The Simple Sartorialist called Suket Dhir
On a white silk bomber jacket I notice miniature images of trees, parrots, kings and queens of the Mughal era. Looking closer, I miss the bows and arrows though. “Yes, it’s reminiscent of shikaar but we’ve substituted the weapons with golf clubs and strollers. Our princely characters play instead of hunting,” Suket Dhir cuts into the composed air of his studio at Lado Sarai. The bowler hat, the beard, the impeccable wool plaid trousers, the yellow mulmul shirt and the linen jacket are all in place. Except one anomaly. “The timing of staring into my phone wasn’t right. I rolled down the stairs pretty fast!” the man chortles explaining the limp and the ankle support. We settle down with a ginger ale and lots of winter sun streaming in through the large glass panes to talk fashion that prevails in the whimsical but entertaining universe of Suket Dhir.
|At his Lado Sarai studio|
From wool to khadi, from Milan to Nagpur, NIFT graduate Suket had an unusual yet coming-of-age journey since 2016. Just after the low-profile Delhi designer snapped up the International Woolmark Prize in Florence in 2016, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) hired him to design the outfit’s new look: formal brown trousers, which replaced the widely ridiculed khaki shorts. Born into a Punjabi family of cloth merchants, Suket dabbled in BCom, BCA and a call centre job, and then quietly slipped into what he had to do: design menswear. The 37-year-old is a master of breathing life into almost any organic fabric --- from wool to hemp --- creating comfort wear that’s a tad quirky and a tad quaint. But eminently wearable by all, just like Wrangler denims for which he had once designed a low-budget line. Life’s, though, changed for the man with a cosy studio --- once overrun by his four-year-old Zoraveur and managed by his Russian-Telegu wife Svetlana --- overlooking the Qutub, but only a bit: you can now pick up a Suket creation at Saks Fifth Avenue other than so many elegant multi-designer boutiques in the world. “I just make pants and shirts,” he still says, adding, “And I design for myself,” as a firm afterthought.
There is a gigantic mirror in the expansive room we are at. Every time a garment is ready, Suket, tall and strapping like a model himself, tries it on. “If I am happy with it, I pass it with the conviction that there must be a handful of like-minded men around with similar aesthetics. That eases the pressure to please anyone,” justifies the self-confessed ‘slacker’.
With rattan chairs and rows of his latest works, the room is spartan but self-sufficient. There are no work stations or stacks of fashion magazines. Suket likes to reflect in the calm here, shutting out external influences even as he imbibes from what he absorbs around him. Paradoxical, right? And, extremely interesting, like his clothes. “I learn from my travels, my interactions and my thoughts. But my designs are predominantly inspired from childhood memories--- the sights, sounds and smells of my hometown Banga, a nondescript little district in Punjab. Every inch of me is soaked in India. So, my clothes do not have to be Indian. Because, I am one. When I envision a collection, I never think they should represent India,” explains Suket in chaste Hindi, even as he holds up a jamdani cotton shirt with cute motifs of mango trees and mithus, a direct reference to his boy years.
Then there is the handwoven ikat shirt, translated to lounge wear with a sheath of gossamer cotton layered over the distinct geometric patterns. This undercuts the overt traditionalism with a contemporary spin. Clever tweaks here and there have elevated this textile and crafts-oriented label into a global favourite. “Sometimes a client calls up after years of possessing something and exclaims on discovering a detail. We fuse these elements of surprise subtly. It enriches the experience of owning a Suket Dhir,” elaborates the designer, revealing a silk lining in a jacket block-printed with cute mango motifs, a derivative of the Indian paisley pattern. We gauge that this man doesn’t like suggestions. He is more sharp, smart and direct. Probably the reason why dapper men in India and overseas are lapping up the products of his design language.
For the Woolmark line, he translated Ikat on Merino wool, used Karnataka’s folk kasuti embroidery and acquired ombre colour gradation through block printing, employed the weaves and craft techniques of eight states of India and created a collection focussing on comfortable global silhouettes. Innately inspired by India and evoked by his childhood memories, the clothes, though Indian at heart, had nothing ethnic in look though. “My grandfather, who derided the snug-fit movement, was always in well-tailored wool trousers, simple shirts and smart jackets. Those were the silhouettes I began with,” he recalls. It only refers to how the designer engaged with the fashion sensibilities of the world using Indian ideas, textiles, crafts and workmanship. “As a designer I have always concentrated in making the product the hero. The rest would follow. My motive is to plan a collection, a look, in a way so that work is automatically generated for the peripheral weave and craft clusters,” Suket avers on the note of slow, sustainable fashion, a cause he has been unconsciously championing ever since his label saw light of day.
The first Asian menswear designer to bag the International Woolmark Prize, Dhir, with his eye for whimsical prints, motifs and excruciating details, never wanted the handspun fabric in his creations carry that washed-out appearance they are famous, or rather, infamous for. “I create simple, craft-oriented clothes that last. Slow fashion can be luxurious, too. I grew up in India so the Indian-ness is ingrained in me. The trick is to tweak the visuals so that when anyone, anywhere, sees the details, they react with a twinkle in their eye. Our detailing has turned out to be our signature. For instance, the different coloured threads used to sow buttons, the velvet lining, the selvedge, the jaali work on shirt sides, each and every bit has helped in building identity. Our clothes are intricate, beautiful and exquisitely finished,” says the fashion savant showing us a block-printed mulmul fabric in ombre, cute umbrella and cloud patterns and tiny raindrops. A representation of even though the craft is hardcore Indian, the execution is not. Might we add the whimsical Son of Mango motif derived from Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte’s work titled Son of Man.
Ready to launch his menswear for women, the edgy and meticulously cut collection is full of fun yellows, reds, blues and blacks complete with his signature prints and patterns. “It’s exciting. The best thing to have happened to menswear is women,” Suket grins with a clincher. As we call it a wrap, a young woman is trying on a red khadi block-printed jacket. The perfectionist turns around with, “Scrunch up the sleeves immediately, please. See, it looks smart that way. In fact, I just might ask masterji to stitch the sleeves up for that look.” Clearly, God is in the details in Suket Dhir’s world.