In his school textbooks, he would doodle collars and cuffs. These became fashion sketches. Followed a couture degree from London. Sixteen years later, he’s identified with designer sherwanis and bandgalas.. often festooned with embroidery. His self-named label is seen at hotshot weddings.. his clientele includes business tycoons, movie stars and hi-society satraps. Arjun Khanna in conversation with Vajir Singh.
How do you see our fashion industry?
When I started out in the late 1980s, fashion was pratically nonexistent, both as a concept and as an industry. In the last 10 years, there has been that classic paradigm shift.
Once men’s wear had only few colours — peach, brown, navy blue, dark green, and of course black and white. I followed this route till I felt I was stagnating. Whenever I suggested another colour, it seemed as if I had commited a blasphemy .
Yesterday and today are like north and south. Now fashion is radical and extreme. During my initial days, I was told that I’m far ahead of my times. The perception remains the same..but now I’m ahead only by a couple of years. All colours are in for the Indian male today, from red and pink to yellow.
Some men are still not comfortable with pink. Wait and watch! Not flashy rani pink but baby pink. Even pista, mint, moose, copper, burgundy and lavender are in. For women, too, only a bit brighter.
Colours are happening. Thankfully, I’ve a set of loyal clients. In addition, nine out of 10 grooms wear an Arjun Khanna sherwani or bandgala.
According to you, which was the milestone year for fashion?
I would say the transition took place sometime in the mid-’90s. Around then, I couldn’t decide whether the change was for the better. There was sheer turmoil. The media came in a big way to kickstart an awareness, leading to a virtual Renaissance of Indian fashion. Those of us who survived the rough phase are here doing our number.
Who are the prime survivors
(Pause) Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, Rohit Khosla, Anu Maftlal, Munisha Jaisingh though she came much later than me. (Pause) Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla.
Who are the ones who didn’t survive
Asha Sarabai. She used to do beautiful saris. I was told that she has shifted to Ahmedabad. But no one is aware of her existence. Rohit Khosla would have been the master of fashion today but we lost him. Then James Pereira disappeared for ages but made a comeback last year at the Lakme Fashion Week.
Do your clients intervene in your designs
I accept suggestions only when I feel, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?” But when anyone tries to teach me my job, that gets my goat. Tell me about your likes and dislikes, then let me take the decision. Fortunately, I haven’t come across too many fussy clients, my regulars have implicit faith in me.
What exactly makes a man look..let’s say, ‘handsome’
It’s not just the clothes. It’s the way you carry your three-day stubble or your hair..if you have any left that is. (Laughs) It’s all about grooming. A suit doesn’t have to be a $ 5000-Armani. Some guys can look like a million bucks in an offthe-rack Rs 5,000 suit.
What’re the current trends
There are three currently — Bollywood, mainstream fashion and trousseau wear. I’m involved with the last two. Trousseau
and ethnic churidars sell right from Diwali to the
season in April-June.
Bollywood is the strongest deal but mainly in Mumbai..since Delhi doesn’t have Bollywood. Of all the cities, Mumbai has an edge because it has all the three trends. Just imagine, all these trends are running in complete harmony.. just like a three-piece music orchestra.
Does the youth segment really want to wear ethnic?
They do. My audience’s age group ranges from 17 to 65. They love bandgalas and sherwanis as much as casuals. Look at me, I do classic as well as wild clothing.
Why do you keep yourself away from Mumbai showbiz?
I’ve only designed for Qayamat, Bhoot and Zameen. I had a good rapport with Ajay Devgan. I haven’t consciously stayed away from Bollywood but I haven’t been offered anything exciting.
Why aren’t you working with Ajay Devgan anymore?
I was travelling a lot in between, we’ve just moved on. Come clean.
Does this have anything to do with not getting paid properly and in time by the producer?
(Smiles) There was that anxiety.. but I’ve never faced the problem. Now, I believe the fundas have pool which is full of sharks. You can get sucked in and get lost in fake glamour. So many people who just follow the trend of the day and look ghastly .
I know guys who look brilliant in churidar kurta or a black sherwani because they wear it stylishly, vogue or no vogue.
Like Mr Praful Patel whom I dressed up recently for his daughter’s wedding. He knows he looks good in certain cuts, I only enhanced that. I didn’t make him wear something that cost a bomb.
Gautam Singhania looks good in a certain style. Recently, I launched an above-the-shoulder look but I didn’t ask Gautam to try it on just to make a sale.
What about the killer competition in fashion today?
That has helped me as well as others. Look, I can challenge others, “Come on boys, try to better me.” They may succeed but they won’t be able to fit a suit the way I do. All of us have special skills. changed.
Otherwise you wouldn’t see a mainstream designer like Aki Narula doing movies. Anaita Shroff did Dhoom II.. a few others also work for Hrithik (Roshan).
What fabulous job she did with Hrithik. Talk is that you’ll soon be working on a film project. Right?
(Laughs) Talks are on. But I don’t want to do just two-three outfits. I must be involved right down to the hero’s shoelaces.
What’s the point if I make a great shirt and trousers and that’s ruined by tacky shoes or a cheesy watch strap?
What fashion advice would you give to a layperson ? Don’t become a fashion victim. Follow your gut instincts. If you want the help of a designer.. there are enough talented ones to guide you.
Also, don’t follow any trend blindly. Know your personality and then jump into the fashion
Why do designers eventually shift to other businesses?
That’s normal. Rocky S and Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) have got into home products. I also intend to push the envelope..we have to.
Who would you say are the most gifted young designers today?
Aki (Narula) is outstanding with colour. And Manish Arora has this madness..balancing a range of extreme colours.
Whom would you pick to design your look?
(Laughs) I’m damn difficult. I go nuts styling myself, I’m an extremist. I wouldn’t even trust an international designer to style me, forget Indians. I’m very very temperamental and moody .
Aah, so you’re a fashion victim too?
No, no, I’m here to set trends. I’d like to think of myself as a leader..not a follower.