BEHIND THE SEAMS: VK Nagrani
On a weekday evening, I walked to over to meet designer of brand VK Nagrani, Vivek Nagrani, at his self-proclaimed "Bat Cave" called "The Lodge.” “The Lodge," which is Nagrani’s space to relax, create, and also moonlights as his showroom, is filled with a plethora of his signature socks in old school drawers, new prototypes, and the walk-in closet of my dreams. Speaking for even a minute, I realized that he wasn't going to be like anyone I’ve interviewed before. There were no rehearsed answers, standard responses to my questions, but a frank honesty that isn't present in the industry. Nagrani has an outspoken, realistic take on the fashion industry and the people that represent it.
Nagrani isn't trying to be for everybody - and he likes it that way. "Be everything to someone, as opposed to being everything to somebody," Nagrani emphatically states, while talking about mass production. There are true fashion lovers and then there are shallow brand whores, and he's calling all of you out and not giving two fucks about it. While he may not care about who he offends, what he does care about is the way his brand is made. He meticulously pays attention to every stitch in every sock, shirt, and accessory he creates, "everything has to elevate...and be better than anything else that was out on the market.” Nagrani succeeds with clientele including past presidents, top athletes, and tastemakers from around the world.
Read on to get Nagrani's thoughts on the much hated "label-whores,” who he is labeling, his go-to color in his collections, and his latest project, which will change the shopping experience as we know it.
Labeling Men: Tell us about how the concept of the brand started.
Vivek Nagrani: The idea was to create something that would redefine category and would elevate the consumer’s experience. When it started, it was socks and we wanted to make socks that were great and try and make them better than anybody else would. That's where it all started, where it became underwear, t-shirts, and lounge wear. Everything had to elevate every single category, and be better than anything else that was out on the market. The other thing that was important to me was how you made the stuff, use family owned factories where the people that works there are living a civil life, working in a civil way. Luxury and civility, it goes hand in hand, as opposed to something that is made for the consumer that thinks it’s luxurious. It’s like making a great meal with shitty ingredients; it doesn't make sense. It looks beautiful, but it’s not real. We wanted to change that and elevate not only a consumer's experience but the human existence as well. Be responsible, especially in luxury.
Labeling Men: You mention your factories. Where is it made, in Italy?
Vivek Nagrani: The majority of clothing is made in Italy. The underwear, t-shirts, hoodies, lounge wear, is made in Peru. The reason being that these kind of things aren't as valued in Italy. It’s an artisan community that wants to make clothing. In Peru, they treasure 'Pima' cotton. They take a level of pride in what they make. I wanted the best and Pima is the best. So I said, "Go to Peru and find families that have workshops that are doing things the right way.” It’s a lost art, no doubt in the rest of the world it’s long gone. You'll get one who will really get it and that this warrants their attention.
Labeling Men: Would that be the philosophy behind your brand per say? Putting thought into each piece?
Vivek Nagrani: Yes, and using the conscience. It’s not just about money, recognition or fame, it’s about more. It’s about how you impact society and those around you. It’s about the people who work to make your product come true. It’s important to really think about everything. Our philosophy would be, "Be everything to someone, as opposed to being everything to somebody.” Not only the design, but the fabric and how it was made. It’s only after they wear it that they feel what actually went into it and the soul of their clothing, and it’s amazing to watch them react to that. One of our clients just sent us an emailing saying that he just signed a five million dollar deal and I was everything that you make and I felt incredible. Now, the brand is being associated with success because they feel good, they feel that soul, the person who made it, made it with love as opposed to a factory that popped out merchandise that is irreverent.
Labeling Men: We love all the different fabrics that you use and colors. Do you have a favorite?
Vivek Nagrani: Red! Burgundy, purples, but rich, rich, not flashy. It’s got to be that right kind of red. For Fall, we have some socks that are made in pure camel hair, taking this thing to a different level. We've used baby alpaca, the shirts are pure giza cotton or Swiss cotton, cashmere for the jackets, reversible vests with one side a Japanese tech fabric and the other side Italian cashmere. There are always these different combinations on how we do and see things not just for its beauty but for its purpose as well, where that garment is being worn and then figuring out the fabrics from there that will yield the right result. The luxury comes from the intention; this is for that person who wants luxury. We'll make 40 pieces, we won't mass produce anything or follow the system. For men, how real is that the Fall, Spring, and Summer collection are mass produced like that? We'll add bits and pieces to the collections each season that will enhance the collection and his way of living instead of, "Hey, here is another piece that you should buy.” This is a piece based on the collection that is already there that will enhance your wardrobe.
Labeling Men: Agreed! Going back to the color, was there a reason why you gravitate towards the reds and the burgundies? They are a sign of power and confidence?
Vivek Nagrani: Yes, for sure. Aside from power and confidence, it’s nobility, it’s elegant, it’s within the status quo, but keeps you on the edge of the status quo. When you start wearing stuff that is excessive, you're just trying to be an idiot.
Labeling Men: [laughs]
Vivek Nagrani: You can be different, but still be sophisticated so that onlooker understands that you're there and "get it," but you're different, you understand the world in a certain way. That’s why the color red is so important to me.
Labeling Men: What type of guy is wearing the brand?
Vivek Nagrani: It’s an international guy, it’s an alpha guy. It’s a guy who is rebellious because he is independent in his way of thinking. We have from doctors, lawyers, senators, entrepreneurs, athletes, etc. It’s the alpha of that lot, it’s the alpha amongst even their group, it is a pure alpha. It’s that person with that rebellious spirit who says, "I don't want to buy into the system.” The system is bullshit and I will not partake, I want the best and I want somebody that makes it the right way. I am conscious and the person who is making it is conscious and the factories are conscious so everybody is conscious of what is happening. Our customer, they are their own brand. Our job is to enhance his brand, not slap our brand onto somebody just to say, "you're wearing that". Unless you're an athlete getting paid millions of dollars to promote a brand, you walking around a mall in Cleveland wearing big brands, it’s like, "Who are you? You're a jackass."
Labeling Men: [laughs]
Vivek Nagrani: That's not our guy; unfortunately it’s the mass population.
Labeling Men: True, but like you said, you're not catering to them.
Vivek Nagrani: Not at all. It’s the difference between wealth and rich. Wealth is generations of ups and downs, you are not defined by your money, you are understanding of money and the concept of it, but it doesn't define who you are. Somebody who is rich is defined by being rich, that person will gravitate to big brands to let everybody else know that he is rich. When you find people who are wealthy, they don't want you to know that they are wealthy, they just want you to leave them alone because they understand with money comes a certain bag of problems and they don't want that. You will see them in the most modest, elegant, simplistic pieces and that's how it should be. The flashy people come one time and leave, which is fine by us!
Labeling Men: Besides the flagship store, where else can you find your product?
Vivek Nagrani: You can buy parts of the brand in select luxury retail stores, but the clothing is too good for the store. It just doesn't fit into the stores, so only here or when we do certain events at those stores. It doesn't make sense for me to build a product to just hang on a rack somewhere, this has to be presented and shown what it really is. It’s very simplistic but you really feel it once you put it on and when you wear it. We're also on e-commerce. The Lodge, you buy it from us because we're responsible for it. I don't trust half these retailers to really deliver the message of the brand. You have sales people who are just trying to sell something because it’s commission-based, they aren't selling you something to enhance your life, they don't care about that person because if you did, you'd try to find them things that would make their life better.
Labeling Men: Can you tell us any future plans for the brand?
Vivek Nagrani: The plan - which we can't reveal too much of it - it will change the way that men will want to shop forever. I want to take on retail and do it my way. I want to build an experience center. What Apple did for the computer industry, we're going to do for clothing. It wasn't just the Apple products, they created an environment where you could experience what that brand was talking about.
Shop the collection at vknagrani.com
Interview by Nisim Frank
Photographs provided by VK Nagrani