Less than a week after he burst upon the international scene at London Fashion Week, Kaushik Velendra is still answering questions about his “muscular shoulders”. The detachable accessory that he has simply termed ‘muscle’ was seen on his models, in keeping with a generation that is not afraid to overtly address what they might consider ‘shortcomings’. “I’d always hear men complain about how their bodies aren’t perfect; how their shoulders are too narrow. So I made these that they could wear on top of a perfectly-tailored jacket to feel more confident,” says the Chennai-born designer on the phone from London.
In Galliano’s footsteps
The sculptural and hyper-masculine detail in this MA Fashion graduate’s menswear collection drew much attention, and Velendra admits there has been no looking back since. “I’m still reeling from the shock of all this unexpected publicity,” he says, for despite having styled actor Kamal Haasan and other celebrities, he isn’t a familiar name outside Chennai.
Velendra, 28, started his fashion studies at the age of 17 at Pearl Academy in Chennai. “It was only about five-and-a-half years ago that I decided to go to London for the bachelors programme at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design,” he adds. CSM, as the college is known around the world, is also the alma mater of globally-renowned names like Marc Jacobs, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. After completing his bachelors in late 2016, he opted to continue his fashion studies at the masters’ level in menswear, at CSM.
The result was a graduation show with 25 others, including Korean designer Min Kim. At the CSM MA Fall 2019, where the programme’s graduates presented capsule collections, Velendra’s seven looks stood out. They incorporated not just precision tailoring, but also futuristic hand-embroideries created by Chennai-based Jean-Francois Lesage’s Vastrakala — Velendra’s modern nod to his Indian roots — and handmade shoes by Paris-based Fred Rolland, who previously worked with Christian Louboutin. The highlight of the show was his heat-moulded, detachable ‘muscle’, fixed on to the clothes with magnetic fasteners, in itself an innovation in menswear.
“I would always hear men complain about how their bodies aren’t perfect; how their shoulders are too narrow. So I made these that they could wear on top of a perfectly tailored jacket” — Kaushik Velendra
The material he used for these shoulders is a composite of wool felt and polyester mixed with a reactant that allows it to be moulded with heat. Over time, it takes on the ‘memory’ of the wearer’s body shape, fitting perfectly. Used only for industrial purposes in shoes, millinery, and theatre so far, this is the first time a designer has used this unnamed material in fashion.
Shapewear for men?
But Velendra didn’t stop his obsession with shaping there. His trousers, though they may seem like perfectly-tailored dress pants, aren’t cut like regular ones. “The patterns for the lowers are all inspired by sportswear, so there are no in-seams or side seams. They’re designed to make the wearers’ legs look better shaped.”
Already hailed as bringing sexy back to menswear, Velendra says he couldn’t have done it without the embroideries created for him by Vastrakala. “The way they used Swarovski crystals is completely new, and this also added to the more evening-wear looks in the collection.”
With a special re-see scheduled a week from now for all the collections that were part of the show, he is expecting to meet not just industry professionals, but also buyers. This is how fashion icon and industry mentor Isabella Blow had discovered (and bought, in its entirety) Alexander McQueen’s graduation collection, launching the talented designer’s meteoric career. I mention this and Velendra’s response is quick. “A lot of people are encouraging me to start my own label after the amazing response I’ve had. But I’m not sure right now. I may decide to work at a fashion house to gain more experience first.”