With his mop of curly hair, white button-down and backpack, Alan Alexander Kaleekal, the designer behind the fashion label Kaleekal, looks like a schoolboy. He flashes a smile, orders a coffee-based drink that is more dessert than beverage at the Starbucks in Bengaluru, and settles down to talk. Kochi-based Kaleekal is in the city on a work trip.
He debuted in March 2015 at the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) Summer/Resort 2015 in the Gen Next category. “The idea was to create a brand that married handlooms with a contemporary wardrobe,” says Kaleekal. This is the mantra of the moment in the Indian fashion industry, so both competition and creative expectations are rough and tough. In August, Kaleekal showed another small collection at the LFW Winter/Festive 2016 edition titled Garconne, which, according to him, was the last part of a three-series collection. “It details the juxtaposition of adolescence against maturity, teenage angst against tranquility, gender fluidity as opposed to a gender binary,” he says
Unconventional designs, anti-fits and a reinterpretation of tailoring techniques drive the Kaleekal label. “It was to go against the grain of the contemporary industry standards and create clothes that questioned beauty, fit, tailoring,” he says, adding that by virtue of its pattern and fit, each of his garments ends up as a unisex one. “Every piece in the collection is a riff on wardrobe staples. The starting points are always the basics like shirts, pants, blazers and coats.”
His debut collection last year, created out of Kasavu cotton, the gold and off-white fabric of his native state Kerala, talked about a child’s interpretation of an adult wardrobe. Titled Age Of Consent, “the collection was kept naive and innocent but with definite sexual undertones”, he says, adding that it was almost akin to an awkward discovery of sex by two adolescents. The iconic gold zari of Kasavu was omitted, however, making the garment look like toiles or test garments created out of inexpensive fabrics.
“I was always interested in fashion,” says the 28-year-old designer, a graduate from Studio Berçot, Paris. Fashion wasn’t a viable career choice initially. “I didn’t know you could make money and have a career in fashion,” he says. He finished school and went on to do an engineering course, realizing halfway that it was a mistake. So he dropped out and went to Paris to study fashion.
Kaleekal’s stint in Paris was an eye-opener. “Paris made me fall in love with India again,” he says, “Once you get taken out of India, you see it completely differently,” he says, adding that this is why he came back. “You don’t have to be loudest just to be heard,” he says.
Perhaps this explains his unusual design sensibility—muted shades and natural fabrics rubbing shoulders with experimental silhouettes. “My clothes have to be intelligent, not something that looks pretty on a rack. These are basic garments but everything is left raw. Nothing is finished,” he says, pointing to the unhemmed edges and trailing threads at the edges of the outfit (while swiping through images across collections on his iPad).
It takes a lot of confidence to pull off the clothes he designs, he grins. And the bunch of tailors he works with in Kerala and Bengaluru are somewhat scandalized by his designs. He quotes Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, “For something to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be pretty.”
His collections will be available at Ogaan in Delhi by December.