When Tanisha Rahimtoola Agarwal and Shibani Bhagat first approached Indian designers with the idea of a multi-designer store for men, they couldn’t wait to sign up. The duo realised there was a paucity of shopping destinations for men after listening to complaints from their partners, who were often at a loss for options, especially during wedding season. This October, in a quiet by-lane in Bandra, Mumbai, the two friends launched Curato, a spacious menswear-only store with five rooms, each painted a different hue and accessorized with smart tuxedo-shaped chairs. The space features clothing and accessories by close to 40 designers, travelling the spectrum from athleisure to occasionwear and experimental to classic. There are twinning father-son looks by Payal Singhal, playful tees by NooNoo, leather bags by Quick Brown Fox, hand-painted kurtas by Pune-based ArtRobe and edgy bomber jackets from Sahil Kochhar, alongside established menswear designers such as Abraham & Thakore, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna and Rajesh Pratap Singh.

At the store, Agarwal and Bhagat spoke to Lounge about gaps in the menswear market, their top-selling designers and emerging trends.

What inspired the decision to open a multi-designer menswear store?

Agarwal: When we were getting married, we realized our husbands had trouble finding a place to shop. A multi-designer menswear store doesn’t exist in the country. I did hear of someone opening one six years ago but it didn’t work out; I think that’s also because men weren’t ready for it back then. They are more confident now about trying different styles.

Bhagat: I think men are realizing the importance of first impressions, that the way you dress is also a way to express yourself, and a reflection of your personality. When they come to the store, they enjoy their shopping experience—no one has dragged them here.

How did you curate the 40 designers for the store? Some designers have introduced their first menswear collections here…

Agarwal: We spent a lot of time on Instagram, travelled to different cities to meet different designers. For instance, for suits, we have Pawan Sachdeva, who’s edgy and fun, and we have a made-to-measure guy who’ll make anything you want. The designers were very excited and welcomed the idea—Payal Singhal has never done menswear before, she doesn’t even supply menswear in her own store. Even Masaba and Ridhi Mehra started menswear with us.

Bhagat: There was also a lot of research to find newer names. For instance, Arjan Dugal is a young designer who’s doing really well—he’s one of our top-selling designers. Son of A Noble (by Mani Shanker Singh) is another popular label, we sold out his designs in the first week.

Which designers are you most excited about right now?

Agarwal: My personal favourite is also my childhood friend Masaba. My husband is really into athleisure wear so he loves Dhruv Kapoor, Nought One and Theorem. He’s a fun, eclectic dresser so I would pick the athleisure designers for him.

Bhagat: My husband’s favourite label is Nought One. He has around 20 pieces from Abhishek Patni (the designer behind Nought One) and he keeps adding to his collection. But my personal favourite would be Pawan Sachdeva, his latest collection is fantastic—edgy but still classic. He’s really someone to look out for.

You spent some time researching the market before launching Curato, where do you find men take their fashion cues from?

Agarwal: Bollywood celebrities are the trendsetters. I think it’s good that a lot of celebrities are tagging designers on Instagram, even when (paparazzi photographers like) Viral Bhayani keep posting these airport looks, so there’s a lot more awareness.

Bhagat: Bollywood still drives a lot of trends. And I think men are closet stalkers. A lot of people come in saying Hardik (Pandya) wore this on Koffee With Karan and we sold a lot of pieces by the same designer after that. We are also constantly observing their choices. For example, people are moving towards deeper, darker colours. Draped kurtas are a very strong trend right now. Also subtle tone-on-tone embroidery and French knotting. The younger generation doesn’t want to go for heavy, embroidered kurtas for wedding functions. We’re always giving feedback from customers to our designers.

Are there any gaps that you currently see in the menswear market?

Agarwal: A lot of the designers give us bandhgalas—but I don’t think they’re very different. There’s so much more you can do (with wedding wear). Nowadays people want to be comfortable—I know a groom who came in and said “I just want a solid-colour Arjun Kilachand kurta…I want to be able to dance".

Bhagat: I think we need more athleisure designers. The demand is growing and if we don’t cater to that demand, people are going to look at international brands. But a lot of the men we know, who like to shop, are moving from international labels to Indian millennial menswear designers. Not all my friends knew about Dhruv Kapoor or Two.Two (by Anvita Sharma and Asit Barik), but they’re gradually discovering new designers and there’s a shift happening.

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