For someone who owns close to a hundred pair of jeans, Darshan Mehta, CEO and MD of Reliance Brands Pvt. Ltd, has managed not to let that sea of denim befuddle him. He remembers exactly what makes each pair special, the names of most of the fits and the country of origin of the denim.
Among other things, Mehta, 47, has been CFO of Trikaya Grey Advertising (“where I wore suits to work fairly religiously”) and CEO of VF Arvind Brands Ltd, where he worked with brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Lee, Wrangler and Nautica. That’s when he really discovered denim and started building his collection, which is often poached by his 20-year-old son Aakash.
Slim, with salt-and-pepper hair, Mehta is a collector of sorts. Books cover almost every surface of his south Mumbai home, and besides denim, we got a peek at his watch and shoe collections too. Edited excerpts:
What is it about denim that fascinates you so much?
Well, I’ve been wearing only jeans for the past nine years. No other fabric category has the versatility to be a substitute to denim. Today, there’s so much design going on, such as the cutting-edge technology of the Japanese. Brands are constantly innovating with new washes and fabrics, and fits are dramatically changing. Just when you think you don’t need one more, you see this pair that you absolutely have to have.
What’s fascinating is that jeans have become socially acceptable now. You can wear a woollen blazer over a pair and go to a cocktail party. A few years ago, I would take a check-in bag for a four-day trip to New York. Now, for an eight-day trip, I take a cabin bag, with two pairs of jeans.
Do you know how many pairs you have?
Above 100, maybe. No, actually I counted a while ago. I have about 90 pairs and I’m not done yet.
Which are your current favourites?
I don’t have one all-time favourite, but I go through phases where I will wear the same pair for 20-30 days. Currently, I love this new fit by Diesel. The leg is not very tapered, there’s a lot of room on the seat and the pockets have gone through an interesting process. But the beauty of these jeans lies in the fabric — the yarns are soft, but have been woven together tightly, which gives it a kind of denseness. They won’t limp at the knees even after a few days of constant wear.
My other favourites are another Diesel pair with twisted side seams and this clean, dark indigo pair by Nudie, a Swedish brand. I also love Reds, a niche, artisanal Italian brand which produces authentic vintage jeans. Today, most of the zippers on jeans are copper. But when you want to make vintage jeans, you want every detail to be authentic. So they have a zip made of a metal alloy — you won’t find any YKK zips. I have two pairs of my favourite 7 For All Mankind jeans — yes, they are exactly the same; I lived in them at one point and two black pairs of Diesel’s Thanaz fit — one has cross pockets, and the other has traditional ones.
Any other obsessions?
Yes, sweatshirts. Reds makes lovely sweatshirts, like this navy one with Zimbabwean cotton. They all have great graphics on them. I also have a lot of sweatshirts by Italian sportswear brand Napapijri. And, I have a collection of linen, belts, watches and shoes.
How would you describe your sense of style?
I love the university, rugby look. I buy clothes which are high on comfort and high on processes. I look out for quirky, humorous details. Such as this polo shirt, which is one of my favourites. It looks well-worn in, but it’s just been through some interesting processes, such as these small nicks on the collar.
How do you maintain so much stuff?
Well, I have an active wardrobe and a passive wardrobe. What you’re seeing now is my active wardrobe. I recently packed off about 300-400 garments to my second home, where my passive wardrobe is. But I do care for my things. I have a 2-hour Sunday ritual where I sit and polish and cream all my shoes. I follow the wash care instructions on my jeans. One tip for drying them is not to fold them over a clothes line, but clip the waistband to the line, so they hang straight. Over the years, they will age gracefully. More often than not, I wear my jeans from the line. I don’t heavy-iron them.
Do you have any skeletons in your active wardrobe?
I have more than 50 suits. I have mentally disowned that part of my past completely. So most formal clothes are skeletons. I still have some broad-bottomed jeans and I wonder if I actually wore those. Then there is the Tommy Hilfiger pile — shirts from the brand’s early days in India, with bright paisley prints, lots of cowboy-styles and one made of four different printed fabrics.
Where do you shop?
Well, I shop whenever the mood strikes. Some of my favourite cities to shop in are New York, London and Milan. The Meatpacking District in New York and Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Carnaby Street in London are great spots. Napapijri has one of the coolest stores I have ever seen, in Milan. And one thing I love about Diesel is that no two stores are alike; I found a very cool one recently in Prague.
Can you give us a few tips for buying jeans?
The single most important thing I look at is the fit. Don’t be a brand victim. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t buy it, even if it’s Armani. The next thing I look for is great fabric and detailing. Always buy a fit that flatters your body. But if you know nothing about denim, just make sure you’re comfortable.