I say this often but life has a funny way of bringing you just what you are looking for, when you least expect it. Pankaj and Nidhi are designers who my family and I have loved, worn and admired for many years. I had been meaning to reach out to them when lo and behold, a mutual friend made the introduction for us. Pankaj was too kind for words and got on the phone with me as I ate up into hours of his day talking up a storm. As they celebrate their ten year anniversary into design, I am so excited to share my conversation here with them.
It’s hard not to be enamoured by the duo who love design for design’s sake but still have the know-how to make it a commercially successful business. The thing that stood out to me the most as I spoke to Pankaj was their desire to be the best of the best in a very competitive design landscape and still be niche. Their ability to break, reconstruct and then re-break the mold of what Indian design should look like.
TBS: How do you approach the design process?
Each season is about finding a new story. There is inspiration all around us in books, the internet, taking the time to travel or exploring new worlds through film. The process of ideas for us has been thematic in a lot of ways – we’ve worked on papercutting better known as “Wycinank” from Poland, been inspired by costumes from Japan or the traditional dress of Spanish Matadors. We feed on craft and so anywhere/anything we find that speaks to us on that level, we go.
TBS: Your work is ornate but simple – how do you strike this balance?
Nidhi does a really good job of keeping the femininity alive in our designs without over embellishing. We think of the wearer and create something that fits her life. We start by working with colors and silhouettes. We want to create clothes that women can wear but never want to create clothes where the clothes wear the women. Our consumer is the star and we want to always keep the focus on her.
TBS: How different is it designing for an international versus a domestic customer and how do you appease two different niches in the marketplace?
That is an easier thing to do for us as silhouette is the differentiator. We already think of our clothes as fusion wear so it’s easier to break those boundaries.
TBS: Was creating your diffusion collection with Koovs a conscious decision to reach a younger market? How has the partnership been?
We are beyond thrilled with the outcome of this collaboration. It has been our most successful one to date. We have been able to move through a lot of units and been able to introduce Pankaj and Nidhi to a new and younger demographic. It is really important to keep attracting a new customer while retaining your existing base – it is the only way to continue growing.
TBS: Who is the Pankaj and Nidhi woman?
Our lady is someone creative. Traveling is very important to her and she likes to be styled nicely. There is a willingness to wear craft rather than always chase something that is “en ce moment”. She is not afraid to try something new that breaks away from conventional design.
TBS: How do both of you manage your working and personal relationship and find balance?
I am very fortunate in that I can spend all my time with the person who is most important to me. Running a business is not easy, especially not in an industry as transient as fashion. Having that support system in Nidhi constantly has been invaluable to me. Our relationship is symbiotic in many ways. The only downside to working so closely constantly is that we sometimes carry the stress home.
TBS: The contemporary design space in India has exploded over the past two years. Where do you see this heading?
We are in the midst of a cultural revolution. It is taking place in small towns, through social channels and people are becoming much more brand aware. There is a need for better design in their lives and a whole new crop of designers have come into the market to serve this niche. It will be really interesting to see where they take us.
TBS: Your proudest accomplishment?
At the risk of sounding like a bit of a narcissist, everyday when something sells and has our name on it – that brings me joy. We have created something that sustains itself and is successful – it is backed by an amazing team, thrives on craftsmanship and has customers who are loyal to the brand. What more can one wish for everyday?
TBS: What does talent mean to you?
To take an idea and explore it to its hilt and then to do something better with it. The ability to look beyond the obvious and find inspiration is different things and mediums. Writers fascinate me – their way to take us somewhere with mere words of passion. Talent is a vast word that I think has so many interpretations – but a big part of it is that infinite belief in self and learning to leave doubt at the door.