Next Friday, 28 Indian designers will participate in the Van Heusen India Mens Week (VHIMW), a first of its kind fashion week that’s dedicated exclusively to Indian men! Most of the men I’m surrounded by don’t really care about fashion (the husband still owns only two pairs of shoes—one black, one brown—and usually wears his best T-shirts to bed). Besides, how on earth did the organizers even find 28 designers who do menswear?
U-turn: Classic is crowded, says Bajaj.
Ravi Bajaj would definitely have some answers, I thought. After all, his menswear label has been selling for 22 years now—that’s before cellphones, malls and satellite television came to this country. So I rushed to his four-storey flagship store in south Delhi. Two floors house his classic, ultra-wearable designs, one floor is a café and one will soon be a plush wine bar with 20-30 wines available by the glass, where your conversation can keep gentle pace with the recorded modern jazz.
The VHIMW is a first for Bajaj, whose show will open the event. The 44-year-old designer, who has dedicated the last two decades to persuading Indian men to dress up, has never participated in an Indian fashion week, even though he was part of the first brainstorming session where the idea of the Fashion Design Council of India was born. Being actively involved in the fashion scene is too messy and requires you to make too many compromises, he believes. Of course, it’s more difficult to stay away when the organizers of the event are Madura Garments, the country’s largest apparel maker.
Since his first “live” fashion show aired on Doordarshan in the early 1990s, Bajaj has tried all the usual (and some unusual) brand-building strategies. He launched a ready-to-wear line for Shoppers Stop as early as 1997. He’s tried the wholesale route, written a fashion column, shown abroad and experimented with late-night shopping, keeping his store open until 11pm. Five years ago, he launched Ravi Bajaj Gentlemen and produced accessories in Italy. “It was a very nice feeling to have Made in Italy associated with my name,” he says.
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These past few years though, he’s focused mainly on the no-fuss retailing of his classic garments from his Delhi store and through a couple of tie-ups in Mumbai.
But now Bajaj is ready to embrace change. “Classic doesn’t work. Nobody wants anything simple any more. I’m vacating that space,” he announces suddenly. That’s almost as radical as Tarun Tahiliani saying he won’t design any more wedding wear.
The space Bajaj currently occupies is becoming too crowded. Take the humble trouser. Bajaj says the demand for this daily staple has fallen dramatically. Indian men can now buy a pair of decently made chinos for as little as Rs899 (Mukesh Ambani once told the designer he buys his Dockers online). Many men opt for jeans over trousers. And others stick to suits that are available at international menswear brands that go on hefty sales twice a year. And, says Bajaj sadly, Friday Dressing is killing the tie.
So at Dandy March, the title of Bajaj’s show at the VHIMW, the designer will focus on male vanity. Think jamavar trousers, paisley-print pants, velvet shirts, texturing and embroidery, contemporary block prints, pleating, overshirts, extra wide trousers, cashmere bandhgalas with their own scarfs. Bajaj is designing for the Indian man who thinks he’s a dude, who fears boring over anything else, a man who wants to indulge. “Indian men are getting more and more unabashedly self-indulgent,” he says. In fact, many of the participating designers at VHIMW told us they are experimenting like never before.
Who knows, the day might not be far when the husband embraces his fashionable side.
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