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‘You Need to Know Your Craft to be Able to Design Well’ : Sandeep Khapra, Head of Design – Menswear, Max Fashion

Sandeep Khapra joined Max Fashion in 2015 and heads the Menswear design segment. Over the period of two years with max Fashion, he has achieved greater business share as well a greater aspiration for menswear. He has improved the fashion offering in menswear, it is now competitive with the international brands and retailers on trend delivery. He has also strengthened the T-shirts line and casual shirting by establishing a very strong textile know how and very skilled team, improved the jeans category to make it very international in form and fit and further.

Sandeep Khapra in an interview with Suman Prasad, spoke in length about his fashion journey, how fashion has evolved in India over time, concept of Autumn collection by Max Fashion and other interesting facets of fashion.

On his experience as a professional fashion designer 

I started my career as an assistant designer to Saviojon at Goa after finishing my education in Fashion Design from NIIFT Mohali. With Saviojon, I learnt the tricks of trade, finer details of pattern making, stitching etc. Also Savio’s style was very unique, full of inspiration from an idyllic Goan village life but beautifully transformed into very western silhouettes. This taught me how to deliver a product from inspiration to store shelves. I set out to create my own products and launch my own Pret line called ‘WE’ in 2001. I decided to shut this creatively very satisfying venture because of lack of commercial success in 2004. I realised it was too premature to launch a business without sufficient experience and that the designer wear market was not ready for Pret, and it primarily served wedding wear market.

I joined Blackberrys brand in 2004 as the Chief Designer, it was small but strong brand specialising in trousers. The products mostly sold at multi brand outlets and department stores. It was my task to build on the strength in trousers but evolve it into a full apparel solution. During my tenure at Blackberrys I developed the iconic trousers fits that were inspired by international trends cut for an Indian Male Body. The iconic B95 and B91 were the products of this endeavour.

Blackberrys enjoys leadership in trousers’ fits to this day. The other big task to create an aspiration for the brand and make it rise above the brands from big business groups. Innovation and fashion push in suits and shirts, along with launch of t-shirts, Polos and footwear completed the menswear offering. During my tenure of ten years I contributed to take the brand from a turnover of 60 Cr to 600 Cr, a very sound financial status and a very strong Brand equity in the menswear arena. All this was achieved by creating a Design Department, a very talented fashion and technical design team. Another feather in the cap was launch of a young line, Blackberrys Urban to cater to the increasingly young population of India. This were very new waters to explore, a deviation from the dressy suiting look to urban casuals.

Fashion in India – From then to now

When I started my career, the organised retail was dominated by Menswear, it was because menswear was first to be westernised, men started wearing shirts, trousers and suits early in the 19th century, inspired by the colonizers. While westernisation for womenswear in real sense happened only after the arrival of big international retailers in recent years. Until the last decade women were still wearing Indian wear even at offices. From being about 5 year behind the international markets in the 90s it has come to be about an year behind them, at least in the urban areas. Rapid digitalisation and arrival of International retailers has cut the trend cycle short.

On his change of designs over the years

My designs have changed over time primarily on account of the brand that I was designing for. At Saviojon and for my own line WE my designs were a indo-western fusion, Blackberrys it became primarily menswear and quite formal only to ease towards end of my tenure there when the stakeholders and the customer were ready for smart casuals and casuals. While at Max it is mostly casuals, I design for a much younger target customer here, I have to think like one for this.

Taking up Fashion Designing as a career

Launch of MTV in India in teenage years exposed me to western fashion, musicians costumes were so ahead of the Bollywood fashion, it so fascinated me that I wanted to design clothes. I dropped my pursuits in Fine Arts in favour of Fashion and went to study Fashion.

Details, Concept and  Inspiration behind the recently launched Autumn Collection by Max Fashion 

Autumn 17 Collection from Max has three strong directions:

I. Glam Rock collection inspired by Rock musicians style has a mix of grunge style of Kurt Cobain and a glam style of David Bowie.

II. Modern Nomad collection has indigo and khaki shirts and t shirts, jacquard upholstery patterns vintage graphics, patchwork denims and loose silhouettes, an artistic take on denims.

III. Hippie Soldier an anti-war collection it trivialises military clothing to a fashion statement. With a palette sprinkled with a dusty pink and anti-war messages as patches it softens the military look, very reminiscent of the activists from Vietnam war years.

Indian fashion industry on a global scale

Indian Fashion Industry is in an evolutionary phase from being a menswear dominated market ruled by home grown brands it will change into a very international and a mature retail market. With more and more international retailers making a beeline to enter here and online shopping making the whole world accessible to the customer, Indian retailers will also need to upgrade to stay competitive. Customer’s expectation are set to be redefined by these new product and retail standards.

On who he admires in Fashion

Ralph Lauren is one of my heroes, I really appreciate him for the sheer variety of successful sub brands he has created without losing the essence of the mother Brand. His brands have looks varying from very aristocratic to very vintage work wear in RRL. RRL being my favourite brand.

A good dresser

Ryan Gosling, he is the Steve Mcqueen of this century, King of Cool. He carries everything gracefully and effortlessly, from a bad boy look in Tees and biker jeans to a perfect gentleman in a three piece Suit.

His favourite piece from Max Autumn 2017 collection

Patch work jeans from ‘Modern Nomad’ Collection.

3 things that every man should have in his wardrobe

I. A nice button down oxford shirt
II. A summer blazer
III. A raw jeans.

3 things that every woman should have in her wardrobe

I. Halter Neck top
II. Black jeans
III. A light weight cardigan

One celebrity he would like to dress

Connor McGregor, MMA Fighter. He makes suits seem fun with his signature twist to the suited look. A perfect Wild Gentleman, I can obviously design some three piece tweed blazer-chino ensemble but the most interesting would be to dress him in a vintage work wear look.

Advice for budding and inspiring fashion designers

Work or intern in a factory for at least an year, you need to know your craft to be able to design well.

On his future plans

I love leading Menswear Design for MAX, it is very dynamic retailer, growing and evolving rapidly. I want to prepare Max for the new retail environment, strengthen it to stand tall amongst the new competition. I am part of the strategic team who is set out to seek a billion dollars of annual business within the next five years. For menswear my contribution would be to offer different fashion looks to the young customer and be the go to retailer for most of his apparel needs.

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