Designers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra know exactly where they want to be. “In the middle. Not slow, not fast (fashion),” says Shantanu over a Zoom call.
In the past two decades, the brothers have been among the few designers who have continued to push boundaries when it comes to Indian couture. Whether it’s their refreshing contemporary interpretation of bridalwear or consistent belief in being “anti-trend”, the house of Shantanu & Nikhil has helped create fashion that carries the tradition and culture of India with subtlety and modernity. Now, they are adding the country’s love for cricket to their moodboard.
On 19 November, the designers will launch their new brand, Shantnu Nikhil Cricket Club (SNCC), at the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour in Kolkata. It’s a one-of-a-kind offering by any Indian label that brings together fashion and sports.
The product line-up for both men and women include retro-doused varsity jackets, crested sweatshirts, sweater vests, classic and cropped polos, as well as classic accessories likes neckerchiefs, sneakers, bucket hats, belts and duffle bags. The launch of the brand comes close on the heels of the nationwide expansion of their bridge-to-luxury label S&N, with stores opening across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Gurugram and Raipur (post an investment by Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Ltd).
In an interview, Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra talk about their brand extension, love for sports, the changing face of couture, and future plans. Edited excerpts:
What’s your association with cricket?
Nikhil (N): We have been avid sportspeople from a young age. Both Shantanu and I have been part of a cricket club and we played for our school.
Our relationship with cricket from a visual point of view started in 2010s when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh walked for us. And then we started doing the jersey for Mumbai Indians. It was a natural progression for us to take this route, be nostalgic and share our love for a sport that’s a religion in the country.
In terms of style, what elements of cricket did you consider when creating SNCC?
N: When you think of this sport, you think of a certain style, a certain panache and a certain way of wearing colour palettes and fabrics. And this collection tries to highlight that, with knits, checks, colour blockings. The logo stands out to show the power of the club. It’s about the language of belonging to a sport, of belonging to a lifestyle that comes from sport.
Shantanu (S): Our idea has always been to go back to some sort of nostalgia and pick certain nuances of tradition and modernise them. And cricket is a sport that has a rich legacy. We want to present to today’s well-travelled Indian that tradition in a way that it brings to life what India is going through, in terms of its sports culture. As a country, we are now looking at various sports, beyond cricket; and going forward, we will also perhaps include more sports in our collection.
That’s a bold move.
S: Everything should be risky. Even S&N (their couture brand) was risky. But it’s fun. I agree it’s an audacious attempt. Ralph Laurens of the world weren’t made overnight; there was consistent perseverance and persistence on design values, and kind of keeping up to a certain lifestyle promise. I think India is now more ready than it ever was, when it comes to this whole conversation around sports and culture. And sport is a big bridge between culture and people, it has made us cry, it has made us feel proud of ourselves. So I think there’s a lot of potential for us to expand further to create something that makes people feel more connected to sports.
What’s your larger vision?
S: Having a global footprint. Hopefully, we will soon have stores in cities beyond India. In the past two years, we have found a space in the bridge-to-luxury segment. I believe SNCC will help us reach a wider audience. Plus, ready-to-wear is becoming more popular.
Is ready-to-wear becoming more popular than couture?
N: It’s actually that couture is becoming more democratised. There is a sense of personal styling that’s coming to couture, which was never the case earlier. Like lots of interesting drape skirts are getting matched and pinned with fully embroidered blouses. People are getting more playful with couture. For instance, it was considered important that a bride-to-be wears a fully embroidered lehnga. And there was a lot of custom attached to it. It had to be red, the embroidery had to be a certain kind.
Now, a lot of those norms have shifted. The brides are far more independent, vocal in terms of what they want to wear. A lot of women don’t want to wear heavy embroidered pieces, so they are mixing and matching according to what their belief system is, and what their personal style is. I was at a wedding recently and there was a girl who was wearing sneakers under her lehnga. She was happily flaunting them. So there is a sense of liberation in couture that’s happened now. Of course, pandemic has had a major role to play in this. We want easy clothes.
Are you looking at more brand extension?
S: A streetwear brand, maybe.