Streets, snacks, texture, traditional iconography, a trio of beautiful barbers. NBNW’s signature influences bubbles over in the delectable cultural hotpot that is their new zine, in collaboration with FILA’s ‘The Culture Project.’
When Toronto-based Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar moved to Bombay in 2009 to delve into their Indian roots, they also drew their philosophies from the idea of time – “by appreciating the past, questioning the present and creating for the future.” As they travelled across the country, they discovered many of India’s disappearing art forms, rendered obsolete in a mechanised era. With a view to reinterpret these ancient practices of textile design in a contemporary way that fell in line with their stylistic ethos, NorBlack NorWhite (NBNW) was born as an entity that is aware of the artisans who need patronage and make sure they give back consistently, even as they create gender-neutral garments that are a confluence point between their love for traditional Indian fabrics and contemporary sensibilities.
Having now relocated to New Delhi, the art-meets-fashion duo have built a reputation for injecting hyper-local cultures they experience into their sartorial adventures and it’s led to the kind of aesthetic that is at once immediately recognisable yet unpredictable. Part art, part anthropology, part streetwear, over the past seven years their work has touched upon themes that range from yesteryear Bollywood icons and ‘90s sensibilities to Delhi’s pollution crises and some seriously fierce women empowerment. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say people look to the brand for a no bullshit representation of creative culture in India. It’s exactly this approach that makes the result of their latest collaboration with FILA as part the Culture Project such a delight to go through–a ‘zine that celebrates all the most delicious bits of Indian street culture and creativity.
The Culture Project is a FILA India initiative, a journey that the brand started a year back as a way to give back, handing over their brand to the creative community to reimagine and interpret culture through their individual lens and aesthetic. “The project allows us to give back to the culture that makes this country a special place. We hoped to tell the stories what life is like in two of India’s largest and complex cities in the simplest and most beautiful way possible. This year it celebrates the deep-rooted design codes of India’s street art, food, spaces, lifestyle, people, sound and fashion,” says Rohan Batra, the MD of Cravatex Brands Limited.
Going through their zine makes for a sensory overload of all things Indian – street art, snacks, spaces, people, style and sounds – which they’ve captured perfectly through incredible creative direction by NBNW and a number of contributors and artists features. “We admire storytellers, in whatever form the story is being told, as long it initiates real feelings in a visual style that we are into. All the artists & collaborators in this zine, visually and or conceptually speak to us and make us feel all types of ways. There are a lot more amazing Indian artists that we wanted to work with on this, but the page numbers were limited. We had to work backwards on this, within the themes we set out to celebrate and see who’s work could really help create a vibe. We wanted to bring in some of our favourite sounds & songs too, hence the link to the wicked mixtape created with MadStarBase. We wanted to hit all the angles of what we think makes up culture!” explains NBNW.
Coming from a multicultural background and upbringing, Mriga and Amrit’s understanding of Indian culture and identity comes from a very interesting perspective and this vision translates into their creations are well. The Zine features elements of India’s streets that we notice but often don’t really see. Through their features of artists like Priyesh Trivedi, Adrita Das and Jasjyot Singh Hans and visual stories and editorials they’ve captured the spirit of the Indian streets like no other. The typical Indian snacks we love – deep fried goodness – is celebrated alongside visuals of plastic flowers adorned carriages, Bollywood heroine stickers and gold lockets.
It’s difficult to pick our favourite part of this Zine, but what really got us is their editorial ‘ASHIK’, a narrative on their favourite Delhi barbershop photographed by Dolly Haorambam, modelled by Amir Sohail, Deep Kasturiya and MD Ashik with the creative direction of NBNW. “The barbershop is downstairs and across the street from our Delhi studio. The hand-painted heart on their window makes us smile daily on our way in and out of the studio. Ashik runs the barber shop and always has cute music and people in there mostly in the evenings getting their hair did. We have spent some time in there and have shot in there before too! It’s mad sad though as just after the shoot we saw the place shut down because rent prices just went up in the neighbourhood and Ashik couldn’t afford to be in the spot any more. It really sucks as they were the cutest of the street, and it was a real lesson to see how intense the world was. If we had the funds to support them in that way, we would help contribute to their rent just so they could stay because they totally brought the culture alive,” says Mriga.
The barbershop that NBNW highlight in the zine is a perfect example of a typically Indian slice of community that we often don’t give a second thought to. It’s just one example of all the little tit-bits, surrounding elements, sights and subtleties that make us who we are, and who NBNW has brought together in their edition of The Culture Project. They are the invisible design codes of the Indian streets that don’t often get their due but it is here that the NBNW duo finds their inspiration. The NBNW duo explain it best, saying, “Even though Indian city life can be gruelling and some of the toughest daily experiences, we would never substitute the layers & ever flowing visual playgrounds that make up the streets. The typography and signage always warm our hearts and we feel there’s another project in the works just focused on this element of the streets. The way mannequins are presented, the way veggies & fruits are colour blocked and presented and the details of a crisply pressed istriwalla’s dhoti gets us excited. It’s never-ending inspiration and depending on the neighbourhood or the city, each street brings its own flavour.”
The entire Zine has been executed in a style that is typically their own, and for newcomers to the label’s mad-hatter world it may be hard to pick up on – but for lovers of their work, like us, the NBNW signatures are strewn across the pages of the Zine. “We love a good pattern, a great colour block, a chaotic visual that somehow provides you with a calming feeling. We love colour, snacks and texture. We adore style by whoever really owns it, that truly makes someone stylish in our eyes. You can be wearing a plain white pj’s and if you own it with a proper attitude you can be the most stylish on the block.”
NBNW with the photography talent of Aman Makkar, Dolly Haorambam, Prabhleen Kaur, Prarthna Singh, Professor and Sana Javeri Kadri have put together a visually-stunning Zine. The faces you see in NBNW’s edition of the Culture Project are the ones we see all around us. They’ve never been about lip-service but truly celebrated the humanity of the most varied groups of people–regularly cutting across barriers of class, caste, race and so much more. For them, the intent behind starting NBNW from their bedroom in Bandra’s Chuim Village was to create a space that represented their real friends and community, and they celebrate this diversity of the most honest ways we live.
Through the apparel and shoe collection as well as the Culture Project, both NBNW and FILA strive to give back to the culture that makes this country a special place. Mr Batra says that the process was truly collaborative with both brands riffing off each other’s strengths. “We are proud of what we have created together, but more than that we are lucky to have worked together so closely understood each other so clearly and formed a strong bond. The outcome can be seen in the products and the unique direction of the Culture Project.”
“We hope this project, like all future editions, continues our philosophy of allowing creative collaborators to use our brand as a canvas to interpret the cultural zeitgeist. No strings attached. The project captures the streets from ground level. We see the fashion, food, art, people and spaces that show the diversity, grittiness and grace that make up the complex landscapes of modern urban India.”
FILA’s collaboration with NBNW pays homage was born out of a desire to re-interpret ancient practices of textile design, while bringing together their worlds mashing up modern Indian and global street culture. Fusing streetwear and sports fashion with a kaleidoscope of Indian elements, this collaboration’s new collection of streetwear drops today/tomorrow and will be valuable additions to anyone’s wardrobe.
Featured image credits: Photographed by Dolly Haorambam for FILA x NBNW editorial ‘ASHIK’.
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