Interview: Designer duo Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla on new store, 30 years and fashion

After three decades of surviving the fashion industry, Sandeep Khosla of Abu-Sandeep fame says it's time to open a multi-designer property

Dressers of Bollywood royalty — and now, outside of it as well (remember Beyoncé in the recent Coldplay video?), Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, celebrate three decades in the fashion industry this year. A subtle highlight to commemorate this milestone is not another quintessential Abu-Sandeep store but a multi-designer space that will only stock light-weight, casual outfits.

Sandeep Khosla, Abu Jani
Sandeep Khosla, Abu Jani

Fantastique opened its doors in Colaba on Wednesday with designs by Mayank Anand Shraddha Nigam, N&S GAIA, and Verandah by Anjali Patel Mehta. There was also the opening of a diffusion store, ASAL, and the reprint of their book. They will launch the AJSK label in the US and Europe this year. Their association with the revival of chikan fabric also completes 25 years next year. The duo has a lot on their plate, but they aren’t complaining. Excerpts from an interview.

Q. Why choose Mumbai over Delhi for a fashion store?
A. (SK) The store is about natural fabrics and it was about time we did something for youngsters. Bombay is artier, in a way, and the city prefers cottons. Even in couture, cotton sells in Bombay, Delhi would pick georgette or silk. Fantastique is something we wanted to launch ourselves, you will see some garments by us too, easy breezy, absolute cotton. If it’s a success, we will introduce more designers and outlets.

Q. What led to the decision?
A. (SK) It’s not a business decision; it’s a whim. Our whims change every month (laughs). We had that space with us, Abu said lets start an experiment and see where it goes. As long as you have a philosophy it is great. I love what Bungalow 8 does. Cotton and Khadi need to be promoted in a big way.
(AJ) The idea was to create a space and a business model that allows India’s young talent to showcase creativity in the finest ways and to grow as brands, to their optimal potential. The emphasis is on curating a space that contains an assortment of artistic expression from the 21st century India. The idea began when we were highly impressed by how the designers had re-imagined and reshaped traditional pieces into uber-contemporary silhouettes and collections.

Q. What made you look in this direction?
A. (SK) It was time to reinvent ourselves. Everybody referred to us veteran designers, which is a terrible term. Just call us designers — you are young in your head. People say that we have been there forever, we are classic. But even if we have been there, we can always present something new. We can do beautiful and sexy too.
(AJ) With changing demographics, we need to be more accessible and reach a wider audience at a far more affordable price point. Every man and woman deserves fabulous clothes, whether it is couture, diffusion or mass wear. We wanted to challenge ourselves and move beyond couture.
(SK) We are putting our eggs in various baskets. We enjoy a certain position in the design world. When we know of something I suppose people will go for it more than a standalone person trying to do it. With our backing the idea will do well.

Q. Is it difficult for multi-label stores that do not stock wedding wear to survive?
A. (SK) Multi-designer stores stock clothes to go to a wedding or wear for your wedding. Very few are doing casual clothes. With international brands coming in, the market is getting hit further. The silhouette is getting hit too. But I feel Indian clothes look better on Indians than anything else. The fashion industry needs good old backing from industrialists to take it to the world. We are getting Japanese brands like Muji here. But what about Indian philosophy? It is lost. Collaborations can be the way forward. Companies like Marks & Spencer should also invest in Indian brands that they can adopt abroad. Today, even we have come under pressure and are doing Western clothes. Every bride wants one gown, thanks to magazines that are blasting you with ads from everywhere. It’s is not even a gown, it’s ‘gone’ in Delhi. Mein toh gone pehnungi, (laughs). They need three people just to handle the train or the cancan!

Q. What helped keep a label with two designers at the helm strong?
A. (AJ) We believe in hard work — blood, sweat and tears. We have never allowed our circumstances to contain our ambition. But we haven’t planned or predicted paths either.
We never take ourselves for granted. Both of us, we disagree to agree. The book; I said yes, Abu said no. Now we have two books out and a reprint. The pre-booking is on. So many young designers are just knocking off others’ ideas, it’s just lazy. There is room for more quality. People chase the fashion week, they think it is a page three moment and ‘I will become famous’, but no. If your clothes aren’t good, it won’t make sense.
We are committed to dreaming bigger.

Q. With so much hard work, your detox trip to Europe seemed liked a great idea…
A. (SK) Detox was a trip to recuperate from all the action that has been happening. Even if you lose a little bit of weight it makes you feel good. We lost about three to four kilos. It doesn’t matter for everyone, but on this huge body it does! We abused it every single day when we were there. We were eating 500 calories of macrobiotic food. I thought I would never go to a dietician; I repel all that. But this trip made us see that this alternate lifestyle is not bad.

Q. What do you feel about the inherent style of Mumbai and Delhiwallas?
A. (SK) The beauty of Mumbai is that it is non-judgmental. There is too much pressure on people in Delhi. Here, people dress for them first; they don’t need an approval.

Sonam Kapoor at Cannes last year. Pic courtesy/

Style faves
Sonam Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor. She carries everything off. Deepika also looks fabulous and there is Katrina. Ranveer Singh has a unique, quirky dressing sense and he pulls it off very well! Anyone who is stylish is not conscious. Mr Bachchan, of course, is a style icon.

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