important part of showcasing the clothes?
I understand that the concept of showstoppers in India is what sells, but it becomes more about who the showstopper is, and not the outfit. The face of a fashion show has to be the clothes, not the model. I don’t know what supermodel means, all my models are supermodels. That’s why each of my looks have a separate identity. Here, the person who starts the show is the strongest look, and not the ending garment. It’s completely different from what happens in India. All your models should feel like stars, and the culture needs to shift from showstopper culture to model culture. This has affected model life, because it then sets the benchmark for the model to be an actor in order to close a show.
What were some of your earliest influences, and how did that evolve into your current aesthetic?
I used to make candles to be able to eat food. That has taught me to mould the best garments, and it’s because of working with so many costume departments, stars, and everything from my childhood. I learnt to understand the human body, and understand how to construct a garment that uplifts how a man wants to feel. That is one of my strongest points today. Rolling fabrics and putting them into warehouses was one of my jobs, and there was hardly any electricity, so I used to understand the fabric from what it smells like, and how it feels. Today if you ask me to close my eyes and touch a fabric, I can tell you exactly what it is. Everything I went through, made me who I am.
Do you aspire to showcase in India in the future?
Well, next year hopefully if things are better, I want to do a show in India. It’s a chance for the western world to interact with the country, so it’s like I will do a London Fashion Week show, but in India. I hope I can do this.
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