Herringbone & Sui: Old school with a twist
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Herringbone is the classic V-shaped pattern of the twill weave, and sui is Hindi for needle. Co-founders of the bespoke men’s suit brand Herringbone & Sui (H&S), Samarth Hegde and Kabir Mehra, fuse fun, diverse elements not just in their brand name but also in their sense of style and business model.
Originally from Mumbai, the two became friends when they met at graduate school in Ohio in 2005. They discovered their mutual love for dressing well and, on their return to India in 2012, started a conversation about “a gap in the market”. “If you want a good suit, you’d have to go to the likes of Zegna or Canali, and it would be upwards of a lakh and a half rupees. On the other end, there are tailors who will stitch you a suit but you might have to compromise on quality. H&S is luxury that’s affordable,” says Hegde.
Started in 2014, H&S sources its fabric from Italian mills—primarily Biella, the hub of Italian textiles—and makes in India. The basic Neapolitan suit construction is tweaked to fit the Indian body type and weather conditions. A technology-driven business model allows the duo to retain the processes of hand-stitching and craftsmanship with a turnaround time of two weeks.
Mehra prefers the classic, with “a lot of blues, browns and blacks”; Hegde is more experimental. “I like changing up colours, I’ll wear different pants with different jackets, layer tonal colours and love windowpanes (a suit pattern),” says Hegde. Their atelier and showroom in Colaba, Mumbai, is a sun-filled space with an elaborate, wall-mounted, very Edward Scissorhands installation right at the entrance. Sitting on a pop-red sofa set against an art deco window frame, with a row of sample suits lining the wall, Mehra and Hegde talk about men’s style and the making of a business. Edited excerpts:
Did fashion come first or business?
Hegde: We always liked to dress well. During (our) university days, everyone was kind of preppy, and we were two boys at a bar wearing polos and hats. We probably spent all our pocket money on clothing. But, of course, plenty of research went into it when we decided to take it up professionally.
Mehra: My family has been in the textile industry for about 70 years. So you can imagine a lot of dinner-table conversations about fabric. We did know where to look, and so we went straight to Italy to source the fabric, but still, building the supply chain took a lot of work. Especially when you’re not just buying 10-15 fabrics but everything that the mill has to offer.
How important is fabric to men’s clothing?
Mehra: It’s the heart of the product. There are few suit-makers who will give you the label of the fabric. If I was to show you a 100% wool fabric and a wool-polyester blend, you won’t be able to tell one from the other. A customer who comes in may not care about the difference between wool and poly wool, because he doesn’t know the difference. They may weigh and look the same, but polyester is synthetic, it doesn’t breathe. So in Mumbai’s weather, one would sweat profusely. Whereas you can wear a really lightweight pure-wool suit and be fine, because it’s a natural fibre and it breathes, contrary to the common misconception that wool is too hot to wear here.
In bringing Italian fabric and suit construction to India, was something lost in translation?
Mehra: In terms of fabric it’s fine, but the construction needed work. For instance, apart from Italy, in Europe people wear very structured jackets. The shoulders are a little higher, they are heavier and the look is formal. We are specializing in Neapolitan jackets. They belong to Naples, where the climate is similar to ours. The jackets are unstructured, lightweight, have less shoulder padding and lining. The aim is to look effortless. They have this word, sprezzatura, which means effortless (or studied carelessness). You’ll notice this about the Italians; they’ll be dressed to the hilt, they’ll layer colours, have a funky hat, some quirks, yet look as if they’ve just woken up and thrown some stuff on.
What is the value central to the H&S ethos?
Mehra: The skill of the craftsmen is most important to us. The craftsmanship differentiates our product from what you find typically in the market. For instance, it takes 4 hours to construct the shoulders. Almost all the jackets that you find in India are fused jackets. There’s the outer fabric, the non-woven interlining, and it’s pressed in a machine. In a few seconds, it behaves like a single surface, but also robs the fabric of its vitality, or just the way it falls.
We do half canvas construction, where a tailor has to hand-stitch the non-woven lining. We add more layers, in fact, like horse hair from the tail of the horse, to give it more resilience. It falls in a nicer way than a fused jacket would fall. Fused jackets tend to break or pop at the chest. I think the Indian consumer still has to notice these nuances.
Hegde: If you look at our lapels, you will notice the way they roll. Normally, the lapel is flat. This roll happens because they spend more time stitching rather than fusing.
Is craftsmanship increasingly becoming the yardstick for men’s style in general?
Hegde: I find men, currently, are experimenting, mixing and matching different things, like wearing sneakers with a suit. It’s all about personal style. The hipster is on its way out. But yes, there is a lot of focus on the actual tailoring of the garment. Well-crafted is a value people care about. It’s kind of old school with a twist.
Tell us about your one evergreen accessory and one trend-based thing that has perhaps come and gone from your wardrobes?
Mehra: I love collar pins and tie-pins. They go well with the classic look. If I feel like stepping it up a notch, it works within my comfort zone.
Hegde: For me, I’ve been wearing my navy suit since college. I’ve always had one well-stitched one. But the one thing that’s come and gone from my wardrobe is my chalk stripes. I still love them but don’t really wear them. There are some things you keep just for the sake of nostalgia.
Is there a faux pas you often notice in men’s dressing?
Mehra: Some rules are good to stick to. For instance, the width of your tie at its widest should match the width of your lapel. That’s generally good proportion and aesthetic. But you’ll see a lot of guys wearing very skinny ties with these four-and-a-half-inch-wide Tom Ford lapels. It’s quite ridiculous.