March 19, 2024 FDCI

No Gender Coding

There is a ‘fragility in masculinity’ and Arjun Saluja finds this conundrum a collection-worthy theme. After six years he is back at the FDCI showcase at LFW with his gender bender clothing hoping to solve the puzzle of conditioning or at least question it!

By Asmita Aggarwal

Frankly, in fashion there are two types of designers—- one who are intellectual and don’t play to the gallery and then there are the sequin lovers, who thrive to be in the news. Arjun Saluja forms the first half of these quiet warriors, better-known for his gender bender clothing, a knowledge center, he gained after working with the legendary Patricia Fields and graduating from the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Design. Bonus: He also knows how to make dyes out of onions!

After a hiatus of six years, Arjun is back with his A game, and 17 years in the business of making menswear interesting, but calling it that would be unfair as women like his menswear more! Though the reclusive Arjun, will tell you making a mark in India is an uphill task as translating the language of global diversity requires time and patience.

Arjun wanted to search for a new way of dressing, find a rhythm where you can express more fluidity, and he believes even though there is talk about androgyny, one should weigh in on how much has really changed on retail floors. “India still lacks concept stores, there are of course, several multi-designer stores,” says Arjun.

After almost two decades, the designer considers his biggest achievement to be unwavering in his focus and the direction he wants to take his brand—- pushing novel ideas. “Design doesn’t have any end, it is all about improving your craft,” he admits. Versatility is important in a price sensitive market, especially as Indians only like to spend on bridal ensembles, almost a cultural phenomenon. “I wanted to break that mold, deconstruct existing patterns,” says Arjun. Occasion wear is a winning game, but structural clothing is still finding its feet, for that many consumers shop internationally, they are apprehensive about cuts and shapes in India. “They believe we do not understand tailoring, but look at how beautifully we construct bandhgalas, sherwanis and Aligarhi pyjamas. If you look closely at Yohji Yamamoto the Japanese maverick in every silhouette he has a fleeting touch of the kimono and his clothes are universally worn all over the world—local can be global it is finally about starting a conversation,” he exclaims.

His quest has been, how do you manipulate body types, cut ingeniously and drape effortlessly? “How can bigger women wear your clothes and feel liberated, in conceptual clothing,” he adds. His textiles of choice are chosen to support his vision, you need a fabric that can take two extremes –structure and drape, making an interesting contradiction.

Arjun has always attempted to push his customer, he cuts on a bias, cuts asymmetrically, circular, squares, serenades interesting shapes; silks, cottons, gaberdine to blends help achieve this vision in natural fabrics. Thus, 2024, his line finds “fragility in masculinity”, as he feels men are in a very confused state in our country today—there is overwhelming patriarchy, cultural dilemmas, egos, and above all conditioning that they have been trying to break for generations, feeling stuck in that space. “Fashion can be political, it doesn’t have to be like the BBC, it can deconstruct what we see and observe in an artisanal way,” he explains.

Arjun chose black to express himself this year, most of what we wear is ego based, and no one has answers to what we are trying to create in society through fashion. His admiration for Comme Des Garcons, Sacai, Issey Miyake is palpable, as he admits these gurus put emotions and feelings in their clothes, technically they made the body look different. “Their kinks, beliefs, fetishes to suppression, is woven into a narrative that excites me,” says Arjun adding that Balenciaga to Margiela were all architects of modern fashion. “Designers who question the existing stereotypes have an angst about it, almost not settling for status quo, and that makes their oeuvre exciting,” he says.

His problem with fashion today is that it is all about marketing, it has less soul, somewhere you lose your identity, where is your unique language, it’s drowning in the sea of Instagram. “I do embroidery only if it works for the narrative, I am deeply rooted in texture and surfacing,” he admits. Women, unlike men, are clear about what they want, and even as he dresses strong women occupations have changed in the last 20 years. “Women today have grown into their own, they are courageous and resilient, a great facet of a woman I admire. She is not looking for approval and she owns herself and is a ‘whole’ individual,” he concludes saying this is his target customer.

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Fashion Design Council of India