Winner of the International Woolmark Award for men’s wear, Suket Dhir has also been felicitated at the Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2016 at a special show. Dhir is the first Indian to have won the International Woolmark Award in Florence. Celebrating his big win on the international platform and with the ongoing Lakme Fashion Week, here is our story on Suket Dhir who is currently the toast of the fashion circuit.

Has the Woolmark Prize win sunk in yet? 

I don’t think it ever will. I became a dad two years ago and even that hasn’t sunk in yet. It is, however, a beautiful feeling that I don’t have the right words to describe.

At what stage in the competition did you realise you had a real shot at winning the top prize?

To be honest, I didn’t even think I deserved to be part of the competition. IMG-Reliance emailed me, inviting me to enter the competition, and that in itself was quite unnerving for me. This was in September 2014, and the deadline for entries was three months later, in December. Till mid-November, I didn’t even have any ideas regarding what I wanted to do. I consider Asha Baxi, a former dean of NIFT — who has taught most leading Indian designers of today — a mentor, and I went to her for advice. I said I didn’t know why I had been invited and wondered whether I deserved it. She knocked some sense into my head and helped me come up with a concept.

What was the concept? How did you execute it?

I couldn’t think of anything, so I consulted Ms Baxi. She simply asked me what was on my mind those days. My son was only a year old then, and I said that the only thing on my mind was that when I played with him, I would think of my own childhood. She said, “There you go; that’s your theme.” Around March, I got a response from Woolmark saying I had been shortlisted for the regionals, and that was my cue to begin work on the collection. I spent three months working with weavers in Telangana in the summer. It was 50 degrees or so, and that was around the time a few people in the region reportedly died of heat stroke. I wanted to create ikats using Merino Wool, since that was a requisite for the competition. It was like throwing a googly at the weavers, because they had never worked with wool before. Plus, I was asking them to use it to weave a summer fabric, and not a wintry one as you would expect with wool. Thankfully, we pulled it off.

You’ve won a sizeable prize of AU $ 100,000. How do you plan to use it?

So much has already been spent on developing and planning this collection and on hiring new people. I’ve spent money on making additional products for markets like Japan and around Europe. The prize money is a good amount to support a business, but it’s not like a lottery. I hope we can make enough to build the brand further now.

Is the international market a bigger priority for you now? 

Definitely more than before. I don’t think too many people even in India knew me before this. Here, there are too few people who understand and appreciate good fabric. Now, my focus on India and international markets is roughly equal. I feel that there is big potential for a label with my aesthetics abroad. I never had the resources to showcase outside India before this, so this has definitely helped.

Are you relieved the competition is over? 

Absolutely, but when you put things in perspective, the real work has just begun. I want to expand the label while retaining my philosophy of ‘less is more’. To me, what goes into the product is far more important than how it looks. I’m particular about the smallest of details, like buttonholes and hemming.

Did interacting with international experts and designers during the event also help you in any way? 

There wasn’t much time to chat, but I did manage to have a few meaningful conversations with Suzy Menkes, a renowned fashion critic, and designer Haider Ackermann. For them to appreciate and praise my work was a big deal.

Who are the designers whose work you admire? 

Not designers as such, but I look up to Hermès and even Apple for their beautiful design philosophy and the focus they have on creating good products.