At the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in Mumbai, men were finally treated as equals. Or as close to equal as they can get in the woman-centric Indian fashion industry. An entire day was devoted to menswear, where eight designers—including established names such as Narendra Kumar and Raghavendra Rathore and upcoming ones such as Digvijay Singh and Troy Costa—showed everything from fluorescent plastic shoes to skinny pants.
But interestingly, many of the designers paid tribute to an underrated garment that Indian men have sworn by for centuries—the kurta.
Dev r Nil
Ahmedabad-based designer Digvijay Singh, who believes international buyers want to see Indianness, collected influences from traditional clothing and used them to craft casual cotton kurtas. Inspiration was derived from Rajasthan’s frock-style, waist-length angarakhas, the high-waisted Gujarati kedias and even waistbands worn by Tibetan women.
Kurtas with flaps which fasten on one side of the chest in Rajasthani style, loose pieces with drawstrings which are cinched and gathered at the waist to mimic the kedia, and a hooded kurta were some of the pieces he sent down the ramp. “I wanted to show that Indian clothing is very comfortable and can also be very current,” says Singh, holding up a pair of 14ft-long slim churidar-trousers. “See, we’ve always had our version of skinny trousers,” he laughs.
“The kurta is an Indian man’s sari. It will never go out of fashion,” says Dev, one-half of the Kolkata-based duo Dev r Nil. Their collection, which included everything from blazers and shorts to bomber jackets and T-shirts, had a few summery cotton kurtas in pinks, blues and white, lightly embellished with chikankari shadow work in a jigsaw pattern. Some pieces had cuffs and collars to look more formal and shirt-like. The kurtas were paired with cotton trousers with batik work; the effect was similar to pairing a kurta with a pair of jeans.
The duo, who has been making kurtas in the traditional style, says this is the first time they’ve experimented with the garment. They’ve tweaked the length and fit to look contemporary. “The length is very important. If you are not wearing it the traditional way, it should be shorter—about knee-length,” says Dev.
Raghavendra Rathore prefers it longer. Fashion’s crusader for the bandhgala and Jodhpur trousers turned his attention to kurtas this season. “The kurta is misunderstood as a purely ethnic garment,” he says. His show aimed to show the many connotations of the kurta. He had short-sleeved versions and a black and white patchwork piece. “It’s an irreplaceable, versatile piece of design,” says Rathore, who says he contemporized it by controlling the proportions. Though his pieces for the ramp were a bit shorter, he says: “I think the ideal length is an inch-and-a-half below the knee. The Indian man has a broad belly and very lean legs—this length works best with that body type.”
Delhi-based designer Zubair Kirmani prefers to give his clients the option to choose the length. He makes the longer, traditional A-shaped variety as well as fitted knee-length pieces, which he says younger men wear with jeans. For his younger clients, he also had short, waist-length kurtas with sleeves and cuffs. “I’m selling a lot of kurtas these days, almost equal to the number of shirts,” he says.
All the designers agree that the versatility of the kurta is what has brought it back in focus. It can be worn casually with jeans or a pyjama and made formal with a churidar or salwar. “Even when I offered kurtas with a pathani salwar, many clients tried it out. What’s great about it is that everyone wears it their own way,” says Kirmani.
So much so that designers have noticed that women also want a kurta revival. Dev says he had a lot of women asking for the men’s kurtas they showed at LFW and Singh says he had designed the collection with a unisex audience in mind. Because if it’s truly stylish, traditional boundaries do not exist.
Mumbai-based designer Nachiket Barve, known for his beautifully finished womenswear, pays the same attention to detail when he structures men’s kurtas for special clients. His tips for buying and wearing the versatile garment:
• Using interesting textiles in menswear is the key to looking stylish without being overdressed.
• Opt for slimmer kurtas. Too much bulk is no longer stylish.
• Indian men, as a rule, look great in ecru, beige, deep red, maroon and black.
• With kurtas, everything is about subtlety; small changes in the way the pattern is cut, the shape of the collar, and the hand-finishing of pockets make all the difference.
• While buying a kurta pay attention to the lining. A well-lined silk kurta will not pull or pucker at the seams. If it does, that’s a sign that the wrong lining has been used.
• While wearing a kurta with churidars, the knee should not show. The kurta should be 2 inches below the knee.
• The sleeves should not be too short or long—the ideal length is just touching, or slightly below, the wrist.
• Wear silks in winter and mulmul, cotton and silk-cotton in the summer.
• See-through kurtas for men are a no-no. Please wear vests with them.