Suket Dhir, Men’s Wear Designer, From Delhi to the World

LA Gear,Fashion,Saks Fifth Avenue

NEW DELHI — In a stifling office on the second floor of an anonymous building along a dusty lane in Lado Sarai — the new hub for young artists in a corner of the southwestern part of this capital city — a 38-year-old men’s wear designer Vogue.com has called a “global fashion superstar in the making” sat in semidarkness. The power had gone out. Somehow the power is always going out in 21st-century India, a nation with 1.25 billion people, thousands of years of recorded history and the capacity to deploy nuclear weaponry. India is a paradoxical country. And Suket Dhir is a paradoxical guy. Born in Banga, India, he is an unshorn and unshaven Punjabi Hindu who styles himself a “wannabe Sikh”; a self-described former “slacker” now blissfully married to a Russian-Indian woman, Svetlana Dhir, who manages the business; a creative talent eager to compete on the global stage, and yet one who shares his small studio office with his elderly father. He is also an expert craftsman whose subtle tailoring was recognized last January with one of the most prestigious honors in fashion, the International Woolmark Prize, an award that has also gone to Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. The judges who selected Mr. Dhir as the latest recipient focused their praise on the romantic and internationalized vision of the designer, whose last foray outside India (before traveling to Florence, Italy, to collect the $75,000 in prize money) was a brief trip to Dubai two decades earlier. Perhaps most appealing of Mr. Dhir’s contradictions is how his restrained tailoring honors and deftly makes use of a range of the varied craft traditions that remain among the wonders of India while simultaneously mining a design vocabulary partly formed by his habit of binge-watching “Seinfeld.” Almost a year after winning the Woolmark prize, he was scrambling to complete and deliver a collection, his first to be sold outside India, to department stores in Tokyo; Sydney, Australia; Seoul, South Korea; and New York. (Saks Fifth Avenue will feature elements from Mr. Dhir’s label, called Sukhetdhir, starting in December.) At the time of my visit, the deadline for the first shipments was just over a week away. Tailors in a back room sat patiently at their silent machines. A cutter scissored through layers of denim methodically in the dimly lit room. A brownout coinciding with crunch time may induce at the very least a tantrum for some designers. Yet with the cool of a sannyasi or a stoner, Mr. Dhir suggested a coffee run. The spot he chose was Blue Tokai, a hipster joint that is part coffee bar and part industrial grindery. There, amid a clatter of trays and a general conversational din, the soft-spoken chatterbox sketched out the unlikely path he had taken from being an aimless and indifferent student, to “that obnoxious voice” consumers across the world hear when call-center dialers manage to entrap them (“I sold mobile phones for AT&T”), to the great hope for Indian design. It was at the call center, Mr. Dhir said, that he polished the rough edges off his Punjabi-accented English (a stint at a fancy boarding school probably helped, too). And it...

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