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Is men's couture going to be stuck in no man's land?

At a time when the fashion industry is going through a slump, we look at where men's couture in India stands

Men go for designer-wear mainly when they are looking to dress up for occasions and events.
Men go for designer-wear mainly when they are looking to dress up for occasions and events.

In April, New York-based fashion retail website Moda Operandi announced the closure of its men’s division “and focus on our core business around women’s fashion, fine jewellery and home products". The retail industry, which had already been undergoing a slump, saw more names fall to the coronavirus crisis. J Crew, luxury retail chain Neiman Marcus, Aldo Group and J C Penney filed for bankruptcy.

What about the designer menswear segment in India, where the highest spends in fashion come from the wedding business, and where the number of coronavirus cases is still on the rise? Indian multi-designer brands weigh in.


Devangi Parekh, creative director of Aza Fashions, says that though they offer an expansive selection of designer occasionwear for men (online and at their Bandra store in Mumbai), it has always been a smaller segment than women’s apparel in terms of sales for this brand. “Menswear is the largest segment of the Indian apparel market and it is growing. However, this is concentrated more around workwear and Western formals rather than Indian occasionwear. This is reflected in the fact that we see more Indian designers focus on womenswear and it does still make sense for us too to focus more on womenswear," she says. Parekh adds, however, that in the recent past she has seen an increasing interest among young designers who want to work on contemporary and fusion wear for men in the luxury space—and adds that they will continue promoting such designers.

For Tina Tahiliani Parikh, executive director of multi-designer retail brand Ensemble India, menswear is a relatively new domain in the company’s 32-year journey, a category added only two years ago. Though she accepts that womenswear in India has always been a better option to bank on, she maintains they will not skip the emerging designer menswear space given the ethos of Ensemble as a platform for local design talent.

“It’s no secret that womenswear is a larger piece of the pie. Especially for us, the menswear division is still young and fledgling. But we will 100% support the segment through the coronavirus period (and continue to retail them). The future of menswear remains to be seen. (But) It will be foolish on our part to abandon it at this stage," says Parikh.

Men go for Indian designers mainly when they are looking for occasionwear
Men go for Indian designers mainly when they are looking for occasionwear

When it comes to menswear, what sells most at Aza is contemporary ethnic wear that offers a spin on traditional silhouettes, says Parekh. Think draped kurtas, Indo-Western sherwanis, cool bandhgala suits or trendy bandis that can be worn to a dinner party. Online, they have more international buyers, who are relatively more conservative in their styling, so classic kurtas and bandis along with Indo-Western sherwanis for weddings tend to dominate.

Abhishek Agarwal, founder and CEO of Purple Style Labs (the parent company of Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop), says the menswear segment is smaller because men go for Indian designers mainly when they are looking for occasionwear.

“Unless you are wearing Indian ethnic clothes, you don’t really buy premium Indian designers. Men are not looking to buy a jacket or a blazer from an Indian designer. It’s more about fabric and fits for men than the designer name and men mostly shop from studios and a lot of it is made to measure. So I feel occasionwear is still going to be experience-centre-driven," says Agarwal. Men have many options when they wish to spend 2,000-3,000 on a kurta, he says, but the choice shrinks in the 8,000-10,000 range. The last few years, however, have been promising, with not just new names but established womenswear designers entering the menswear segment.


“We have seen a greater dip in demand (since the virus outbreak) for menswear than the corresponding figure for womenswear," says Parekh. She says while they still have requests from clients looking for occasionwear for forthcoming weddings, overall men believe they can repeat what they have, especially classic kurtas bought for weddings, Diwali or other occasions, while women typically want something new. Agarwal says they too have seen a slump, with more sales happening in the lower price bracket of 10,000-50,000, a section they now plan to focus on. Pernia’s mainly sells kurtas and bandis for men and Agarwal is positive about growth in this segment as the country begins the unlocking process. “It’s too early to say anything now, (the slump) might be for a short period of three months. But things might go back to good till August, or later. I don’t see a reason why someone will not buy a kurta for, say, Karva Chauth, which is close to Diwali," says Agarwal. He adds that men are value buyers and don’t mind paying more for quality, and this is something brands should optimize on.

Parikh says that since Ensemble, like everyone else, had to shut down without warning, they already have a lot of new occasionwear stock—and inquiries for the forthcoming festive season and weddings have begun. “I will test the waters to see how it’s going to be before placing an order for new things though. Our focus now will be to give good deals and a combination of easy, accessible price points for a lot of designers."


Parekh says there are two schools of thought on demand. One, that contemporary apparel at value-driven price points will become very important. Two, that high-quality classic occasionwear transcends seasons and given that there won’t be many social occasions, people will look for classic pieces that can be repeated.

“Value and competitive pricing will become important and quality assurance will be key. Given the uncertainty around us, a lot of people are confused about what will be trending when things improve or when a wedding or a celebration will actually happen because dates keep shifting. So people prefer to be on the safer side and buy something classic," she says. The focus on quality and finishing will be stronger than ever since gatherings are expected to be smaller and more intimate.

They also expect greater interest in conscious fashion which doesn’t impact the environment and growth in e-commerce as people shop from the safety of their homes.

“We will also focus on sustainability, handloom, accessories and menswear too. Till there’s a little clarity on how people can gather and celebrate, they might be a little more focused on ready-to-wear pieces as pujas and festivals also account for a large chunk of our sales. Slowly, more expensive pieces will start moving as it’s not like no one will get married in 2020," Parikh sums up.

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.

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