“I’m trying to address a voice that is young, that may not be fashionable but is extremely relevant”, says Nimish Shah of his recently launched, debut menswear collection, Mr. Shift. For the designer, whose womenswear is known for its minimalist approach and its clean lines and silhouettes, the new collection doesn’t stray. “Mr. Shift is an active brand where a bit of smartness and quirky-ness comes through. It is not apologetically passive. It is actively minimalist, let’s say.”
While talking about his newest project, Nimish casually lets slip the power of this collection. “Mr. Shift is inspired by success but not by being rich. As a brand it is very non-branded and non-personality driven. Because all the pieces are classic separates, it is how you extract something that makes sense to you and spice it up in your own way. It is a self-elite indulgence, pretty much where the customer knows his style and sensibility and doesn’t need logos to prove his stance/ where he stands. It is a holistic approach to building your wardrobe.”
Much like the designer himself, the Mr. Shift customer is not a passive dresser, but instead is a self-conscious man. “We had identified a community – people within the artistic business, everyone who uses a mac and is not a number-cruncher, freelancers in their 30s who have a steady income – and we wanted to work within that price point. Basically, if you’re self-employed or with a small company, what are you wearing? You’re not wearing a suit to work, so what it is? That person is our customer”, he quips.
The collection itself is a beautiful juxtaposition between what’s timeless and modern, young and old. While Mr. Shift is a fine gentleman, he’s also infused with a hint of youth and freshness. “The style of dressing could be for a dapper gentleman or for a 21-year old boy with an old soul, who’s looking at his dad for inspiration. Mr. Shift starts at an age of awareness and goes all the way up. There is a bit of drama in the clothing, but that drama is relevant across age groups”, adds Nimish.
But he is also aware of the challenges that are ripe in the fairly nascent designer menswear market in the country and ready to work through them. “I do agree that the market is almost non-existent, however, the same thing happened with womenswear initially and look where it is now. Men generally are boring dressers, and this is a worldwide phenomenon, not just an Indian thing. A lot of brands have tried to master menswear and not succeeded. And while made-to-measure is amazing, we’re not into suiting culture yet. What’s important to note is that men’s products lack lustre as compared to womenswear. It is easier to market for women and shopping as a psychological behaviour is more a woman’s thing than it is a man’s thing. So it’s a more psychological hurdle. And, in India, for menswear, we have our own issues which we’ve overcome.”
However, fashion as an industry is not new to Nimish. In 2003, he moved to London to study Product Design at the London College of Fashion and soon after graduating worked with some of the biggest names in the business such as Chloe, Browns and Burberry before moving back home in 2008. It is around this time that he started working on his own independent ideas whilst maintaining a job as a brand manager. “I wanted to set up my own creative consultancy in 2011, to find out what can be done in the Indian market, which was booming at the time. I realised that I wanted to do a combination of basic clothing and a magazine and keep it very studio, very entrepreneurial – small scale but very vocal in design.”
That led him into thinking about the basic product that people need and how he could master that using sustainable textiles, which in turn led him to working with Khadi a lot. “Our concept was simple – great clothes for people to wear on a daily basis. Our customers wear great clothes throughout the day, not just to go out. We also wanted people to understand locally produced clothes. And we got lucky with hitting that area, where no one else was considering these things. Things like how to make a great work shirt out of khadi that’s still fashionably relevant and forward and still stays within the classic space.”
Over a period of time, the brand’s whole DNA got stronger and laid a lot of focus on being fashion forward and having a strong voice within visual communication. “We didn’t want to be unapproachable but we wanted to be the cool-kids-in-high-school sort of vibe. A vibe that is aspirational.” A quick peek into Nimish’s personal list of inspirations and you’re not surprised by this vibe of laid-back effortlessness which most people long to have. Movies like The Dreamers, Cinema Paradiso and Gandhi (“the original one with Ben Kingsley”) make up his favourite movies list and filmmakers like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson are people he looks up to. “I find a lot of inspiration in films. It is such a complete package and it’s a great way of communicating what’s in your head”, he says.
But what well and truly inspires the designer, and is evident in this aesthetic (and social media) is his love for the 70s. “It had the right amount of sass. The revolutions during the era were for personal standpoints, they were not for group efforts. The Mods, the Civil Rights movement, it was all to voice your personal opinion, not for anything else. It was also an era with the right amount of happy. And for us, in India, it was a great era. We were becoming modern in our architecture, in our social scene, people were partying, clubs were opening up, etc. We were getting over the poverty phase that came after separation”, he says, and quickly adds, as if almost an afterthought, “that being said, I also love the 80s and the 90s now as that was the time I grew up and so it’s my personal nostalgia.”
It’s this nostalgia, this inspiration and this experience of things that directs the brand’s retail experience too. Although the brand currently has no standalone stores, the one thing that was clear was that they wanted to sell an experience. And instead of simply jumping from one exhibition to the next, he started hosting the Make Shift Shop, a pop-up shop with a complete offering. “We provide a complete brand experience through the pop-ups. We get to call our clan and customers and they get to spend time with our products without any pressure.”
In fact, the popularity and success of these well planned pop-ups will continue on as a strategy for menswear as well. But, in addition to that, Nimish also has something clever planned, as far as retail is concerned. “Speaking of retail, we will, for the first time ever, be retailing our menswear with Nappa Dori online. They will have a page where we will sell our menswear. It’s a digital pop-up. Of course I could set up my own e-shop, but I love the format of two different brands coming together to produce a creative approach and an amplified experience. We’re exploring such things both digitally and offline, being creative with our approach and I’m excited to announce Mr. Shift to everyone.”
Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India.