Vishesh Khanna on AK-OK's debut menswear edit

Couturier Vishesh Khanna and his twin, artist Viraj Khanna pose in AK-OK menswear range that'll be launched soon
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

When it comes to fashion, modern men’s wardrobes are no longer dominated by simple silhouettes in neutral shades of black, white and blue. With time, men are increasingly becoming experimental and their sartorial adventures are not limited to certain colour palettes or outfits. A greater number of men are trying out bold prints, interesting textures and bright colours. New-age designers too are coming up with interesting takes in men's fashion and young couturier Vishesh Khanna definitely leads the pack with his very quirky, playful yet understated creations. We are talking about famed couturier Anamika Khanna’s son -- a hands-on and finicky couturier, Vishesh is ready with the very first collection of menswear under the label AK-OK that's going to be launched by September this year. 

<em>Vishesh and Viraj Khanna</em>
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

“We’re opening a few solo AK-OK stores this year and there are going to be many more options for the womenswear line. For our AK-OK menswear launch, the theme, energy and vision are similar to the womenswear line which we have to keep consistent for the customer connect. But I insisted with AK (Anamika Khanna) that we use some of Viraj’s (his twin brother) figures from his artwork as prints, embroideries and motifs in subtle ways, either as a tag, full-blown print or a small patch to help keep things consistent in the range of clothes,” reveals Vishesh as we sit for an extensive chat to know more about the same from him.

<em>Vishesh and Viraj Khanna</em>
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

Tell us about the debut AK-OK range.

We’re doing t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, jackets, bombers, half kurtas and more. The cuts are varied, from simpler everyday pieces to more experimental ones, the first couple of drafts we made were very simple, but in one of our meetings with AK, she advised us to further push menswear and show men that it’s not always about wearing the basics. So, in AK-OK, you’ll see colours, appliqués, and prints of all kinds. 

What's the idea behind this collection? 

It’s about pushing boundaries, keeping things cool and stylish, being yourself and being confident about who you are. A lot of the collection is inspired by art, especially Viraj’s. 

What are the latest offerings for summer formal and casual styles from Anamika Khanna menswear? 

For the Anamika Khanna line, most of our work revolves around embroidery and tailoring as that is our strength. We don’t do plain and basic shirts, kurtas, angrakhas, we’re doing them keeping in mind the AK aesthetic, offering something that the customer will value, which is hand-crafted with beautiful finishing, prints that are appliquéd and hand-tacked, single and double-breasted jackets with beautiful zari work, linen jackets with placement prints and so on. 

I always wanted to make single-breasted, double-breasted jackets and tuxedos and recently you’ll see a lot of stars wearing them. 

<em>Vishesh and Viraj Khanna</em>
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

What's trending this year for men’s summer-party wear?

Cool prints, well-tailored shirts, printed blazers, blazers with embroidery, linens and cool jackets.

What are the party wardrobe essentials for men?

Linen and silk shirts with print options or appliqués work well. A lot of men are asking us for silk as it gives a very luxurious touch and feel. Hand accessories like bracelets are good to go. 

For casual clothes, easy fits, oversized jackets with a soft light material and in cool colours are the trendiest. 

What’s your vision for AK-OK?

The label Anamika Khanna has always created things that people can wear on an everyday basis. I have always seen her making different things for herself and whenever she went out everyone would ask for it and would want her to make it for them. Working on ready-to-wear gives her more freedom to try out newer things and be more creative and out of the box. The bridal couture you can only push so much as there are traditions to follow.

<em>Vishesh and Viraj Khanna</em>
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

So, when all of us started AK-OK, it was more about us having fun, learning and working together as it was a great way for us to get into the design process after university. Slowly it’s grown and now we are working on creating a market of its own, away from the main couture line. through solo stores, solo shows and the like. Eventually, we have plans of taking AK-OK international and give the world a taste of Indian ready-to-wear. 

What’s your design philosophy? 

I personally get motivated by the construction aspect, the cutting, stitching and tailoring and with that I work on the design, the story and the theme. There is no design process per se. Having no formal fashion education has given me the freedom to not be stuck to any one way of thinking or executing things -- I can approach things from any angle and process. I sometimes start with a sampling of the embroidery, sometimes look at pictures, art, and shapes and it goes from there, keeping the base philosophy and aesthetic of the AK brand in mind. Sometimes it’s tempting to do things which are way out there and unwearable, but that isn’t where India is right now and it’s only good for the runway. So, I stick to what’s worked in the past and experiment and push slowly keeping the base ideas in mind. 

<em>Vishesh and Viraj Khanna</em>
Vishesh and Viraj Khanna

How has the Indian fashion scene evolved for men over the years? 

When I started the menswear line, I was obsessed with bespoke tailoring, since I was trained by a Savile Row tailor. I assumed it was the be-all and end-all of men’s bespoke clothing. We started with full horse hair canvas, and handstitched suits where we did everything the traditional way like rolling the lapels with pad stitching and so on. Dealing with clients teaches you a lot, and I realised that the Indian customer isn’t fully ready yet for the classic tailored look and it doesn’t sit fully with our brand aesthetic as we’re known for our embroidery. Most of the clients wanted to see the outer look and didn’t really care about what was on the inside.

There are very few clients who know the subtle differences between hand-made and machine-made techniques, I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, it’s more about preferences.

So, to fulfil my need to do something the traditional way, we focus on embroideries and prints whilst adding touches of the traditional techniques of tailoring inside to balance things out. For example, we would pick to stitch the lapels by hand, only a trained eye can notice these things but the focus is on the full look and not just doing plain fabric-focused tailoring. 

I feel, over time, people are getting more and more interested in handcraft as it’s slow fashion and lasts much longer. 


You have dressed many celebs. Who's your favourite celeb when it comes to being most fashionable? 

Anil Kapoor for sure, Shahid Kapur, Vicky Kaushal, Ranveer Singh, Akshay Kumar, Raj Kummar Rao. And I would love to dress Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.

Should men settle blindly for trends?

Rather than trends, they should focus more on quality and what makes them feel comfortable. Most men have this script, that they’re subtle and like classic things that are plain and not hectic. But I tell them you have to try the other side to know who you really are.

Some summer fashion tips for readers?

Invest in quality and breathable materials as they feel better and more comfortable. Be yourself and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, everyone who’s really done something isn’t afraid to be out there.

How can men accessorise without overdoing it?

This is very subjective, I think men should know their style and taste, and if it feels right, it feels right.

Advise on how to choose the correct partywear.

I would suggest wearing something comfortable and being yourself, but I think people shouldn’t be afraid to stand out in their own way and be open to wearing new things.

PICTURES: Debarshi Sarkar

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