How Indian fashion designer Dhruv Kapoor mixed high couture and streetwear at Milan Fashion Week Menswear Show

He takes us behind the scenes of his Fall/Winter 23-24 collection titled The Embracer

By Mariella Radaelli

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Dhruv Kapoor
Dhruv Kapoor

Published: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 10:18 PM

Delhi-based fashion designer Dhruv Kapoor, 34, is the first Indian couturier to hold a menswear show at Milan Fashion Week. He debuted in Milan last year and had a triumphant return to Moda Uomo a few days ago. He took the stage at historic Palazzo Clerici in a show titled The Embracer that unveiled his Fall/Winter 23-24 collection with a unisex flair and avant garde appeal. His models hit the runway wearing slouchy sweatpants, giant tracksuits, metallic puffer coats and distressed denim brimming with graphics, colours and prints, all made with the use of asymmetrical cuts and layering.

Camera della Moda, the governing body of Italian fashion, praised his commanding style.

Kapoor mixes high couture and streetwear, and blurs gender-specific designs to create a mindful style and empowered aesthetic for a more joyful society that supports our psychological and spiritual growth.

For his exceptional talent, the young designer stepped into the spotlight in 2015 when Vogue India declared him the best-emerging design talent in the country. In 2017, he was listed as one of the 50 most influential young Indians by the men’s magazine GQ India and won the Young Designer Award in 2018.

Dhruv Kapoor moved to Milan in 2011 and graduated from Istituto Marangoni, a prestigious school that has played a pivotal role in the growth of the Italian fashion industry. Back in India, he founded his eponymous label in 2013 — after honing his skills at the Italian house Etro. wknd. caught up with the designer right after his show at the Milan Fashion Week.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How does it feel to show alongside Armani and Prada, true masters of western fashion?

I have always dreamed of showcasing at a platform as prestigious as Milan. The feeling is unmatched. Milan boasts a mix of tradition and technology — key to our brand ideologies.

Why did you choose the name The Embracer for your new releases? What is the story behind these pieces?

Our Fall/Winter 23-24 collection titled The Embracer reminds us to nurture our individuality and inner self with unconditional love. You can be soft and fierce, vulnerable and strong. You can be an amalgamation of the traditional and contemporary, a romantic and a realist. Your obedience can be met with rebellion and your femininity with fire. We live in a universe of different perceptions where paradoxes can be full of possibilities.

His new collection at Milan Fashion Week
His new collection at Milan Fashion Week

Your collection also draws inspiration from the Godzilla movies, a 1950s fantasy phenomenon about a sea monster summoned from the deep by nuclear tests to lay waste to Tokyo. Those stories were brilliant satire that allowed the Japanese to remember the war’s monstrous atomic destruction and then confront the whole world with it. What is today’s message through your clothes?

We wanted to twist the monstrous connotation attached to Godzilla towards a positive one by treating each monster and their superpowers as attributes of our personality. The embracer aims to promote acceptance and self-love and embrace all our versions. However, originally Godzilla was here to protect mankind.

Your handcrafted embroidery by Indian artisans includes a flaming heart and large foliage. They are recurrent symbols of the collection, together with reptile patterns that symbolise psychic awareness, blooming florals defining a new birth, and blurred patterns highlighting energy in motion. Why do your singular designs carry symbolic meaning?

Each seasonal collection comes with a spiritual undercurrent. As a brand, we target the mind and the soul, and focus on the intangible aspect of fashion and the psychological impact of colour, shape, and pattern on the wearer. Parapsychology inspires me greatly. We use our seasonal projections to remind our audiences about their true potential where oneness is the key. We are here to heal, restore and empower.

You dress Bollywood stars such as Kiara Advani but do you also consider yourself a street style designer that speaks to a global audience?

Our target is devoid of gender and social or political restraints. We aim to tap into the psychological impact of the clothes. It is about the mind and the soul, where the 'feel-good' factor is vital.

You love experimenting with colours. You said, “People are afraid of colour combinations that might seem odd or a vibe, in general, that might seem too bold or too delicate. I like to work with these combinations, and the possibilities are endless.”

Unusual pairings in shapes, patterns and colours are my favourite elements when building a collection. Each season, we offer multiple options combining elements from street and couture to assist the wearer in defining their unique self. I enjoy exploring different combinations, and sometimes by accident, I discover striking extremes that gel seamlessly together.

In which ways do you mix your Indian heritage with your Italian training and know-how that fuse tradition and technology? Is it a synthesis, a coming-together of two different sartorial languages?

We start by using a mix of materials and tweaking traditional techniques to birth a new aesthetic. An unusual blend of sizes, materials and methods yields fascinating results. Our embroideries develop over time while building the collection. It incorporates multiple trials to arrive at possible conclusions.

You have a solid commitment to sustainability. You create eco-conscious collections mixing designs and colours with upcycled and responsibly sourced materials. What creative challenges do you face when designing a collection using discarded textiles?

Honestly, it is not so challenging to be mindful of maintaining a sustainable approach. We start by sourcing discarded textiles, mixing them with recycled materials, and enhancing them with surface ornamentation, patterns and shapes. It is fun to add newness to something that someone else discards. We rewire desire back into it.

You said that your primary intent is communicating emotion through your clothes. Do your clothes always express your emotions?

We aim to tap into emotion. Our constant question while building a collection is: how does it make you feel? The key is to study the psychological impact of clothes through colour, shape and surface. Each colour would have a psychological effect on the wearer. For example, yellow would always keep you lively and joyful.

You said that your time at Marangoni and living in Italy for almost three years was life-changing. Is Milan where you wanted to be with all your heart and soul?

Marangoni and its skilled faculty and the city of Milan gave me clarity. I developed my approach there and, under their guidance, learned how to manifest that path. As a fashion capital, Milan always had something happening, and this was an insight for me backed by new learning to build my brand.

What are the most important lessons you learned from Milan’s fashion school?

Commitment, consistency and clarity of thought.

Did your training in Etro help you develop your vision?

My love for print developed at Etro. I learned a lot about the design process, building on a concept, and finally, making the collection to define the seasonal message best. It gave me insight into sales and how to utilise those numbers to tweak future offerings from the brand.

Which designers inspired you the most during those formative years?

Miuccia Prada. I have always enjoyed her approach to design and the underlying messaging through her clothes.

You established your brand’s headquarters in Gurgaon, a city 32km outside New Delhi built almost entirely by private companies. Why did you choose that location?

Gurgaon is an industrial space with multiple garment manufacturers. The Indian system demands specific licenses that are applicable only in industrial areas. Moreover, it is easier to be surrounded by various vendors nearby.

How did your birthplace, New Delhi, influence your work?

I was born and brought up in New Delhi. I have been a silent observer since the beginning. I enjoy absorbing the surroundings and making mental notes on them. Even today, I would observe floating mindsets in a room and react through our collection with a refreshing take on a limited mindset. As I grew up, I was free to choose any desired path for my future endeavours. This freedom and support from my family made me confident to experiment and voice new ideologies through the brand.

How old were you when you realised this would have been your professional life?

It was back in sixth grade. From then on, I have been visualising a path for myself and the brand and fearlessly charging ahead on it. Since middle school, I have been clear about moving in this direction.

I read that you develop these incredible patterns in your designs through daily meditation. How do you build the process of preparing a collection by bringing your attention inward?

Stillness. Whenever I was stuck, I would sit still, and the answers would float by. Everything already exists. It’s only about how you present your version of it. But yes, a calm state of mind always births our bestsellers season after season. Try it!

Are you a dreamer? And what about your next big dream?

I am mostly dreaming throughout the day. I call that process visualising. The next step is to approach our brand ideologies from a 360-degree perspective. Through space, interior and physical and mental experiences.

Which are your biggest markets? And what is the role of the Middle East?

Japan, USA, Middle East and India. Yes, the Middle East is undoubtedly one of the biggest markets. Like India, the offerings are well received in the Middle East. Their love for embroidery, prints and proportion, in general, is similar to those back home in India. We consistently look into pop-ups for the brand and work with some big retailers in the region.

You love to make women look bolder, but what kind of woman inspires you?

In one word: fearless. I wish for all women to own who they are without apology. Through the brand, we aim to assist our audience to be the best version of themselves.

Have you ever been inspired by strong Indian women, either from your childhood or from fantasy and mythological tales?

The best example here is my mother. I admire her courage and her commitment to anything she takes on her plate. She is an integral part of the daily workings. It is magical to see her in that position.

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