A short history of fashion pour homme, in India
For as long as I can remember, Indians in general and Indian men specifically have never been associated with being fashionable.
That praise has, for over half a century, been strictly reserved for the male population of Italy and a handful of other European countries.
Not many are aware that style and design is in fact deeply ingrained and woven into the fabric of Indian culture. But when it comes to men’s fashion, as an integral component of any sophisticated Indian man’s savoire faire, beyond the celluloid, fantasy world of Bollywood, there's still a long way to go.
The root cause of this ‘unfashionably’ slow progression might have something to do with the depressing levels of poverty, lack of understanding, education and interest amongst the world’s second largest population.
And it is truly unfortunate, that with a culture and heritage as rich and imbued in the royal and mythical as ours is, that any existential sartorial sensibility should have been so heavily diluted over time.
A few good, and stylish, men
The true origin of India’s fashion industry as we know it today is not a fairytale of extravagance and splendor as many would like to believe.
Twenty years ago, there was no fashion industry as such in the country, much less a specific industry for menswear.
A handful of designers (icons today) like Arjun Khanna, Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, among others, laid the seeds for what is a more structured but unfortunately highly political and somewhat bastardized Indian men's fashion industry today.
According to leading menswear designer Arjun Khanna, “The sort of politics that is running and ruining the industry today did not exist when we started out; it was more cut-and-dry in a sense, at the time. It is unfortunate that over two decades of hard work on the part of us all has still not really borne fruit for the Indian fashion fraternity as a whole. You still can’t compare any of the fashion weeks in India to those in Milan, Paris, New York or London.”
And yet Indian designers have a unique design sensibility that taps into the deep-rooted royal heritage and rich history of our country.
“We take pride in this heritage of ours and the fact that we are willing to truly express it through what we do sets us apart,” says Khanna.
The Nawab collection re-arrives
Today, more western or European designers than ever before are using the dress heritage of India as a key influencer and inspiration for their collections and campaigns.
The famed Italian brands Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna are the perfect example of this.
Canali launched their ‘Nawab’ collection in 2009, which is essentially tailored bandgalas or the erstwhile ‘Nehru Jacket.’
“Indian heritage is so rich that you can come up with a collection that will fascinate the world," asserted Paolo Canali during the Mumbai launch. "This Indian-inspired bandgala collection is likely to be proposed for other international cities as well,” he said.
Ermenegildo Zegna’s Spring Summer 09 collection also included similar designs which claimed to evoke ‘the colours, sights and sounds of the Indian subcontinent.'
The entire Zegna SS/09 campaign was also shot and styled in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The boy's bandwagon
Only in the last decade has India emerged as a growing menswear market with a host of international labels from Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali, Hugo Boss and more recently Brioni, Armani, Zara and Burberry setting up shop in India.
Très chic fashion designer and global icon Tom Ford, opened his first boutique in New Delhi a few weeks ago and is of the belief that India is the next hotbed of fashion.
In an interview with GQ India (January 2011), Ford asserts: “…like China, India is the future of the 21st century. It would be foolish not to cultivate a business there."
He’s right on the money and many more are swooping in to take advantage of the menswear market.
In an effort to woo Indian men, revered British women’s accessory brand Jimmy Choo is venturing into men’s footwear nine years after exiting the men’s shoe business.
And that’s not all
The past few years have seen tremendous evolution, with fabled international men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine GQ entering the Indian market in 2008 bringing with it a much needed sartorial edge and editorial sophistication.
In 2009, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and menswear brand Van Heusen collaborated to launch the first-of-its-kind focused menswear fashion week in India called Van Heusen India Men’s Week, establishing India’s position as only the fourth city, globally, to host an independent men’s fashion week.
Model Chirag Bajaj who was discovered by Khanna and has done campaigns for Raymond, The Ahuja Group, Arjun Khanna and others, asserts, “Not only does a men’s fashion week provide a stage for a host of extremely talented menswear designers in India, it also gives the hugely underrated male models a distinct and much needed platform to showcase their talent and skills.”
On a recent trip to Mumbai, I noticed an increasing number of men paying more attention to detail in terms of their fashion, from the cut of a suit jacket or bandgala, the fit of a pair of tailored jodhpurs or trousers, fabric and pattern on ties, the color and metal of cufflinks and even an improvement in personal grooming.
I believed for a moment that Indian men were becoming more discerning and developing an inherent sartorial sensibility.
Khanna agrees, “The conscious, contemporary Indian male is taking an active, much needed and long overdue, interest in appearance, grooming, fashion and style.”
Arjun Khanna Boutique, 55, Grants Building, 2/F, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba, Mumbai.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Tel. +91 98209 22710
Tarun Tahiliani (Ensemble)
MI-Casa Building, Junction of St. Theresa Road, 28th Road, Off Turner Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 2642 0643/44
10a, 41/44, S.P. Center-The Courtyard, Minoo Desai Marg, Colaba, Mumbai.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 6638 5478
The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai.
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 2283 2000
The Trident-Oberoi Hotel, Lobby Level, Nariman Point, Mumbai.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 2288 7777
Palladium, Phoenix Mills Compound, Shop No.17, Ground Floor, 462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 2612 2381
A: Palladium, Phoenix Mills Compound, Ground Floor, 462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai.
Tel. + 91 (0) 22 4347 3850
Grand Hyatt Hotel, G-1, Entry Level, Shopping Plaza, Santacruz (E), Mumbai.
Tel. +91 (0) 22 2665 5560
Palladium Mall, Phoenix Mills Compound, Ground Floor, 462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai.
Tel. + 91 (0) 22 4080 1990
DLF Emporio, Shop 125 Ground Floor, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.
Karun submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.