Elevating contemporary streetwear from everyday to extra special

Contemporary, cool cuts sit stylishly with unique ethnic motifs in spunky men’s streetwear label No Grey Area by Chennai designer, Arnav Malhotra
Arnav Malhotra
Arnav Malhotra

One normally associates traditional techniques such as kantha and zardozi with couture, but Chennai-based menswear designer Arnav Malhotra is all set to prove it wrong. For, in his label, No Grey Area (NGA), he gives contemporary streetwear a luxurious spin through ethnic weaves and embroidery, giving it that extra edge and elevating it from everyday to extra special.

“I have grown up around fashion,” he says (his parents run the iconic multi-designer fashion store, Evoluzione, in Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru). “It always bothered me that as a country with such rich heritage and workmanship, we only see our crafts come alive in Indianwear or elaborate couture. There was nothing in everyday wear that spoke of our fine art. That’s how the primary pillar of No Grey Area was born, in the underlying knit—east meets west. We create everyday alternatives to couture to celebrate our traditional and unique craftsmanship in modern silhouettes that carry a global, contemporary appeal,” says Malhotra, 25.

Sharp, energetic designs and inclusive cuts are the hallmark of this youthful brand that targets buyers in the 18-45 age group. A pandemic baby born in September 2020, the brand has already become a conversation starter because of its individualistic ethos.

Its first collection ‘Phantasm’ focused on dhoti pants, bandhgalas and silk bandi bomber jackets. “Indian menswear is under-represented. Internationally, people would immediately know what a sari is, but not know of a bandhgala or a bandi. With NGA, we are looking to add utility to clothing and modernising silhouettes in a way that makes Indian clothing accessible,” he says.

Sustainability is the brand’s conscious catchword too, so woven fabrics in cotton poplin and recycled nylon make their way into Indo-western silhouettes in T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo necks, bombers, trench coats, gilets, shackets (a hybrid between a Nehru jacket and a shirt jacket), dress shirts, shorts and dhoti pants. His resort shirts, in fact, are crafted from bemberg fabric (a sustainable textile created from cotton seed linters).

Continuing with the Indian ethos is his latest collection, ‘AgniApaas’, based on pancha maha bhutas (the five elements) in a palette of cloud blue, teal, terracotta and ash. “The five elements of nature, each with its pure singular characteristic, accounts for the composition of humans, and all things in nature that surround us. It is only when the pancha maha bhutas are balanced does one find their true centre and nature finds its collective calm,” he says, adding, “As we dig deeper, the imbalance of these bhutas disrupts the sanctum of our bodies and minds, and also appears in devastation of nature through forest fires, melting ice caps, a depleting ozone layer, rising sea levels, among other impacts. We have focused on two of the bhutas in this collection—water and fire—and tried to develop our narrative around them to highlight the impact of climate change in our own way.”

His favourites? The trench, shacket and dhoti joggers. “These have been created using traditional blocks (sherwani, Nehru jacket and dhoti), but have been modernised using contemporary fabrics and functional pockets and closures. The corduroy Nehru shacket with the acid cloud motif hand-embroidered on the back is a versatile, fun and extremely luxurious piece. It stays trueto our brand ethos
of east meets west,” he says.

Basically, it all comes down to quality and construction, Malhotra says. “The younger audience invests in comfortable, utilitarian clothing in sync with personal tastes and believes less is more. NGA aims to be a lot more cognisant with design sensibilities, delivering concise versions to build up the power of the brand,” he adds.

Up next is an international launch. “Since our clothes carry global appeal, we will be showcasing
different craft clusters from across the country for a worldwide audience. The next couple of collections will focus on the crafts of Kashmir,” he signs off.

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The New Indian Express