Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja are India’s first swimwear designers. They are the creators of the Bikini Sari,
a one-piece maillot with a wrappable fabric sewn into the front that mimics the look of a traditional sari. Their line of bikini saris exquisite swimwear and resort wear soon got the world to sit up and notice them in the world of fashion. Shweta Bhatia caught up with the talented duo behind their namesake brand Shivan and Narresh
How has your journey been so far?
The journey from Cannes to Indian fashion weeks has been extremely adventurous and rewarding as it has lead us to explore a virgin aspect of the Indian fashion industry and promote an aspect of a lifestyle seldom delved by Indians.
How did you both meet and decide to partner up?
The two of us met during our undergraduate studies in India. With unique and complimenting skill sets we started working in partnership to participate in international design competitions while pursuing our formal education in Fashion and Leather design. Winning some prestigious international design awards like, ‘Mare di Moda’ Beachwear awards 2006 held in Bali and World of Wearable Art Awards’06 in New Zealand bagged us scholarships to pursue our education further in Italy. It was at this point that we decided to work together in partnership professionally for which we decided to complete our masters in the fields we needed to hone our skills before starting up. This is when we both decided to opt for Masters in Luxury Marketing and Management and Masters in Fashion and textiles.
In Italy we were extremely fortunate enough to be mentored by visionaries like Creative director of La Perla, former Director Communications Gucci Group and Commercial Director at Mandarina Duck. This direct knowledge and experience taught us two most important facets of fashion – creative and entrepreneurial – a marriage of which forms a solid foundation for building new age luxury brands.
You took a risk being one of India’s first swimwear designers. Did you have any hesitations when you first decided to do so?
Designing swimwear was a call of passion. Since we started in Europe, we were fortunate enough to have the right environment to push this passion into creating a brand that focuses on this niche. We launched at Cannes in 2008. Initially the thought of moving to India was intimidating especially after experiencing a mature swimwear market in Europe but at the same time there was a larger adrenalin rush to start a new category back home that would allow us to amalgamate our passion with our own country. Shivan is a brilliant illustrator and loves illustrating the female anatomy in various forms and I was obsessed with color and painting canvases in my non-academic time while still in design school. This working partnership turned pretty successful when we started applying for international design competitions, as we were able to communicate our designs uniquely and when transformed into a product, it would make us win design competitions. After winning numerous of such competitions and travelling extensively, while we were still completing our graduations, it struck us that if combining art and fashion illustrations meant happiness to us then why not make a career out of it. Designing swimwear hence became the only way we both could keep our love for art alive. The same has reflected in our approach towards swimwear where we use colours on different parts of the body akin to painting a canvas.
Taking this up as our career was nothing short of exciting as we got to introduce the Indian audience to the dream of luxury holidays and wardrobes while embracing the swimsuit beyond the pool.
Did you face any obstacles in the process? Do tell us about that and how did you overcome them?
Positioning a swimwear brand in India had its fair share of challenges. The challenges we face for this niche segment were spread across manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing and communication channels. For the organized boutique retail space in India, which emphasized majorly on trousseau and traditional Indian clothing, the idea of having a swimwear line sharing the same space and rack was to be justified as an essential in any wardrobe for their well- heeled client. Starting a swimwear brand wasn’t just about setting up an appropriate manufacturing unit and training the Indian manpower for this specialized industry, but to even educate the retailer on selling a swimsuit as well as the consumer on buying the perfect swimsuit. Bridging this gap was the key to the success of India having its first swimwear brand which in turn required us to have rigorous visual merchandising plans for our retailers followed by sales staff training in each city and store, educating them about various Indian body types with respect to swimsuit styles. Doing this over six seasons now, today, a regular shopper of SHIVAN AND NARRESH buys the swimsuit for purposes beyond just swimming and using them as body suits for an office environment to a night out to even be worn as blouses under saris.
The second major challenge that we faced in positioning the brand was in the consumer psychology. For the well travelled consumer two most important things to shop have always been swimsuit and lingerie, while the middle income group would rather ignore any recreational activity around the summer or a domestic warm holiday in winters simply because they lacked confidence about their bodies and suffered the lack of appropriate dressing for a holiday or on a beach. This lack of confidence has been prevailing in the minds on the Indian consumer ever since as they have continued to live under inferiority complexes regarding their shapes, sizes and their curves. All this exist, even in this age of modern India with the influx of luxury brands, only because whatever is on offer has never ever been designed keeping in mind Indian sizing, body types, socio-cultural values and their psyche. Thus, the swimwear brand had to reach out beyond catering to the swimming needs of the consumer but also the sociocultural set up of the Indian society.
The brand position was hence, altered to suit the cultural ethos of the society through a modest use of cuts, introduction of a ‘customized swimsuit service’ and an intelligent use of colour blocking to accentuate the curves inherent to the Indian body type. The brand positioned itself in the Indianwear segment through the introduction of its three series of saris – the Lycra Sari, the Kaftan Sari and the iconic Bikini Sari and holds a unique position through these creations.
Another aspect of brand positioning was to cater to a performance centric fashion creation, which is why all our swimwear lines come with quality assurance from Lycra USA ensuring a product that is resistant to UV Rays, Chlorine, Sunscreen, Oils, Pilling and Curling and lasting three times more than the regular swimsuit.
Your designs are uber stylish and absolute head turners. What is your source of inspiration season after season?
We both are extremely passionate about art and it continues to inspire us to use it as a starting point of each collection. Swimwear was the only category that allowed us to amalgamate art and fashion. It’s most exciting to interpret a canvas in an illustration and watch it come alive and making its way from the runway into peoples wardrobes. Its this process of translating art into fashion that keeps our adrenaline gushing and feet moving.
We can’t not talk about the innovative bikini sari. Please tell us about that.
The bikini sari has been a landmark creation for the brand. It comes from the idea of a modernistic bathing suit
while catering to the needs of the Indian societal setup. It can be draped in 10 different ways and has gained
tremendous popularity ever since its invention. While its perfect for the lounging holiday goers by the beach or a pool, draping it over the shoulder makes it into an incredibly glamorous resort sari that can be worn from beach to bar and cocktails to destination weddings. It has gained tremendous popularity ever since it has been conceived and is an iconic invention by the brand. The rage of versatility caused by the Bikini Sari can be seen in the wardrobes of young bodycon honeymooners to 45-50 year old women who are body conscious.
Do you both have any professional differences while deciding on a design? If so, how do you approach a conclusion?
No creative process is complete without constant deliberation or arguments; it is healthy and leads to better results when challenged by one another. On the design table, we collectively decide on the collection’s overall
structure and envision the season’s look. This is followed by a rigorous process of silhouette and style sketching by Shivan running into a hundreds of sketches, which are further brought to about 70-80 by us. Further to this, Narresh fills in the colours and prints of the season to collection sketches and then go into sampling and production.
Which is your favourite fashion era and what do you love about it?
It has to be the 1950s for its retro-glamour that transcended beautifully at the beach leading to women across shapes and sizes embracing the two piece bikini with effortless confidence.
The one celebrity you would love to design for dead or living?
Grace Kelly – simply for her timeless style and elegance
What are the future plans for the brand?
With the brand fully established as India’s first luxury holiday brand, the future plan is to get into international markets and explore availability of the brand in exclusive cities and holiday destinations.