October 17, 2023 FDCI

The War Within

Bomb blasts, barren land, soldier writings on walls and stones, how war destroys the fabric of mankind and its futility has been beautifully mirrored through deft stitches by Sushant Abrol’s label Countrymade.

By Asmita Aggarwal

From writing poetry, to working with 8-10 needlework techniques, using imagery of his late Air Force pilot brother’s life-from plane fuselage to the Morse code, Sushant Abrol’s label Countrymade, launched in 2019 is an homage to ingenious thinking.

At 33, Abrol has won the Nexa Spotlight, without ever giving up hope, even after he faced several rejections, this is thanks to his upbringing, where challenge is part of daily life. He is delighted to get a solo show, a task many veterans have been unable to achieve, complete with 30 looks, after all he is just four years old in the industry. He was clear, he will launch unconventional menswear, but not slide into the comfort zone of ethnic offerings, even though this space is till evolving.

“Menswear doesn’t work like womens wear, the former like to touch and feel, desire right fits, and to get a repeat clientele, you need to understand and customise,” says Abrol. A believer in slow growth charts, building on a strong foundation, albeit consistently, is his motto. Without spending on PR and marketing, he refuses to overexpose the brand, neither has he tested the choppy waters of influencer marketing. “I haven’t evolved with the insta-creator economy, it has been a personal choice,” he smiles, adding he wants to still stay relevant even when social media craze wanes.

This is even though naysayers advise him against his decision, stating he is losing out on opportunities, but his buyers are mature—artists, musicians, and architects, who come to him for elevated basics, so you do not need a Uniqlo in your life. From a distance you can tell it’s Abrol’s clothing, and it is nothing like the designers he was trained under from Rohit Bal to Jyotika Jhalani of Janavi. Though his mentor, has always been the inimitable Shahab Durazi, whom he was curious about, often called as the ‘Armani of India’. “I travelled to Mumbai, met him and since then he has guided me, I always share my progress with him,” says Abrol. Just like he read Vanguard, a book written on the architect of Indian fashion Rohit Khosla, by his sister Rohini.

The core of this brand rests on stark neutrals, hand done embroidery, he mastered neatness, modernised khankas, refused to do animals or flowers motifs, the inspiration is intangible, like poetry which turns into art forms. Using off white threads for his embroideries, chanderis and pure silks, matkas, katyas, as well as linen, prints over embellishments is his lexicon. “Men want to repeat clothing, but I see some reluctance when it comes to embroideries even though we do a lot. They are only now exposed to the beauty of woven and knitted offerings, earlier it was only checks and stripes,” he says. The feeling is if it is ‘worked on’, it is feminine.

Everything Abrol indulges in, comes from a personal space, even if you look at the name Countrymade, it conjures up images of hooch, liquor, or arms, but that is not what he believes. It refers to things made slowly, by hand, a labour of love, a small cottage industry, where there are no industrialised processes.

In 2015, he applied for a scholarship to study at London College of fashion, but didn’t bag it, little did he know that it would be a blessing in disguise as his label today is for a discerning few who value his craft. His brother remains the central character in all his collections, even the latest, titled “No Man’s Land”. This is based on the letters he received which have been preserved till today by his mom, and when he sat down to read them again, he felt a profound sense of loss—-revisiting the pain. The letters would come with a tagline ‘Confidential” meant to be opened only by Sushant, this was today playing in the background when he saw the Russia-Ukraine war on TV.

The questions that emerged were –“What are we fighting for?” capturing the odyssey of a soldier reflecting a personal battle ensuing within. “I believe in dialogue, as humans we must find a common ground, how soldiers feel after war, when he views the destruction, is my inspiration,” he confirms. The line presents this dichotomy and internal confusion through clothing specially Gond art, where the stitches reflect the tyranny of barbed wires and train tracks. The extensive R and D was done viewing thousands of war imagery, from barren land, scribbles on stones and walls by soldiers wanting to vent seeing the inhospitable surroundings, that saw kantha stitches coming into play.

On stamps that come on inland letters were used to show the communication, Abrol embroidered them, the detailing of thought by Countrymade is quite engaging. He created artistic impressions of trees, rivers, and mountains in no man’s land, indulged in line drawing, gave a bird’s eye view of farmland through embroidery, the line is replete with symbolism. “Bomb blasts are also shown through stitches, even capturing how stones fly with impact, I think the idea was to depict the futility of war, I hope I have conveyed that effectively,” he concludes.

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