Ujjawal Dubey, the 28-year-old designer behind the label Antar-Agni, looks like a modern-day Che Guevara. Maybe it’s his beard, or his beret. Or both. Dubey opens up a creaking metal door to his sparse second-floor studio in Noida, near Delhi, and a wall of tinted windows hits you with the blinding light of summer. These windows serve as an inspiration board of sorts—Dubey sketches his designs on them with a permanent marker and pastes photographs of men and women in various forms of draped clothing. A Hindi translation of a Che Guevara quote about seeking surprising and unusual paths in life is pasted on a small corner of a wall.

That’s exactly what Dubey seems to be doing. “I never set out to be a fashion designer," he says, even though he was a textile student at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata, after studying science in school in his hometown of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. After graduating in 2010, he started interning with designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil (his mentors even today). Even when he started working full-time with them later that year, he was restless and uneasy about the idea of working with fabric.

Fascinated by “big bridges, technology, architecture and the technical side of things", Dubey dabbled in projects as diverse as creating sculptures out of metal and wood and designing bus seats at a little artist commune in Noida. “I even applied to study furniture, but I didn’t get in anywhere," he laughs. Instead, he used rejection to get focused. “When you don’t know what to do in life, you strike out things that you can’t do, and then you are left with what you can do. So you do that," says Dubey.

After a successful showing of Shantanu & Nikhil’s menswear collection at the Lakme Fashion Week (LWF) in 2013, which he helped design, Dubey decided to venture out on his own. “A lot of things motivated me. Firstly, I had so much fun researching the history of menswear and the technicalities involved. Also, at the time, I got a chance to see the simple beauty of the péro collection by Aneeth Arora. That’s when I realized that I can also do similar clothes—subtle and sophisticated, with minimal use of bling. It was such a happy change in the industry, and I too wanted to be a part of it," says Dubey.

Soon after, he debuted with a Spring/Summer 2014 collection titled No Longer The Hunted in the LFW’s Gen Next category. The Afghan-inspired line was an earthy, well-edited collection with relaxed-fit, fluid silhouettes that made use of malkha cotton, Khadi and hand-woven cotton linens. Think dhotis, palazzos, draped kurtas, and jackets with churidar sleeves. “I had only one womenswear tailor who worked with me part-time and I wasn’t trained in pattern-making. So we worked out our limitations and cut the clothes very loose," says Dubey, who believes in allowing the fabric’s raw appeal to determine what must be created out of it.

Over the course of the past two years, Dubey has not strayed too far from his core design sensibility. He has exercised a great deal of finesse and control that appears wise beyond his years, yet retains the edginess to keep his designs functional and fluid, with a hint of the offbeat. “I was always keen to understand why menswear never had drapes, which is what I wanted to address through my work. So I added them in the form of pleats in a very controlled manner, which not only lends an element of edginess, but also helps bridge the gap between occasion wear and daily wear," he says, understanding the importance of being creative yet commercial at the same time.

For his most recent collection, The Red In Us, for the Amazon India Fashion Week Autumn-Winter 2016, held in March, Dubey played with a measured use of oxidized red. While he added some billowy womenswear to the mix, it was his voluminous menswear with asymmetrical hemlines, cuffed hem pants, dropped crotch dhoti pants, draped jackets and kurtas with an anti-fit finish (in moss cotton, cotton silk, viscose, silk blends, twill and Khadi) that created a grungy vibe.

Dubey explored a similar, fiercely delicate silhouette with angular lines and long slits at the seams for his LFW Spring/Summer 2016 collection. Breaking away from the traditional menswear stereotype, he created a minimalist collection using a stark palette of white, dirty green, light grey and navy blue. Effortless and easy-going, sporty and sharp, the collection had a mix of structured separates and sharply constructed kurtas that may well become the new staples for the sartorial gent.

This is a monthly series on lesser-known designers with a compelling design code.

Supriya tweets at @superear.

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