The Couture Week is underway but he’s missing in action.. and unhappy about it. Arjun Khanna discusses petty politics, gay rumours and his obsession with the old in a candid conversation with Sujata Reddy.
Hey, why aren’t you showing at the HDIL India Couture Week that flagged off on Tuesday?
With due respect to all those involved with it, I have to say that I’m disappointed with the selection of designers. I am told an anonymous jury drew up the final list and several of those who specialise in couture were not in it. I do couture, day in and day out. I would have loved to be there but I wasn’t approached.
Will you be at the Men’s Fashion Week being organised by the Fashion Design Council of India?
Absolutely. I ran around a lot to ensure that the Men’s Fashion Week goes on the floors.
What’s your take on the clash of the two fashion weeks — the Delhi Fashion Week and Lakme Fashion Week — in October this year?
It could have been avoided, easily. I’ve been on the board of the FDCI for four years and I think that it needs to focus on promoting the industry. Both parties seem to be getting some sadistic pleasure from this upcoming confrontation but we designers are suffering. You can live in harmony despite differences.
You seem disgruntled with the fashion industry?
No, I like it since I’m a designer and it has given me plenty of opportunity to showcase my talent. But petty politics upsets me.
It takes the focus away from your art contemporary men’s fashion in one word? God, where do I start?
There’s so much.. trousers, sherwanis, suits, casual wear. Suddenly, there’s a huge demand for stylish menswear and everyone is introducing a men’s wear line. Over the last five-six years, men have become very conscious of their grooming and wardrobe. (Laughs) You have the right to wear a lilac jacket and yellow trousers but only if you can carry it off. I have seen a lot of fashion victims dressed in the ‘in’ thing.
What is the one trend that makes you shudder?
(Shudders) Skirts, for sure. They work only on Scots. Also Bollywood fashion. What works in reel life does not always working in real life. (Laughs) I’m a man’s man and all for the good old ‘male dressing.’ There have been rumours.. Of my sexuality.. I know. And just for the record, I’m not gay. One is so much in touch with one’s feminine side that people just assume that all designers are gay. I’m happily married.
So, does the gossip bother you?
No, it will die a natural death.
What’s the one thing you really like designing?
My forte is bespoke tailoring and within that genre, it is men’s fine tailoring. I love to design a suit or a tailored garment. A sherwani or bundhgula with a lot of embellishments, if perfectly fitted gives me an adrenaline rush.
How many hours a day do you work?
(Laughs) Good question. Right now, I’m working round the clock. Sometimes I’m at my workshop for as long as 15 hours. I never stop thinking. It’s more when I’m on holiday. And I know the day the ideas stop coming, it’s all over for me.
You now have your own space at Aza Mens.. happy?
Happy and flattered. I’ve always wanted my own space in this part of town. Now I have a complete section to myself.
What’s the response like?
It’s only been a couple of days since I launched at Aza Mens but the jackets and shirts are moving really fast. I have created 60 oneof-its-kind shirts, in wash techniques, fine embroidery and the like. My Sandstorm and Yao collection is also on the racks. Most menswear stores are crowded with women.
Is this true of your store as well?
Listen, men who make their own clothes choices do exist. Most go with their wife’s opinion just to keep peace at home. Honestly, I’ve observed that 90 per cent of the time, it’s the woman who makes the choices for her man. Do you rely on your wife’s opinion too? (Laughs) You’re lucky I’m in the mood for frankspeak. I may have dressed several men on the planet, but when it comes to my own wardrobe I take Shefali’s opinion every time. I think women just have the instinct.
Is your wife your muse too?
My muse could be a building, a city, a painting or a person. While working on the Sandstorm collection, I was obsessed with the desert. I researched the way of life in deserts the world over. I learnt about the nomadic way of life and introduced my study into my garments.
Go on.. Well, the arid feel of the desert is reflected in the clothes of this collection.
(Laughs) That’s why some of the customers feel like watering them. I even dug out an old Sandstorm soundtrack from the internet. It’s not available in the market. After the inspiration comes the obsession, since for me, it doesn’t end with a 20-piece collection.
Just checked your website. It’s pretty fancy.
(Smiles) I’m glad you liked it. But I haven’t launched it yet, officially. Work is still in progress. I want the user to enter my world every time they enter my website. It resembles a city with a theatre showing my collection and a store that sells my accessories. A bike on the street is my tribute to vintage vehicles. You can even see my catalogue and go through my decade-old designs.
Sounds like you have got yourself another obsession?
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m really involved with it because I want the site to reflect my personality.. my likes and dislikes. That’s the way it is with my shows, my Bandra boutique and Atelier at Aza Mens. I’ve even created unique shopping bags for my customers. When you come to Arjun Khanna, you get a package deal.
What sets your pulse racing.. other than clothes?
Vintage bikes, old British machines in particular. And photography. I have dozens of vintage cameras in my boutique. Also, I love listening to music though I can’t sing to save my life.
Ah, so you believe old is gold?
Yeah, antique and retro turn me on, even if it is old furniture. I could even start a collection inspired by old soda bottle openers.