At World Bikini Day, Vogue chats with designers to bring a wave of change (and luxury) to Indian swimwear.
From Alexander Calder’s work, designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja have been shaping the identity of this national swimwear from bikini sari to thin briefs. After 10 years of industry experience, the Shivan & Narresh brand has evolved from India’s most important holiday apparel brand to include vertical accessories and current wedding planning – Shivan & Narresh celebrations. But it’s not always easy to build a luxury swimwear brand in a country that still has an agreement with the bold new identity of Indian women. At World Bikini Day, Vogue contacted Narresh Kukreja to talk about brand development, women and their relationship to the body, and the most iconic swimwear era.
How to create a swimsuit brand idea to find you?
When we finished our studies, we wanted to start a new category, which the Indian fashion industry had never seen before. As designers, we all like to travel and bring surprises to people. We also very much hope that we really hope that India has its own global luxury brand, and we really want to launch this brand on a global scale. For us, swimwear is the only category we look for in all answers.
From 3D swimsuits to open back bikinis, how does the brand Shivan & Narresh develop?
When we started, we started as the first swimwear brand to stitch a free-form swimsuit, so it was a swimwear category driven entirely by Haute Couture. We are the only naked needle that does not wear a swimsuit – this is our first evolution. Secondly, we came up with the new silhouette of the bikini sari, and then added a new swimwear category to the international fashion catalogue – defined as what India’s swimwear can do for global fashion. Of course, Kim Kardashian West helped the Vogue to wear a global map.
What inspired the bikini sari?
The truth is that after bandhgala, India has not contributed to global fashion. Bikini sari is a silhouette that does not exist in the fashion dictionary, but it is related to the millennial Indians. It provides a very important design solution for what to wear when you go to the beach. You can’t wear sari, you can’t wear salwar kameez, you can’t wear denim… What do Indian women wear? This is a very relevant issue, it requires a design solution, so it does two things. It solves the problems of millennial women and provides a new silhouette from India for Western fashion dictionaries.
India has both bikinis and humiliating bikinis. How do you find the middle ground between these two extremes?
This is our responsibility as a designer. We are a bridge between what the society looks like and what it should look like. We are very sensitive to show people the era of our lives, the ideal way of life. A brand should be able to stimulate relevant changes in society in order to be considered successful. I think bikini is a very western concept for Indians, although it is ironic that we are far ahead of our own age as a culture in terms of women’s and physical enthusiasm. When you go back to ancient times, we wore smaller outfits because they were more functional. We package our own history, cultural relevance, the relevance of water entertainment, and combine it into a Millennium brand and serve it in India. People react so well because this is what they need.
So far, what is the most daring bikini you have ever encountered in your research?
Honestly, the most daring thing we have encountered is all the sculptures you saw at the Khajurao Temple in Madhya Pradesh. The clothing you see there, not only in the silhouette, but also the transparency of the clothing, you can literally imagine that the fabric worn on the woman is also very delicate. How bold this may show you how we are ahead of the times! How confident we are as a society for the body; how proud Indian women are! I don’t think that even in the recorded Western history, everything is as bold as our own heritage.
What challenges have you encountered in your swimwear work?
Oh, everything! Manufacturing because we lack a well-trained workforce in this industry. No Indian factory produces swimwear fabrics, so we still source all our products from Italy. Marketing is another because people in our country are often very sensitive to brands like ours. We have a very messy retail chain here – how do you proactively sell the right size swimsuit to a woman when you are catering to such a western category of ready-to-wear? Women in our country are very different in swimsuits.