The Traditional Storyteller: Punit Balana Wants Fashion To Be Comfortable
Mixing ethnic and contemporary to suit the quintessential Indian man’s personal style, fashion designer Punit Balana has brought his Rajasthani essence to his first men’s wears collection, and wants fashion to be a comfortable and conscious choice for all.
When I was researching fashion designer Punit Balana for this interview, his outfits clearly reminded me of one thing — Indian culture. Hailing from Jaipur, Rajasthan, Balana is a firm believer in giving back to the heritage he was born into, and his clothes are a reflection of his ever-interesting views on the power of Indian craftsmanship. His womenswear is widely popular with actresses; from Kareena Kapoor Khan’s chic dressing sense to Aditi Rao Hydari’s royal ethos, they have been adorned by the crème de la crème of Bollywood. He’s a fan of embroidery, block-printing, and has helped celebrate traditional Rajasthani crafts on a bigger scale, be it his collection at fashion weeks, or weaved into the outfits of the celebs that wear him. Finally taking his contemporary sense of design and functionality into a space he’s new to, Balana has recently launched his first menswear collection, and believes that menswear and the versatility of it is ever-evolving. He expresses his thoughts on the same.
You’ve been quite the popular designer for womenswear. What made you decide to venture into menswear?
Ever since I launched my label in 2015, I have been focusing on designing for women. My designs are contemporary and easy to wear – comfort is an important brand attribute. For many years, I was receiving requests from my friend circle to design for men, and eventually, I decided it was high time that I create pieces for men too. The time I had in hand last year gave me the opportunity to research and design interesting concepts. This led to ‘Mandana’, and given the subtle colours and sustainable fabrics, I thought of creating a mix of classic and contemporary kurta sets for men. Men usually like to keep their Indian wear light and comfortable, hence I thought this was an apt collection to introduce ethnic menswear.
As a designer, what are the main differences you need to keep in mind in today’s time for designing menswear and womenswear?
Since this is a new vertical for me as well, I have realised that with menswear, the emphasis is more on the structure of the garment, hence we have been very particular about this aspect as well.
Have you brought a lot of Rajasthan into your menswear collection as well?
I have always been passionate about fashion, and followed the latest trends and designers from India, and across the globe. This initial interest led me to delve deeper into the finer focus areas like silhouettes, textiles, cuts, and prints, with a special interest in block prints that are native to the city of my birth. India, and especially Rajasthan, has so much to offer in terms of art, culture, and heritage, and I am proud to bring these forms to life through my designs.
How versatile do you think menswear in India today is?
Very versatile. Gone are the days when only women had multiple options to choose from (and I am not complaining). This versatility has got to do with many factors — age, income, exposure due to travel, and the likeliness to experiment. From casual wear to formal wear to ethnic, each category offers a wide range of options to choose from. For example, my own collection. We have ensured that the designs are versatile, and cater to all age groups and design sensibilities. A short kurta paired with cowl pants, or our block-printed kurtas with resham work detailing paired with pants, would attract a younger audience. But we also have classic kurtas with churidars, which would be a preferred choice amongst patrons above 45 years.
What are your favourite techniques to use?
Since the beginning of my designing career, I have always been fascinated with the art of block printing. These prints are so versatile, and not restricted to any fabric. One always sees beautiful colours on a block printed piece. There are various techniques of block printing. For my collections, I have explored a wide range of these techniques, and each of them are unique and special in their own way.
How would you define your personal style?
I live in athleisure wear – it’s comfortable, effortless, and cool. Pairing a T-shirt on joggers with a casual jacket or a shirt with cotton trousers and sneakers, these are easy looks, yet comfortable. I also like printed cotton co-ord sets in fun colours.
Given that I have an active lifestyle, given my work and my fitness regime, there are times when I also like interesting gym wear.
You’re someone who really believes in rooting your design in Indian culture. Do you think we delve into the archives of our heritage enough when it comes to fashion?
As a label, I strongly believe in focusing on the Indian culture when it comes to my designs. India is so rich in various forms of art, architecture, and heritage that it is impossible to miss. Staying in Rajasthan gave me the opportunity to work so closely with artisans and craftsmen, and understand these beautiful techniques, as opposed to just adapting them. We have always been speaking about ‘Make in India’ , but I strongly believe in ‘Inspired by India’. When it comes to fashion, we have seen brands using Indian art in their designs, in fact we have also witnessed international brands using Indian prints, and I think we should be proud that our designs are acknowledged internationally.
What, according to you, are the most underrated embroideries and motifs that aren’t explored enough in menswear in India?
To my knowledge, the art of coin work has not been explored much when it comes to menswear. This is a beautiful form of design where we merge the coins with threads and mirrors. A very interesting take on embroidery, I have used this technique in my new collection.
Where do you see Indian fashion on the global map, currently?
Fashion is ever evolving. I feel like a lot of our Indian fashion designers are recognised internationally as well. It is lovely to see tourists from other countries in awe of our creations when they visit India. They take this experience back to their home, and by word of mouth, we receive so many sales queries. I feel like Indian fashion is here to stay and only has a progressing future globally.
You also emphasise on responsible fashion. What are the most sustainable steps you’ve taken?
One of the brand’s core beliefs is sustainability. The choices made as a brand always align with our beliefs, and whatever techniques are used, in terms of dyeing, printing and more, are conscious and natural techniques. For ‘Mandana’ , the brand has only made use of the existing blocks that were already available at the manufacturing unit for over 10 years. We also made it a point to ensure we recycle the blocks to see in what better way can they be used.
Do you think sustainability is a buzzword, or are we actually moving towards a more responsible industry?
With the current scenario, there is a dire need to implement sustainability in whatever way one can. When we talk about sustainable fashion, it not only involves a particular piece, but the entire process that is involved from sourcing raw materials to producing the garment in an ecological environment, to wearing it responsibly. We have definitely seen a shift in the way people buy fashion, and the interest to know where it comes from, as well as observe sustainable patterns of consumption.
How do you think the fashion for 2021 will shape up to be, for India?
When I think of fashion in 2021, I think of it as being a bit understated. With work from home, intimate celebrations, the focus is on fashion that is classic, light, and easy on the pockets too. As for weddings, customers are opting for pieces that are not heavy on zari work etc., but more towards light embroidered, fun prints.
Dream celebrity to style: Shahid Kapoor
Favourite fabric to work with: Linen
A designer to be inspired by: Raghavendra Rathore
Three wardrobe essentials: Blue jeans, sneakers, co-ord set
Favourite shopping destination: London, Paris