Suket Dhir’s clothing has been synonymous with eccentricity. But most of all, Dhir equates everything he does with emotion. Yes, design is important. Of course, the aesthetic is priority, but what matters the most is how your outfit makes you feel. As a personality too, he’s open hearted, he will chat with you about his life, in an instant, but when it comes to his fashion decisions, he’s exactly that particular. And that’s why, when he wanted to weave his ikat wool for his Woolmark entry at a time when weavers were either used to cotton or silk, he got his weaved ikat wool. And onwards and upwards, he went.
What’s a quintessential Suket Dhir piece of clothing?
My philosophy is to make clothes that can transform a person, according to their mood. When I design clothes, I like to see how the person makes the garment look. A quintessential piece would be something that would remind you of your value system. It would adhere to the belief of buying less, but buying the best. A product that you can wear over and over again. In fact, because I use natural fibre, every time you wash the garment, the material evolves a little. It becomes a different kind of beautiful, just like human beings evolve. I have a jacket, made of polyester, with lining, that has lasted me 12 to 13 years. I took inspiration in my life from this, to make clothes with natural fibres that can last long. I have worn clothes that have been passed on for generations, that’s how we are, as Indians.
What are your principles of design that you absolutely never compromise on?
Less is more, that’s my biggest principle. I don’t like to put anything on a garment that doesn’t have a purpose. To add piping, panel, for no reason, makes no sense to me. I’d much rather make a plain product than put 20 things to justify a price. Earlier, I also had a no-embroidery rule. Last season, I did my first embroidery, and I fell in love with it. I have been using embroidery not to make the product expensive, but to communicate a message. Aesthetic is non-negotiable, but as a designer, it’s important for me to go beyond the aesthetic.
From winning the Woolmark Prize in 2016 to now, what are your biggest lessons learnt?
I guess I have one big lesson that I’ve learnt, to always focus on things you’re good at doing, and find good people to do things that you’re not good at doing. This has been my mantra, because when you think about it, a lot of people praise high-end designers, be an Alexander McQueen or a Christian Dior, for their genius. It’s not only because they’re genius designers, it’s because they have a genius marketing team, a genius production team, and so on. It’s a team of geniuses that makes a brand massive. Your relationship with handloom and natural fibres is an old one.
Do you think we are doing enough with the rich heritage in handloom that we have?
It’ll never be enough. But what I like to push for, is for the focus to shift away from the craftsmen and weavers, to the craft and the weave. At present, the focus is people-centric. The vocation is the genius. We need to glamourise the weave, and we’ll find more people wanting to learn it, and excel in it, because it’s a generational craft. It’s a small tweak in our attitude that’s needed. We keep saying that weaving is a poor man’s vocation, so glamourise the vocation, and the poor man won’t remain poor anymore. That way, you’ll be able to demand more quality weaving from the weaver too. During my Woolmark collection, I was uncompromising with the weave. The weavers kept saying what I wanted was not possible, but I stood my ground, and the weaver was able to do what I wanted. That’s when I realised that as a designer, I have to push the boundaries myself. The collaboration between a designer and a craftsman is of utmost importance.
Do you see yourself more as a craftsman, or as a fashion designer?
I see myself as a fashion designer, and a collaborator. My design is expressed through craft, but I still think like a fashion designer. As designers, we are responsible for thinking not just about textile, but about styling, what kind of jewellery, shoes, hairstyle or even the lifestyle that goes with your clothes. I have an edge when it comes to craft and textiles, but I’m still very proudly, a fashion designer. I love the tag.
What are the challenges in the menswear space in India?
From a design perspective, the growth is still in the festive wear space. That’s a challenge. The money too, remains in festive wear. In India, when it comes to menswear designer wear, most men will think of a designer when there’s an important occasion. Otherwise, they’re very casual shoppers. There will be a few who have an understanding of how they like their collars, or what kind of a shirt they want. The awareness comes from evolution.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in menswear in India?
Before the readymade era, I remember people had a traditional yet sartorial sense, which is missing now. They start looking like clones of each other. Industrialisation was the need of the hour, but the sartorial sense and aesthetic, globally, went a little haywire. But we’re experimenting a lot now, there’s a lot of acceptance for colour in the wardrobe, and we’re ready to change silhouettes. It’s not too gay to wear a print anymore, the boundaries are blurring, and that’s a beautiful thing for design.
As someone who is recognised globally for your craftsmanship, how do you think Indian fashion is perceived at a global level, at present?
Indian textile is taken seriously, but Indian fashion, no. A good start has been made, but we have a really long way to go. When it comes to textile and craft, India has been, is, and always will be an influencer.
Your aesthetic has broadly always been gender fluid. How have you seen androgyny makes its place in India’s fashion space?
I’ve never thought of it from a gender perspective, because I’ve always designed for myself. I make clothes that I know I’d like to wear. While growing up, I always used to think all the nice, soft fabrics are for women. Why not for men? So when I started designing, I had the comfort factor in mind. My wife, in fact, always wears clothes from my wardrobe. Gender fluidity has evolved, globally, but usually I go by what I like to wear, and it’s a movement today. Do I think it has pushed boundaries? Honestly, I don’t think so.
What are your biggest concerns, personally and professionally, about the current situation, with the ongoing pandemic?
Personally, I think I’m fine. But right now, we need our weavers and craftsmen, in the furthest corners of the country, to receive basic essentials. In a few months, weavers, craftsmen, and other professionals, are going to need micro financing loans, at a nominal or zero interest as capital to restart operations without stress. Since our industry has been pre-compliant with the requirements of COVID-19, practising social distancing by working from home when it comes to handloom and embroidery, the government must heavily invest in skill development programmes, as skill upgradation will be required, to work from home. Vendors, etc, will need loans to recapitalise too.