HT Brunch Cover Story: Meet Nimish Shah, India’s next big name in designUpdated: Jun 07, 2020 02:30 IST
It’s my first Zoom interview and a few collywobbles are granted, I suppose. At 12.30 pm sharp, I join the meeting and begin to hurriedly fix my hair as the icon for Nimish Shah, the creative director of the clothing brand Bhaane, appears on my phone screen.
“[When I was 15-16], fashion imagery — magazines and graphics — excited me, including a certain calendar. But I was clueless about what it meant to work in the industry. My parents are far from fashion.”
“Can you hear me? How do I still not know how this works?” I hear, and even before I can offer my amateurish directions, the smiling face of the youngster, clad in a purple tee, pops up.
“Amazing, how cool!” chimes Nimish and after our eureka moment, I learn that he’s quarantined at a friend’s house (just as I am at my sister’s!).
A London College of Fashion (LCF) alumnus, Nimish, 35, has made it to top publications like Vogue India, Grazia, Verve and Architectural Digest to name just a few. Having grown up in Mumbai, after completing junior college from Mithibai College he went to London to study product development and design for fashion industries. He worked at Chloe in Paris and then moved back to London and joined Burberry. Next, he worked for smaller brands in England before moving to Mumbai, where he ran a multi-brand store called Muse in 2009 and helped Sabyasachi Mukherjee set up his first store.
“My dad is a Gandhian, so as long as there was academic training involved [in studying fashion], he was ok. Mum did hesitate for half a day…”
In 2018 Nimish joined Bhaane, and his unique design aesthetic as creative director for Anand Ahuja and Sonam Kapoor’s brand has been the talk of the industry since.
“Muse was an amazing opportunity, better than my job in the UK, and it gave me a great exposure in the market,” says Nimish. “Tarini Jindal (who opened the fashion store Muse in Mumbai) really pushed me to set up my own brand. Assisting with Sabya’s store was a time bound contract with the associate company. It was a great to observe Sabya.”
Coming from a family of textile printers and traders, Nimish’s interest in fashion began when he was around 15-16 years old. “Fashion imagery – magazine and graphics – excited me, including a certain Air India calendar,” he says. “But I was clueless about what it meant to work in the fashion industry. My parents are far from fashion. I think even I am not fashion enough.”
“Working with Sonam and Anand is very refreshing because Sonam comes with a very clean perspective on fashion and Anand has a very good view on business and expansion”
Still, from early on, he knew he wanted to study design, so there was clarity of career always. “My dad is a Gandhian, so he did not blink an eye, as long as there was academic training involved. Mum did hesitate for half a day, but I think she was okay about it very quickly,” he says.
Now Nimish is being touted as the next big name in design in India, something he’s a bit sheepish about. “It’s a matter of good synergy; there’s something in sync and eventually you come up with a base level good product,” he says. “I’m very intuitive and I have my feet on the ground. I know what I want to do, how to take it forward and how it can drive change, prove a point or be a beautiful way to tell a story.”
Having said that, he is even more sheepish when he describes his style of dressing as ‘clumsy.’ “I love second-hand clothes, I buy them and also borrow and swap clothes with friends,” says Nimish. “I love basics, but they must have character. I can’t do loud designs, but I love clothes that have worn out. I wear them without repairing them and I’m very thrifty.”
When dressing himself, Nimish never looks at size labels when choosing clothes. “I don’t like to dress up, but I have a very strict, edited wardrobe,” he reveals.
“I love basics, but they must have character. I look for new styles, silhouettes and stories within a very basic pattern.”
And when it comes to work, while Nimish sometimes overdresses for a 9 am meeting, he doesn’t make an effort for an event. “I do basic jeans, t-shirts and I don’t plan my wardrobe; it’s really what comes off the top of the pile,” he confesses. “I have clothes in my office, car and lots in my house, and from the time I leave my house to the time I reach office I have changed and it’s always a carousel. I stick with my shoes, but my clothes are always on and off.”
Nimish defines his design aesthetic as a combination of shabby and chic and developed his style, which is highly appreciated in design circles today, with a lot of work experience. “At Bhaane, we are very conservative in our design and very premium too, and everything that’s made is a complete process and not an incomplete statement,” he says.
Working with and meeting creative people in Paris and London opened a whole gamut of self-design and styling for Nimesh. “All my ex bosses made their own clothes; they’d change buttons on their jackets and the whole team in Paris too was so dynamic and individualistic in their style,” he says.
India, he feels, has both edgy and quirky people, often influenced by travel, and the very conservative. Nimish believes being edgy comes from a very personal standpoint. “It’s a self groomed thing. You observe, manifest and then build your own. There’s no textbook to be edgy,” he says.
- Who would you like to dress?
- Michelle Obama, she’s so dynamic.
- Who you think needs a makeover?
- Mayawati. She needs a cooler haircut.
- Which was the last fashion disaster you saw?
- The shoulder pads trend.
- What blew you away?
- The number of hours required to make an outfit.
- Name one design you wish was yours.
- Salwar-kameez. It’s so formal and Indian at the same time.
- One great airport look?
- A very big sweater with basic denims and tee.
- And a bad one?
- High heels!
- Your personal style icon?
- Indira Gandhi, who understood what dressing up meant.
- One must-have in every guy’s closet?
- Black denims.
- And every girl’s...?
- Well-fitted underwear.
- In one word, fashion for you is?
- Common sense.
So, not many designers have aesthetics aligned with Nimesh’s design philosophy. There are lots of inspiring business models internationally, but these are not necessarily direct. “Apple as a business is a great reference point and so is Nike,” he explains. “How you can break a market and cater to several tiers within a pyramid is something we are looking at. While clothes are our medium of expression we look at building a brand. So we are looking at graphic design studios for a design language and magazines too. For example, something like Border & Fall is a beautifully-curated website in India.”
To pitch his premium brand, he can’t look at runway brands either. “We don’t want to be as edgy as a runway designer,” he says. “We want to create a nice, purist product mix that has a little bit of quirk, finesse and modernity. So we need to create our own model.”
The power of three
Nimish’s association with Bhaane happened unexpectedly. His great friend and patron Sonam randomly asked to meet for lunch. “I thought it’d be a bunch of friends. But when I saw Anand and Soman, I understood it was a work thing. I still remember how we completed each other’s sentences and all three of us were on the same page,” recalls Nimish, who took two months to plan things and move from Mumbai to Delhi after Sonam Kapoor and her husband, Anand Ahuja picked him up to be Creative Director for Bhaane.
In fact, Sonam and Rhea Kapoor have been patrons of Nimish right from his first collection. “Rhea would always push me to make things for her projects. I remember her sitting in my booth patiently while I fussed over packing a dress. It cracked her up! We have a lot of friends in common and at one such dinner in 2012, I met Sonam,” he says.
The trio is in sync in terms of the aesthetic they want to build for India. “We are all in sync with the pace at which the brands needs to grow, how we want to grow –– whether we want to be aggressive or passive, how we want to want to tell our story,” says Nimish. “Working with Sonam and Anand is very refreshing because Sonam comes with a very clean perspective on fashion and Anand has a very good view on business and expansion, and they both run such large businesses in their own capacity that they understand why a boutique business like Bhaane needs a slow speed and how this can be rewarding in the long term.”
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From HT Brunch, June 7, 2020
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