Kaushik Velendra, 31, is very open about the culture shock he faced when he landed in the UK as a student at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. “It nearly broke me,” he says on a video call one afternoon, referring to how overwhelmed he had felt when he had to transition to a whole new country. The processes and systems are totally different, he shares. “You’re already here for a short period of time, say two years, of which a few months go into just adapting to the food, the environment and the everyday life. This is distracting; it makes you lose time, sets you back when your competition is already so high, and breaks your confidence. This is often a reason why a lot of people don’t succeed coming in from countries India.”
This was the main reason Velendra had his Hoxton Square atelier — once occupied by Alexander McQueen — open during the pandemic. “It was a creative, safe space for older students who came in from India, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and all the countries that generally face a lot of culture shock issues,” the menswear designer explains. “We kept it open and allowed people to come in and use the space during weekends, off hours when the curfew wasn’t tight, to feel mentally strong and to have a space to go to.” This is in line with the designer’s vision — to bring India to the world, not in the “Bollywood” sense, but by showcasing craftsmanship and through the spirit of hospitality.
Global brand, Indian at heart
Having just presented his Autumn Winter ’22 collection at London Fashion Week, and relocating to Brook Street, Mayfair, Velendra prefers to take a more introspective approach to fashion. “A lot of people have a stereotype,” he adds, “where if you’re Indian, you’re going to bring in a lot of traditional Indian fabrics, beadings and colours. It never resonated with me.’’ He talks about wanting to create “a brand that can be worn all over the world”, one that is Indian at heart, with the “surprise of the garment’s construction and our service”.
Featuring luxurious neutrals - whites, rich blacks, velvety browns, muted golds and olives - and swish fabrics that are brought together with sharp, sculptural tailoring, Velendra’s physical show was in the main schedule at LFW. He had cast models across 30 different nationalities to highlight the versatility and fluidity of his garments. Among the standout pieces was a short-sleeved, embellished gold top with powerful, rounded, armour-like shoulders that are now his signature design; cream trousers that start structured and melt into fluid chiffon (a silhouette, Velendra admits, was inspired by the movement of dhotis); and a sleeveless ivory French brocade jacket. It’s no wonder that actor Ranveer Singh, known for his larger-than-life approach to fashion, has already been spotted in Velendra’s designs.
The bubble that is Bollywood
Does he keep an eye on Indian fashion? His immediate answer is yes, after which he becomes thoughtful. “We dress a lot of personalities who represent Bollywood,” he says. Besides Ranveer Singh, his jackets have been seen on Priyanka Chopra and the likes of Billy Porter and Kelly Rutherford. “We do follow India as a whole, different industry, but it’s a bubble of its own and it’s very Bollywood-centric,” he goes on to explain. There are two ways you can go about this, he continues. “You go through Bollywood and then go international, or you go international and come back to Bollywood. For me, going international, succeeding and coming back has a stronger impact.”
Lights, camera, fashion
Velendra’s rise to success as the first Indian-born designer who graduated from the menswear design course at Central Saint Martins before going on to become an LVMH Prize semi-finalist, began in Benguluru. It was where he moulded candles for a living. “And I think this is one of my greatest skills that [links] the past to today,” he shares, adding, “I mould shoulders and body types and garments like nobody else!”
Velendra relocated to Chennai at the age of 17, where he worked as a light technician, then an assistant costumer on the sets of Bollywood and Tamil films, including Mani Ratnam’s Guru. He worked his way up to costume designer to the likes of Kamal Haasan. “There was something that drove me to say, ‘what can I do next?’” he says about this journey. After multiple attempts (16, he recounts) at applying to Central Saint Martins, he got in. “Many would’ve given up after the first two rounds of rejection. It wasn’t an easy process.”
During the pandemic, when fashion was forced to move online, Velendra did too. His biggest concern was how to create his kind of garments without fittings. Fittings, says Velendra, was one of the biggest pain points during the pandemic, because although people weren’t leaving their homes, they were still buying. “So, we created a new magic pattern,” he reveals. “It’s become one of our biggest strengths today. We don’t take measurements anymore, but work with neutral, anatomy-based tailoring and a structure for the spectrum of body types.” This magic pattern, he continues, has also allowed him to translate from menswear to womenswear.
Another post-pandemic achievement is the Mayfair store, as he recalls walking around the exclusive area as a student, and never finding an Indian fashion house there — even though “half the buildings in Mayfair were owned by Indians”. That became his benchmark. As we wind up, the inevitable question about seasonless clothing vs trends comes up, and the designer is quick with his response. “I don’t like the word ‘trends’, to be honest,” he says, then laughs about how “in this world we live in, it’s more about are we alive tomorrow or not?”
On his e-commerce site, Kaushik Velendra’s collections start at £400