Indian Designers Create a Gandhi Moment at London Fashion Week

Samir Ceric

By Sangeeta Waldron 

Last week was London Fashion Week (LFW) and something different happened in London, with an event hosted at the Saatchi Gallery, showcasing Indian designers, Shantanu & Nikil. I had a fireside chat with Samir Ceric one of the partners and producers of this event.

Ceric co-founded Wolf and Badger, one of the most revolutionary business models in the fashion industry, he is known as a trend setter and is knowns as ‘London’s Top Taste-makers’. The accolades go on and on, but I need to mention that Ceric led the partnership with the famous store, Selfridges and the pop up in their Wonder Room, which was historical, as nothing like this had happened for Selfridges – to team up with their competition.

Samir Ceric with designers, Shantanu & Nikhil

How did this fashion show with an Indian focus happen?

SC: I wanted to introduce some fresh exciting ideas that would differentiate the START and Saatchi Gallery partnership, via the launch of the START Collectors Club and START Art Patronage. I met Indian serial entrepreneur, Utsava Kasera and introduced him to START Art Fair as its first official Art Patron. Ustava believes that through the arts, there is space to explore and nurture important relations between different cultures and worlds that often do not get the chance to cross over and collaborate.

Together we created this event, it was a real partnership. Utsava has a keen interest in luxury and craftsmanship; and is very supportive of the global fashion industry. He has been following the journey of Shantanu & Nikhil and suggested giving them an international platform to launch their ‘Independence’ collection at the Saatchi Gallery, at the start of the London Fashion Week.

Shantanu & Nikhil have always reiterated the vision of belonging to something that is bigger than themselves; an underlying spirit that symbolizes progressivism and distinctiveness. It is a brand for strong men and women who represent a mentality of fighting for what they believe in, a sentiment, which is relevant to both India and the world, believing in nostalgically re-inventing Indian history through the art of the cloth by constantly breaking the myriad stereotypical notions of tradition and fashion. Hence they were the perfect for START and the Saatchi Gallery.

Shantanu & Nikhil at London Fashion Week

This event showcased their ‘A/W18 line Independence’ and is a collection inspired by Gandhi. The whole show promotes khadi, the homespun cotton fabric once used by Gandhi in his struggle for India’s independence. The designers’ ambition behind this collection is to show the world, India’s progress aligned with its rich heritage.

The show also had the support of the Indian government, with His Excellency Y. K Sinha, High Commissioner of India who hopes that such efforts will bring to the fore contemporary Indian fashion in the UK.

How did you create the right partnership?

SC: Good question! I believe the 21st century business world is finally starting to do business in a more harmonious way than before. In my view, business heads of Europe and the US were stuck in an old way of ‘dog eats dog’ approach to winning business, that’s now changing and will take a couple of more decades to fully root it out. China and India, are places with a strong levels of spiritual awareness and an understanding of mindfulness and harmony, when doing business. This will lead the way to do and create business differently.

This is how I connected with Utsava, and the designers Shantanu and Nikhil. We share the same values of respect and carefully listened to each other when we first met. We worked out the parameters that we want to achieve, along with the skillset and vision we want to share. This is a magical partnership based on legacy, vision and mission, ensuring that all we do goes beyond making money and turning the fashion house into another fashion industry unicorn!

What were the highlights?

SC: The entire collection is the winner, along with Shantanu & Nikhil. Without Utsava Kasera and HE Mr Yash Sinha support this show would not have happened. Both went out of their way to make it successful. It has been a real pleasure to be a part of this winning team, to build this legacy and create change in the fashion world. We also had a very special private dinner at the Taj hotel, London, co-hosted by the Indian Ambassador, HE Mr Y K Sinha and his wife, the night after the show that really forged the success of this event.

HE Y. K Sinha, High Commissioner of India

How did you choose Indian designers?  

SC: I have always enjoyed fashion and being married to a successful and renowned fashion designer, Zoe Ceric who’s worked for some of the biggest names – Chloe, Jimmy Choo, Anya Hindmarch, Paul Smith – means fashion is in our DNA. Together we co-founded one of the most successful fashion businesses, Wolf & Badger (with our business partners and investors at the time). It won us the prestigious Walpole Brand of Tomorrow award and recently, Vinny Lee of the Times Magazines called us one of the ‘Most Powerful Couples in Fashion and Art in the UK’.

I always knew I wanted to come back to fashion in some capacity, so when Utsava and Shantanu & Nikhil came along, I knew this was it!

Shantanu & Nikhil know who they are and why they are on this journey. I believe millennials and future generations need entrepreneurs and visionaries like them; who are making a positive impact. I have a belief that is not far off from India’s spiritual ethos, which is that we were all here to serve society and not just take from it.

Was the timing of this show important?

SC: We wanted to mark the beginning of LFW. The ambition was to showcase that Shantanu & Nikhil as global fashion designers who have the potential to become iconic. Their collection is on point for the UK, US and EU markets. This event marks the next phase of their business development, with the view that these fashion impresarios should dare to win on the global stage and become the ‘Louis Vuitton’s of India’!

Independence by designers Shantanu & Nikhil

What impact will this event have?

SC: This whole show promoted khadi, the homespun cotton fabric once used by Gandhi in his struggle for India’s independence. During colonial times, the British banned the manufacture of local textiles and instead made it compulsory for Indians to buy imported cotton made in the mills of Lancashire. Gandhi’s response was to urge Indians to boycott “foreign-made textiles” and switch to home spun khadi as part of his swadeshi (home rule) movement. This led to Indians burning expensive clothes imported from the UK.

Shantanu says, “I am trying to bring a patriotic chic.” The use of the Gandhi topi (hat) as well as chappals (slippers) for the men was intended to create nostalgia for “India before 1947”.

Crucially the whole show fitted in with the Indian government’s “5F” policy; Mr Modi’s vision: “Farm to Fibre; Fibre to Fabric; Fabric to Fashion; and, Fashion to Foreign.” The world needs Indian heritage and tradition in these challenging times. People will also take away the importance of one’s heritage, culture and creativity.

I believe this event will break stereotypes of cultures and forge more diversity and creativity. This ‘Independence’ collection is incredibly artistic in its making and craftsmanship that you can’t help but realize that Shantanu & Nikhil are true artists. It would not surprise me, if some of their creations make it into fine art museum collection, including future museum shows.

With Brexit, will we see more art and fashion events like this in the UK?

That is difficult to predict as none of us know what’s in store for us post these BREXIT negotiations. However, I am pretty optimistic that no matter how we Brexit, there will be great opportunities in all directions and to have an incredible brand like this from India entering the UK fashion market will be a positive for the UK high street and consumer.

What’s next for you?

It’s exciting times, taking Shantanu and Nikhil forward. We are intent on positioning this brand firmly inside the Mayfair luxury market, as well as globally, possibly using London as the global HQ for the immediate future.

I am also actively involved with Bosnia, helping the capital Sarajevo and the rest of the country rebrand itself and positively change its image. I am in conversation with Baroness Verma and Vijay Goel of Indo-EU Business Forum, to launch an Indo-Bosnian Business Club, designed to identify investment opportunities for the Indian investors and entrepreneurs based in the UK and in India.

Through this initiative, we will form a chapter of Foreign Investment Advisory Council/Committee for Bosnia, we will position Indian and its investment opportunities through Bosnia the Balkans region. This would be a great way to relaunch the relationship India used to have with Yugoslavia.

So, do watch this space!


(About the Author: Sangeeta Waldron is India CSR’s Contributing Global Editor. She is based in London, UK writes on international affairs, broadening India CSR’s news scope to bring you the best stories from around the world.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this feature are entirely their own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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