March 15, 2019 Asmita Aggarwal

On a beam of light

Candid, irreverent, funny and unadulterated fun, brilliance is not defined by concepts, but by absorbing what we see around us, everyday from memories to upheavals, and translating it into intelligent design, just what Suket Dhir does!

By Asmita Aggarwal

Once going home in 2008, for a ‘Jatera’ at his village, a newly married Suket Dhir was driving his wife Svetlana. She noticed on the highway, in the interiors of Punjab, big Jats, riding bullets with their long beards splitting in two, due to speed and the naughty winds. Impressed by their sass, abandon and strength, Svetlana, who Dhir says “is quite desi, despite a Russian mom”, told him he should try a beard. “It took three years to grow; mine doesn’t split in half while riding a Bullet,” he laughs, “but she loves it, that’s what matters.”

He never loses his sense of humour during our one hour long chat, self-effacing, self-deprecatory and above all—mirroring Indian middle-class virtues. “When I was young, I used to love eating and had to open my pant buttons, if one extra parantha on a cold winter day was gobbled up. So I thought while designing why not give that option in pants,” he laughs. So the parantha belt is a hidden, cleverly engineered one, which allows you to eat with abandon. His grandmother would tell him not to waste food, take three helpings but don’t leave anything in the plate, which taught him the virtues of frugality.

The beauty about talking to Suket Dhir is his absolute disregard of any kind of tradition—he speaks in Hindi (in a largely anglicised style world where people also have fake accents and platinum blonde hair), peppered with smatterings of Punjabi; laughs gregariously and will tell you that he is “lazy as hell”, a reason why he hasn’t participated in fashion week. This is what also becomes the most endearing part about Dhir, born in Banga, Punjab, a resilient man, who was featured on the cover of The Economist.

He admits that everything he does is soaked in childhood memories, spending time on farmlands, seeing his grandfather a cloth merchant taking his summer white kurtas into winters with bright bundis. And there is no doubt that unlike most in fashion, he is a happy, free-spirited soul, who has created a small space for himself in Lado Sarai, his sanctuary. This is much like the mind space he formed when he was sent to boarding school at 9, Colonel Brown Cambridge, Dehradun.

Armed forces discipline, set routine and inhabited with three kinds of kids—studious, sporty and the bulky ones who used to beat everyone up. “I was neither, in fact a scrawny fellow who was hated as I came from Delhi, after my family moved there from Punjab,” he adds with a smile. Handling a tough all-boys school equipped Dhir to not succumb to the pressures of being a resident of the sequinned world. “I meditate and sometimes just zone out and focus on nothing, that’s the way I preserve my sanity,” he admits.

It is this personality trait that has made Suket an astute observer, and his attention to details can be attributed to this—quirky elements, each button stitched with newer colours, linings are vivacious and above all he has ventured into women’s wear with similar aesthetics. Svetlana, his half-Telugu-half-Russian wife used to “steal” clothes from his wardrobe, specially jackets, which used to hang from her shoulders. “When we launched our line for women I just made these more structured, keeping the length intact,” he explains. His offerings range from bundis, bomber jackets, loose palazzos and slouchy trousers.

‘He For She’, the apt title for his line, embodies all the elements of an effortless existence, without abandoning his comfort zone, fitting a certain body type and size. Dhir’s acumen is his ability to treat things with irreverence and still not lose respect, so the brocades have lost their shine as they have been washed out, and ikats are his canvas and will always be.

“Textiles are our heritage, ‘dharohar’, we must be able to keep their vivacity alive,” he informs. The combination that he offers as a result is a tee, jeans and a brocade bomber, which in his words is a certified “mood elevator”.

Dhir is one of the few designers, who is a straight arrow and says it like it is, minus any politically correct statements, so you can expect things like — “I made a promise to myself I will only make things that I like to wear”, and another priceless one is “I never focused on weddings, but I did observe what my grandfather wore”.

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Interestingly, Dhir is a riveting storyteller, and his salt and pepper beard as well as bowler hat, both have history. Meeting a friend in New York for the Governor’s Ball, at Central Park, some years ago, he requested for a boater’s hat, the straw ones with a leather band. This was misheard as bowler, and he got stuck with it for the night. The next morning he loved it so much that he never wanted to take it off; today he boasts of a large collection of bowler hats from all over the world.

Life has been quite a ride for Dhir, who began working with Wrangler, college placements, and then the realisation dawned on him that he was meant to do design. Winning the International Woolmark prize was not a contrived move, for him it was a shock, something that took a lot of time to come to terms with. Dreams came with a limit before this, now the journey is limitless, that’s why he has agreed to show at LMIFW. “I am a purist of the product not the technique, as for me what matters is what I make lasts for many years. This is what sustainability means to me,” he admits.

He cites his own example where he has for the last, 11 years been wearing a goose down jacket that keeps him warm. “I still have my dad’s denims that he wore 25 years ago. The tears in pants which are popular now are not crafted, they have emerged with age,” he grins.

Fashion is surrounded by many controversies, plagiarism being on top of everyone’s mind, but for Suket, each piece that he makes has a soul. “You can copy the garment, but no one can replicate your energy,” he says. For LMIFW’19 he has used delicate mul-mul and Jamdani for menswear and brocade and silks dominate women’s wear.

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If you quiz him about the future and what he envisions, Dhir refuses to answer and admits till today he has never planned, “it is too late to start now”. Not a subscriber to magazines, Vogue, or forecasting websites, he spends “eleven minutes in a day on Instagram” and “new ideas make me happy”, he confesses. “My fear is not about making clothes, I love them; they are my companions. But the 100 things you have to do to sell them is what I detest,” he signs off.

 

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