Fashion’s Candid Storyteller: Nachiket Barve
Fashion designer Nachiket Barve has done it all — ramps, celebrity styling, and even costume designing. He discusses the evolution of his brand, the disruption of the social phenomenon that is fashion, and the overkill of trends.
Nachiket Barve is nothing if not candid, albeit kindly, and to the point. In fact, he’s one of the few people especially from the fashion industry who will never have the same old answer for everything. He knows the in and out of trends, speaks his mind on the business of fashion, and is never afraid of having an opinion that might not be the most popular one. In fact, in MW’s cover story on the future of fashion last April, Barve extensively spoke about the need for change in the way we consume fashion, and how originality will now lead the way. He further emphasises on the need for personal style to overpower trends, why celebrity fashion culture works, and his experiments with costume designing.
Costume designing has been taking up quite a lot your time, how was designing for Tanhaji and now, Adipurush?
My brand, as a designer, is of course where it all started. But costume designing is something that just happened by chance. I started with doing Marathi movies four or five years ago, and that got me a bunch of best costume designer awards, state awards, and more. Then from there, Tanhaji happened. The approach to costume design is totally different because for fashion, it is about dialogue between my creation and the consumer. With films, it is more of a triangular conversation. It is about servicing the script, honouring the director’s vision, and turning the actor into the character. The challenge is to work with one of the biggest names from the industry, and to convince the audience that they are seeing the story of this character, and not the actor who you see on the red carpet, or at the airport.
When it comes to design, what’s your ethos?
Authenticity and integrity are the backbones of what I do. People still order clothes from my first collection at GenNext from all those years ago. That talks about the longevity of good design and well-made clothing. I always say that I don’t want you to say ‘I will lose 5 kilos and then come wear your clothes’. No, I want you to look beautiful just the way you are. I have been saying this since day one. Regardless of your body type or your age or your ethnicity, we will make something that makes you look and feel amazing.
And the same thing happens for films. When I am doing a period film, I will stay authentic to the era, do a heck load of research, see museums, vintage collectors etc. When I was doing Kajol’s costume for Tanhaji, I did not want to add zardosi, pearl work to her blouses, or add borders on the saris because this was not what the film was about. Because it would have been inauthentic with the character and the ethos.
Your work has impressed international critics early on itself. How have you seen your sense of design evolve over the years?
I have been very fortunate to have people respond positively to what I have been doing right from the beginning, because there has been a sense of clarity and transparency about what the label is about right from the first day. So maybe that sense of honesty is what resonates with people and as
far as my design is concerned, I think as a designer or a creative professional, you are always in the state of metamorphosis. I always look back at my collections and kind of pick them apart. That really tormented me for years, but I also realised fashion is about evolution, and not revolution. Of course, there is a change and evolution in my design process, but that change is gradual and organic, and it is something that is coming from within.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is minimal. It is curious, if that could be a word used for style. It is also deeply personal, because it is always centred around what brings me joy or what evokes a sense of memory or a sensorial kind of a thrill.
What are the aesthetic challenges that the fashion industry is facing today?
I think overkill is the biggest challenge. When we look at the grandmasters of design from the early 20th century or the houses that are venerated today, you still look at a dress or a piece of jewellery, and you identify it as a belonging of the house because it was built with love, and with a certain amount of time. I think now, pre-pandemic, especially the pace at which fashion was changing, there was a new collection every six weeks, and I don’t know how much of that would have lasted into the next century. Sometimes, too much of a good thing also dilutes the essence of something. This is a global challenge.
Where does couture for menswear stand in India? Has it gone beyond wedding clothing?
Honestly, I think the whole concept of couture has been kind of stretched, moulded, and trashed around in a larger sense because couture is something that is custom made for you. It is not necessarily about outfits that weigh 25 kilos, or light up a room, or whatever. For example, Saville Row tailoring, that is couture in its own way. But when it comes to what we call couture, I think except for a handful of maybe menswear specialists who do elaborate evening wear for men, a lot of it is still only catered to wedding essentials.
And what do you think is missing in the Indian menswear market today?
I think in menswear, it is very hard to define India broadly into a certain market. There are many layers and complexities. While you have fashion peacocks who will wear the latest and the most imaginative ensemble, I think a lot of it is very conformist. We don’t really have the kind of ethos where as much as menswear can be really celebrated and displayed. Given the country that we have, I would love to see more of India in our clothes, rather than trends that really work in Paris and Milan, with their weather, quality of sunlight, etc.
Do you think we aren’t taking luxury leisurewear for men seriously enough yet?
Luxury is a very thin slice of the Indian market. Within that, when we talk about athleisure at a luxury price, it again sits with a certain kind of a certain bracket of the demographic of the market. Of course, the knock-offs of those at a non-luxury level will permeate at every level. It is totally cool to wear jeggings or track pants or athleisure jeans with an elasticated hem or something similar, which is taking away the stiffness out of it into a normal parlance every day. But at the luxury level, it is already a very fine slice that we deal with, so I dont think it really qualifies as a trend, in that sense.
Let’s talk about celebrity & fashion. What are your thoughts on the showstopper culture that exists predominantly in India, especially during fashion week?
I think the pandemic has put the stop in the shows (laughs). But that apart, I think culture is not set in stone, culture evolves. Like in a sea of overkill, the fact that you have a celebrated person blending their persona to a collection is definitely a plus. It is not just here, internationally too we have had celebrated labels have celebrities walk for them, and break the internet. For example, Jennifer Lopez for Versace, or Zoolander’s promotion at Valentino, or whether Tom Ford had an all-star runway when he relaunched his label a few years ago. It is about what each creator feels best signifies their universe.
Fashion, for the last year, has been all about comfort. Do you think this will somehow permanently affect the way we look at what is “trending” and what isn’t?
For me, trend is a word that has been bashed around beyond the point of death, resurrection and re-death, if that’s a word. I would really love to see the end of trends, and the resurgence of style, where you dress in a way that is stylish for you. Look at the biggest style icons in the history of fashion, they have all been people who were very articulate, and had a self-defined point of view. Audrey Hepburn with the little black dress, even Charlie Chaplin had his own style. Trends are like pre-corona now.