Kochi designer Matin Mac Mathew has crafted ensembles for celebrities from the film industry and also designs bespoke trousseaus

Situating his store, Ethics, in a shopping arcade which has, at the most, six other stores and generally bears a haunted look doesn’t seem like a good business plan but Matin Mac Mathew says it is. He does not want walk-in clients and “there is nothing here that people can walk in and pick up. The clothes hanging here are just samples and we do customised designing. I don’t believe one size fits all.”

The black and white themed store is predominated by menswear. Shirts with panels, surface embellishment, pin tucks, embroidery…it is a whole different world. He had specialised in menswear at deisgn school but realised early into the business that he needed more than that to survive. Women’s wear brings in the volumes.

Wedding couture, “for the bride and groom”, is his area of expertise, he reveals. But he prefers not to be hemmed in by such labels. He understands the limitations of the industry, which is in its nascence in Kerala, but wants to work around them. “There are several designer labels which sell here. But do the designers know about the Malayali woman’s shape or complexion? Fashion has to be more specific than that.”

To illustrate his point he asks one of his assistants to show a sketch. A would-be bride has asked for a gown. There were a couple of options when it came to the gown’s colour, “I asked her to show me a few photographs of her sporting the two colours and we fixed the one which complimented her most.” This decision was also reached after looking at several swatches of fabric to find the right shade that suits her best. The drawing alone took three days.

A unit at Convent Junction with 14 embroiderers, besides a tailor and cutter comprise his team. He also has six assistants.

Matin had just started working with Dior in Paris when his family summoned him back to Kochi to take over the family business as his father was not keeping well. The dutiful, only son returned to take over the business. “Kochi and Paris are really on two different planes when it comes to fashion” would be an understatement. Only a miniscule percentage of his clients have a sense of fashion, he says. For most others it is about a garment looking its price. “You cannot quantify in money terms the work that goes into design. No one understands that.”

He is proud of embroidery settings and the finish of the garments he designs. Showing his garments, he challenges “show me the stitches.” He sources his fabrics from Mumbai and Hyderabad and then works on them. It is almost as if he creates another fabric on the existing fabric. “I want everything on the garment to be mine.”

For director Siddique’s daughter’s wedding he created a lehenga of 800 embroidered flowers, in different shades of pink and cream. The groom’s sherwani in Italian velvet too was designed by him. While designing for a bride and groom he says he likes the garments to complement each other.

A native of Kochi, Matin, who had his schooling at Labour India School (Kottayam), did not set out to be a fashion designer; what he was interested in was interior design. But in Coimbatore where he did his graduation the optional subject was fashion design.

He went on to do his masters in fashion design from Istituto Marangoni in London. The college has campuses in Milan and Paris, where students were sent as part of the course. Internship saw him join Dior in Paris. After the year-and-a-half long course he joined Dior as a designer before the call from home came.

His clients include actors such as Manoj K. Jayan, Asif Ali and Jayasurya. Manoj, he says, is most particular about what goes into each shirt of his. “We sit for hours drawing and discussing the design. Manoj-ettan has clear ideas about what he wants.”

He, however, does not want to get into designing for films and he has turned down a couple of offers. Much as he wouldn’t like to compromise on his design principles, he says he has to.

He is waiting for a time when the sense of fashion here would become avant garde. Till then he says he will bide his time.