Designer Suket Dhir’s new collection celebrates the luxury of Indian handloom

The maverick designer reminds customers about sustainability using classic silhouettes and sparrows in mufflers

Updated - June 13, 2022 05:40 pm IST

Published - June 13, 2022 04:31 pm IST

Suket Dhir (Right)

Suket Dhir (Right)

A silk bomber jacket seems an unlikely choice of weapon to defend sparrows. Designer Suket Dhir, however, believes in starting conversations by capturing imaginations. At the Taj Connemara, over a cup of strong filter coffee, his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm under his signature bowler hat as he discusses his latest collection, Orchard, showcased at a pop-up in Collage for the first time.  

“The pandemic has changed how people approach luxury. It’s changed me,” he says, adding, “I created my best collections through it. It’s also assured me that I am on the right track in my message on sustainability.” A self-professed small-town boy from Banga in Punjab, he says his inspiration was his grandmother. “She would wear a sari for years, and when it was in tatters it would be repurposed. My mother converted old saris to kurtas on the sewing machine. She made many of our clothes...” Their lessons for life, he says, still hold good today: “Buy little, but buy good.” 

True to form, the designer — known for working with Indian artisans and weavers to create precise, joyful prints on luxurious fabrics — turns heads as he walks in, wearing brightly printed shorts and a shirt festooned with maharajas playing golf, and maharanis taking selfies, from one of his pre-pandemic collections. Both are well worn, he points out, as he likes wearing his favourite clothes repeatedly: another reason why he focusses on creating sharply-tailored, durable classics, to pair with everything from jeans to silks, for what he calls “effortless” looks.

They are paired with the bright red sneakers that got him barred from entering the Madras Club for dinner the previous night, he chuckles. A champion of individuality in fashion, he is unfazed: Professor Abhijeet Banerjee received his Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019 in Stockholm, wearing a dhoti with a bandhagaladesigned by Suket. 

A graduate of NIFT Delhi, Suket’s designs gained an international platform when he won the coveted International Woolmark Prize in 2016 for a meticulously engineered collection of ikat woven with merino wool on handloom. His eponymous label, co-founded with his Indian-Russian wife Svetlana, became popular for its distinctive aesthetic, fusing Indian handloom and design with contemporary silhouettes and imaginative, often cheeky, prints.   

Which brings us back to the sparrows peeking out of his new collection, Orchard. “I’ve got a sparrow in a bucket hat fishing for nuts, while others go past in aviators, mufflers and protective helmets,” he says, “We hardly see sparrows these days. So in my prints, they are in self-preservation mode,” he says, adding that he believes that showing people how endearing sparrows are is an effective way to start a conversation about conservation.  

Besides, after the grimness of the past two pandemic years, he believes “people are looking forward to some reaffirmation that life can be beautiful. There has been so much despair”. There has also been a “huge amount of introspection,” he adds. Stating that he took eight months to create his latest collection, he says, “I made my fair share of mistakes. The lockdown gave me time. And when you have time, that’s when the magic happens.”

The Orchard collection includes glamorous bomber jackets in silk damask, classic blazers in rich silk brocade, breezy shirt-style pleated dresses in muga satin silk and relaxed oversized shirts in cotton silk. He has also released an ivory Frescoe collection, lively with unexpected owls, inspired by a fresco of a lotus pond, which — true to form —Suket has updated in unexpected ways. “If you look closely, the ladies are wearing leather gloves, snorkelling gear and fishnets with garter belts,” he smiles.

“I am a bit tongue in cheek,” he admits. “But if I am showcasing elements from our culture, it is important for me to show it to the world in a way that everyone can relate to it.” Working with weavers across the country, Suket says they collaborate to create materials, yarns and techniques that are impossible to replicate with machines. “I believe that anything handmade has to be expensive, because that is the only way to create products of excellence,” he says. “Why would somebody work that hard to produce one metre unless they are paid well for it. I’m pragmatic like that.”

The collection can be ordered via Collage, which is at 153, Greams Road, Thousand Lights, Chennai. Call 044 2829 1443 for details.

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