Nestled amidst a row of quintessential modern bungalows in a discreet and affluent neighbourhood of Gurugram, sits a unique home with an industrial façade made of corten steel. A vibrant orangey-brown on most days, it turns ochre yellow in the rain, and flits between hues of black and brown depending on the season. This unusual dynamism displayed so publicly at the front gate of their home describes the maverick designer duo Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja better than words can.
To all outward appearances, the two are poles apart. Narresh is more voluble while Shivan measures his words; Narresh enjoys unpredictability and being adventurous while Shivan is more laidback; Narresh is a morning person while Shivan comes into his own at night; Narresh looks within himself for creative inspiration while Shivan’s design sensibilities are strongly influenced by his surroundings and circumstances; Narresh was always an academic topper while Shivan would be trailing in the bottom three of the class. Yet, it is these differences that brought them together, making them two halves of a whole.
“What I lack he fills in and what he lacks I fill in,” says Narresh with a smile. “Truthfully, we first connected over our mutual love of travel. This has defined who we are as people and later as a brand.”
Fashioning A Partnership
Ever since their first year at the prestigious National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, where Shivan was studying leather design and Narresh fashion design (after securing all-India rank 33 in the competitive entrance exam), the duo teamed up to participate in every international design competition with the hope of travelling the world. Shivan’s forte lay in making beautiful illustrations while Narresh excelled at graphics and documentation, so they played to each other’s strengths.
After winning their first contest–Mittelmoda The Fashion Award for beachwear in Bali, where they beat numerous international designers and design students – they became a force to reckon with. This also helped them find their calling in designing luxury swimwear, intimate wear and resort wear, which were categories that didn’t exist in the Indian fashion landscape of the time.
The next step in their journey was pivotal. “We were fortunate to win scholarships to Italy where I pursued an MBA in luxury marketing in Rome to learn the business side of things and Shivan studied fashion and textiles in Milan,” recalls Narresh. While there, Shivan became the class representative and was privy to passes for all the designer shows at fashion weeks. “We fully utilised that opportunity to observe the industry up close before starting our own brand,” says Shivan. So, when it became time to set up their luxury fashion retail business in an unexplored category in India, they had no trepidation or anxiety. “We chose swimwear because it’s the only truly global fashion category. On the beach you let go of all your cultural ideas and notions and just want to look and feel good,” they share.
Over time and having tasted almost immediate success, Shivan and Narresh expanded their eponymous label to include resort wear, menswear, accessories, celebration wear and couture, while staying true to the essence of their brand – the creation of functional, travel-friendly clothing with a bold sense of colour and prints. “Even our celebration wear is made with Italian jersey fabric, which is resistant to UV rays, has pockets and doesn’t get crushed which makes it easy to travel with,” they explain.
A Blooming Business
This sense of functional creativity is also at play in their home. Much like other aspects of their life and work, their private space is divided according to individual sensibilities. Hence, the ground floor living area, dominated by Narresh’s minimalist and art-focused aesthetic, is in stark contrast to the wild and bohemian upper floor which echoes Shivan’s laidback personality.
The living room downstairs is built around two striking works of art in tones of blush pinks and muted greens, one of which is an abstract family portrait of them, Narresh’s mother and sister and their beloved dog Matisse. Another artwork in tones of yellow, rust and black, made by a Norwegian artist, brings the dining area to life. Strewn around the space, adding life and vitality, are beautiful floral arrangements made by Shivan, who puts them together artistically after personal visits to the mandi early in the morning.
“Though my family is from Kanpur, I grew up in a small town called Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, where I was surrounded by nature,” says Shivan. “So, I’ve been obsessed with plants from a very young age and thoroughly enjoy making floral arrangements.” In June 2020, when COVID lockdowns were first lifted, Shivan made a beeline for the nurseries. “They had distress sales and I ended up buying four trucks worth of plants!” he laughs. These plants made their way on to the first floor of the home, transforming an otherwise minimalist space into a welcoming haven consisting of an indoor-outdoor conservatory replete with a botanical bar.
This passion project led to the launch of yet another vertical of the Shivan & Narresh brand –landscape designing, which is led by Shivan though Narresh chips in with suggestions on colour and overall visuals.
The World Is Their Muse
Their mutual love of nature combined with their fervour for travel led to their most recent trip, which was a visit to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Narresh describes the trip as “healing” and Shivan says, “It was so inspirational to see this vast landscape with a beautiful graphic quality. The animals themselves were amazing–the beauty, patterns and designs of nature are unparalleled. They are simply stunning!”
Narresh, an avid collector of art, bought dozens of sundry items on the trip, including things as varied as cane napkin rings in the shapes of animals to larger works of art. “When I see art I love, I simply have to have it. I’m not thinking about where it’s going to fit in my home. Fortunately, we redo our private space once a year, so everything gets a chance to be displayed while the others sit in our warehouse,” he says.
Their travels also inspire their line of home décor, an apt example of which can be seen in their signature wallpaper ‘Jaiscape’ which adorns their guest room walls as well as the homes of their clients. Inspired by their trip to Jaisalmer, it shows a view of the city from atop the fort painted in the pichwai style. “The wallpaper instantly transports you to a destination that could be somewhere in the Mediterranean like Mykonos and Santorini or Rajasthan,” they share. Another recent trip to Finland has inspired their upcoming show for the FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week to be held in New Delhi in October, where they will depart from their regular warm and eclectic patterns to showcase more structured and cool designs, mimicking the beauty of the stark Scandinavian landscape.
Constantly on the move and busy collaborating on numerous personal and professional projects, it’s no wonder that they frequently butt heads. “Oh, we fight all the time!” chuckles Shivan, to which Narresh adds, “Whoever has the stronger logic wins, but mostly, we allow each other to be ourselves. It’s the best way to coexist–the magic formula for living happily.”
Photos: Abhishek Khandelwal; Hair & Make-Up: Sonia Chandola; Creative Direction: Amber Tikari
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!