The Indian designer Arjun Khanna talks about his life in fashion.
'Half the fun of it is doing things differently'
The designer Arjun Khanna talks about his life in fashion. My dad is an architect, and he used to design really cool shirts for me, when I was maybe five or six. Maybe, that's where this whole design thing originates from. They had these really cool ruffles on them, like tiny dress shirts. Even now, I look at those photos and think they are really good-looking shirts. I wore them with those little elastic shorts we all used to wear as kids in India, with funky buttons on them.
I always ended up modifying or doing things to my school uniform, the typical white shirt and white trousers. Pleat the trouser, put a turn-up here, or a fold here. I did get into trouble, but that was half the fun of it, doing stuff differently. I have never followed a trend. I always wanted to set the trend. Even as a kid, whatever I wore at school, three days later, everyone wanted the same thing. I never followed fashion. And that's one thing I have stuck by and I am very proud of saying this.
I studied at the London College of Fashion. It was a great time to be in London, the 1980s, as London was going through a huge fashion moment. Street fashion, punks, skinheads, goths. It was a fantastic time, globally, to study and understand fashion. It was like a renaissance. After graduating I worked in London stores - Topman, Cecil Gee - then I got a huge break, working for Gianni Versace. But all I did was make coffee. It was a fantastic place, and they were the best learning years of my career. It was a natural progression to come back to Mumbai and start my own label. I guess I was lucky to have very supportive parents. This was a very unconventional line of business for an Indian boy to get into.
I wear other designers, but it's the putting together of elements that interests me. I love retro and vintage from whatever era, and beyond fashion, too - automobiles, textiles, everything. My inspiration comes from flea markets around the world. The difference between my work and my personal life is slowly getting blurred and soon it will be lost altogether. Things I pick up, even for the house, trickle into collections. It never ends. I have rooms full of stuff. In terms of buying, I don't plan a trip to go and buy, it just happens. But if I am in Paris, or London or New York, then for sure, it's the flea markets. In Thailand, I just stumbled upon great textiles. I found a huge treasure trove in Chiang Mai and, from there, I travelled deeper into Burma and Laos. That's what keeps me going.
My forte is tailoring. At college the biggest influence on me was Paul Smith, he is just fantastic with style and keeping the balance between humour and serious fashion. I also admire Alexander McQueen. He is fantastic, and his tailoring is impeccable. Dries van Noten and Kris Van Asche too. These are gurus. They all understand that there is a lot that goes into the making of a jacket, it not just about saying: "Hey I'll do you a great suit in 24 hours."
People think that's the epitome of great suit making - he did it in 24 hours. I can't do that. It is mastering the art of tailoring and understanding what goes into it. It's the textiles and the lining, the fusing and the understanding of the human form. It's about understanding aesthetics and proportion. Either you are gifted, or you have years of experience. I have always done what I wanted to, when I wanted to, how I wanted to. And it's just worked. My clothes are not typically ethnic and my design philosophy is to mix the best of everything. I do collections that I do purely for myself, purely for the catwalk, and, strangely, these are the ones that sell out the fastest.