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Adding self-love to your wardrobe

Narresh Kukreja on participating in ‘Next In Fashion’ and 10 years of the Shivan & Narresh swimwear brand

From the Shivan's and Narresh's ‘Mujigay, the #SeoulSeries’ collection
From the Shivan's and Narresh's ‘Mujigay, the #SeoulSeries’ collection (Photo courtesy: Shivan & Narresh)

Narresh Kukreja’s Instagram account has been inundated with messages ever since he took part in the fashion design competition Next In Fashion (2019) on Netflix. Though he exited early from the show, which aired in January and featured 18 designers from around the world, he has been lauded for representing the Indian fashion industry on this global platform. One half of the designer label, Shivan & Narresh, Kukreja participated in the show to gauge what he was like away from the dynamics of working as a pair. “The opportunity was open to only one of us. We knew that we may or may not win. But this was the first time I was going to design without Shivan (Bhatiya)," he says.

Narresh Kukreja partnered with Mexican designer Lorena Saravia on ‘Next In Fashion’
Narresh Kukreja partnered with Mexican designer Lorena Saravia on ‘Next In Fashion’ (Photo courtesy: Shivan & Narresh)

The duo, who met at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, have been working together for 17 years. “We would even do each other’s assignments," recalls Kukreja. In the process, they got so attuned to each other’s skill sets and design language that neither ever thought of what he was like individually as a designer. “The Netflix platform came with a huge responsibility, given that it goes to 190 countries and enjoys the viewership of 120 million people. For them to pick just one representation from the Indian fashion industry placed a huge responsibility on our shoulders," he says. It also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to showcase Indian fashion as more than just craft-oriented, artisanal clothing and wedding wear.

The reality series hosted by Alexa Chung and Tan France, allowed Kukreja to reconfigure his design sensibility to partner with other designers on the show. “I am a good team player. But professionally, it was harder. A few days into the show, while shooting for 17 hours and being microphoned up every day, one realized that this entire world is more about entertainment than creativity," he says. It brought home the fact that his obsession with details as a designer—having the right kind of buttons, seams, pattern-making—had to take a backseat in order to create something that looked “fashionable" on television. “It had to make sense and look cool to an average boy or girl sitting in the Caribbean, America or Africa. People back home know what Shivan & Narresh stands for but these viewers might not. You can either stand for entertainment or creativity and that’s a tough call to make," adds Kukreja.

Now that he is back in Delhi, the designers have their hands full—for one, preparations are in full swing for the brand’s 10-year anniversary in March. Kukreja talks about plans for their biggest show ever in Delhi: a retrospective that will showcase the milestones in their journey, from dressing up talk show host Oprah Winfrey, singer Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian to designing for the film Life Of Pi. This is also a time for the duo to look back at their journey as the first swimwear designers in India.

The sari-inspired gown Naresh Kukreja created for the 'Next In Fashion' show.
The sari-inspired gown Naresh Kukreja created for the 'Next In Fashion' show. (Photo courtesy Shivan & Narresh)

The evolution of the brand, which centres on the idea of embracing one’s body, has been in sync with the coming of age of millennials in the country. “The millennials in the last decade started driving the economy. This affected the way Indians perceived luxury. For instance, instead of spending on a bag or a pair of shoes, the millennials started to spend on experiences. Fashion had to keep up with that," says Kukreja. Instead of creating occasion wear, which was about how others perceived you, Kukreja and Bhatiya worked on a brand which was about self-love and body positivity. “Fashion has to mould itself for all body types. Our icons today are Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé, who are very body-positive women," says Kukreja.

The forthcoming retrospective will also look at the ways in which the brand has interpreted Indian silhouettes over the years—particularly the sari, through the bikini sari and the resort sari. Recently, the duo also worked on a deconstructed lehnga, the flute lehnga. “If we don’t take the baton forward in making Indian fashion relevant for the next generation, we would not be doing our job," he says.

Over the past decade, several designers have tried to reinterpret the sari to make it accessible to the modern woman. Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango reimagined it as streetwear, pairing it with sneakers. Rahul Mishra has used Chanderi saris to create dresses. Shivan and Narresh too have drawn on the aspirations of the new-age woman and created a functional sari, with pockets for wallets and phones.

“If you are carrying a sari in your travel bag, you shouldn’t have to worry about ironing out creases from the garment at the hotel. You should be out enjoying the sun and the sea. We are using fabrics that don’t crush or crease, and also don’t stain due to sunscreens and lotions. We have reinvented the sari to make it relevant and extended the life of the garment in an Indian woman’s wardrobe by 50-60 years," says Kukreja.

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