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‘Luxury shopping should be experiential’

In Bengaluru for the opening of the first S&N by Shantnu Nikhil store, the designers talk about completing 20 years of their creative journey, design philosophy, and how the pandemic has changed fashion

Nikhil and Shantnu Mehra 
Nikhil and Shantnu Mehra 

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In 2019, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail (ABFRL) acquired a stake in Maison Shantnu and Nikhil, following a trend of corporate investments in Indian fashion houses of a certain vintage. The brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020, subsequently launched its bridge-to-luxury brand ‘S&N by Shantnu Nikhil’ and is now going through an expansion phase, with a series of store openings across the country starting with Bengaluru, and going on to Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Raipur, Jodhpur and Delhi NCR.

In Bengaluru for the opening of the first ‘S&N by Shantnu Nikhil’ store at the Phoenix Market City mall in Whitefield, the brothers spoke to Mint Lounge about completing 20 years of their creative journey, their design philosophy, and how the pandemic has changed Indian fashion.

In the post-pandemic era, why are designers such as yourselves opening brick-and-mortar luxury retail stores even though it may seem a little counter-intuitive, given increasing comfort with online purchasing among customers?

We launched our bridge-to-luxury brand SN by Shantnu & Nikhil amidst the pandemic, which was entirely digitally driven. The brand is an extension of Shantnu & Nikhil’s ethos which leverages itself into ready-to-wear ensembles. With a brand launch and now a store, we’ve experienced both – a digital launch as well as a physical one. The approach to celebration wear and ceremonial wear has a very different look and feel to it, patrons invest much more in ceremonial wear, so for them it’s necessary to wear and feel what they’re about to purchase.

Luxury shopping anyway should be more experiential in outreach. The patron must feel the fabric and see the details up close and personal. Recently, shopping has been about what suits whom the best. There are people who prefer buying even their precious belongings online whilst there are people who go to the mall to buy a basic T-shirt as well. As a brand, we want our patrons to feel at comfort. They should have all the choices lined up for them to decide what compliments them the most.

The S & N by Shantnu Nikhil store in Bengaluru
The S & N by Shantnu Nikhil store in Bengaluru

Twenty years into your journey in Indian couture, how have you seen Indian fashion evolve? What are some of the ways the fashion landscape in India has changed and how have you kept pace with it?

Over the last few years, we have restlessly toiled around the idea of a new world, a world more progressive and inclusive, a world without any biases and boundaries. In this past decade on our journey, we have paved the way to reach a newer and bigger audience, making us more accessible, and thereby fulfilling our dream to see our brand on every global Indian. With the phenomena of corporatisation of fashion, it has given a free rein to the designers to explore more and reach out to their audience in multiple ways.

2020 was a big year for us, as Maison ShantnuNikhil celebrated 20 years of its brand existence. In addition, as the world recoiled against a new definition of normal, we brought in the 20th year with a new chapter in our journey – S&N by Shantnu Nikhil, a celebratory narrative where Indian heritage is enlivened by millennial spunk. The bridge-to-luxury brand launch is our way of keeping up with our patrons and going the extra mile for them.

With many more global luxury brands available in India today and new names being added every day, thanks to companies like Reliance Brands, does this mean heightened competition for Indian designers, or has the market expanded enough to accommodate more luxury?

The Indian luxury market is vast and it’s safe to say it has space for every designer who has something unique to offer. Partnering with corporate giants like ABFRL encourages a powerful demand-supply chain which really boosts the business strategy of a design house. Brand extensions ensures funnelling of the brand from just luxury to bridge-to-luxury. With new methods, the brand outreach increases by making luxury accessible with better understanding of the retail space. 

Digital to Consumer (D2C) will emerge as a new trend. The next generation of upcoming designers will be more trusting towards their skills considering there is a hope of new retail opportunities around the corner. Fashion as an industry will become more lucrative and expand career opportunities for a young workforce.

What was the rationale behind your own bridge-to-luxury brand, S&N by Shantanu and Nikhil?

Our bridge to luxury celebration wear brand S&N by Shantnu Nikhil is a fresh and contemporary take on the ethnic occasion wear industry with scale written all over it. It follows a more approachable idea, allowing our customers to own a Shantnu & Nikhil piece and wear it in their daily lives.

What has bridge-to-luxury contributed to the Indian fashion scene, both in terms of creativity and the economics of it all?

Post the pandemic, fashion as a commodity is slowly but surely moving away from extensive fast fashion to sustainable fashion which is definitely the new BTL culture, not only in india but around the world. The fact that Indian fashion is also getting corporatised in recent times, makes the BTL approach more valueable in terms of both scale and marketability. 

How would you describe your creations for S&N, and how is the design language differentiated from your couture offerings?

It celebrates Indian roots with a hint of millennial spunk. Our product offerings range from our classic shirts to signature drape kurtas and everything in between. While couture is much more detailed and bespoke, S&N has softer nuances of signature Shantnu & Nikhil elements. Leather appliqués, play of symmetry, clean lines – all of these elements can be seen in S&N. The best part of S&N is that it’s ready to wear, unlike couture. It’s perfect for the last minute attendee or a busy bridesmaid who just needs the perfect fit without wandering out a lot.

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