Chetaan Shedjale, at first sight, looks like he might be one of those things that Indians are famous for being – a rocket scientist, perhaps, or a prize-winning mathematician. Possibly the only way you would claim right away that he is the senior motorycle designer at Harley-Davidson is if you were Frank Savage, his colleague at the design department at the iconic American brand. Shedjale has flown down from Milwaukee for India Bike Week 2015, and I cornered him to pick his brain a little.
So how does a boy from Solapur go on to become senior motorcycle designer at Harley-Davidson?
Well, it was a lot of hard work! I was a rebel as a boy, and I didn’t want to just go down the usual path. It was a struggle, and I was a typical middle-class boy, but I would say it took some courage to disregard the tried and tested path and do something that I wantted to do. I did an architectural degree from Shivaji University, in Kolhapur, and then I went to the Scuola Politecnica Di Design in Milan, for a Masters degree in car and transportation design. I spent 8 years in Italy before moving to Harley-Davidson, and I was very lucky to have a mentor in Massimo Tamburini, one of the most legendary motorcyle designers of all time – sadly, he died last year. He taught me the basics and ethics of design, and he treated me like a son. And now, here I am!
Italian design is well-known for its sense of chic style, flair and sophistication. Harleys are in-your-face, chunky bikes. How come you ended up working here?
I remember watching a Discovery Channel programme on Willie G. Davidson in 2000, sitting in Solapur, about how he and his team put together the V-Rod, among other bikes. I was hooked. For me, it’s not about the design aesthetic of Harley-Davidson so much as the lifestyle associated with it, one of freedom and the open road. I’m also involved with some very contemporary design at Harley-Davidson, which you can see in the Urban Custom and RDX 800 projects that I designed.
What bikes do you ride?
I love the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom, the Heritage Softail and the CVO Breakout in particular, although I ride a lot of other models!
As a designer, what are some of the non-automotive brands that you admire?
I think Italian design is fantastic, in the fields of fashion and so on. Brands like Piquadro and Mandarina Duck are superb, in terms of detailing and finishing – you know you’re getting very high quality when you’re buying something from them. I also like Diesel a lot, as well as Desigual and Calvin Klein. For classic menswear, you really can’t beat a Prada or Armani. Personally, I dress in what I like to call a sporty classic style, when I’m not wearing company clothing – not too sporty, not too classic.
What is essential to you in your wardrobe?
Watches and shoes! I love both, and I think every man should have a couple of good watches and some nice shoes. It’s all about making a personal style statement, and you shouldn’t just buy something because it’s expensive or flashy or whatever – what you wear has to say something about you as a person.