How Shweta Kapur & Laid Bare Fashion's Gentle Tenderness
431-88 x

How Shweta Kapur & Laid Bare Fashion's Gentle Tenderness

Four polaroid sized 1:1 cards. Each depicts a waterbody in stark white and mesmerising blue with its title across the middle - Pond, Waterfall, Ocean and River. 

You flip them over and it asks you to Pause and Reflect - ‘What kind of water are you?’ 

Are you a ‘Pond’ that embodies serene tranquillity akin to a peaceful oasis?

Are you a ‘Waterfall’ that exudes youthful vigour and spontaneity, with an energetic spirit always on the go?

Are you the ‘Ocean’ that epitomises strength, steadfastness and majesty? Forever unchanging and dependable? 

Or are you a ‘River’ flowing with elegant determination, blending effortlessly with the currents of life?

A month after the Pause (&Reflect) showcase event by designer Shweta Kapur’s fashion label 431-88, and brought to life by interdisciplinary artists of Doyel Joshi and Neil Ghose Balser of, the questions are still resounding. Posing questions of whether fashion can embody tenderness and help in personal growth, is not something that one expected of a brand whose last collection was inspired by the idea of the ‘It Girl’. But the label’s muse, nor the notion of glamour and style, is mutually exclusive to having a mindset of reflection and growth. In talking about this, Neil Ghose Balser mentioned, “Being mindful and glamorous can certainly live side by side. They are forms of expression. We hold a multitude of parts and people in ourselves and wouldn’t it be great to have them all be open and expressive? I always notice how being vulnerable and open to judgment removed my own shackles and allowed me the freedom to be myself. Usually that gives space for other people’s judgments to fade and in turn inspires for true self-expression.”

The fact of the matter is that 431-88 and Shweta Kapur has always been about intentional design. Sure, the introspective nature of the experiential showcase in early April might seem like a pivot at first glance. But those who have paid close attention would see that 431-88 is actually sinking deeper into its values. The idea of the ‘It Girl’ in their last 'Collection 20' wasn’t about the superficial ideas of glamour, but rather a meditation on power for the designer - “both having and controlling it vs. finding meaning in the soft power of letting things be,” as mentioned in our earlier feature with her. 

How Shweta Kapur & Laid Bare Fashion's Gentle Tenderness
Structure + Fluidity: In Conversation With Label 431-88 Founder Shweta Kapur

At Home in Serene White

When this writer met up with Shweta while in New Delhi to discuss this feature, it serendipitously became an informal chat at her house, which brought in an added level of insight into the designer and the event. As she welcomed me into her home - a tranquil, white space with carefully curated accents, mostly in black except for the original M.F. Husain artworks and plants galore - and spoke candidly about what led her to the showcase, I could almost imagine what the event was like. While she may be the designer of clothes that ranged from sexy pre-draped sarees to structured suit sets, Shweta peers out at the world through an observant lens, exemplified by the serene nature of her living space. 

The showcase that developed from her initial notion is an apparent departure from conventional fashion experiences. It invited the audience to focus on introspection and abstract notions of creativity and to reflect on them. The concepts were depicted through an installation in Okhla, that unfolded in three stages - a long hallway, a bonsai garden, and a reflection pool, dotted and accented with attire from 431-88 blending seamlessly into the larger exhibit to narrate the designer’s shifting perspective. What started off as a choice to forego releasing a new collection for the season, to step away from the usual constraints of the industry started an internal dialogue for Shweta Kapur that transpired into this event. She mentioned how with this event, "we consciously decided to let ideas unfold naturally and share our evolution with our audience. Pause (and Reflect) offers an intimate look at our process." The attendees were all dressed in white 431-88 pieces by the team for the event, to truly get into the mindset they wanted to evoke.

From Abstract Concept to Immersive Experience

Interdisciplinary artists Neil Joshi and Doyel Ghose Balsar of partnered with Shweta in bringing the concept of Pause (&Reflect) to life. According to them, they put together a showcase that “challenged fashion norms by discarding seasonal collections, runways, and models to narrate the founder’s journey of creative recentering visually.” Doyel’s strong sartorial sensibilities that took root during their time at Parsons School of Design made them the perfect choice to realise the vision. In talking to the press, the artist duo mentioned, “The foundation of this artistic alliance and leadership is understanding the shift 431-88 has set out to achieve as a fashion brand. We wish to facilitate that shift with our practice, anchored in creating moments of personal connection, and resonance; the experience we wish to reap is peeling the layers of glamour and discovering a genuine, transparent, grounding connection to the brand, people and their practice.”

When Neil and Doyel met Shweta at her favourite cafe, they immediately felt how open and vulnerable she was. “Reflective and honest,” the duo mentioned, “She is courageous to do a show outside of the usual timeline and ‘status quo’. But she had an instinct that we could facilitate her vision through our creative direction.” To bring the showcase to life, they learnt more about how 431-88 and Shweta’s processes and a world emerged that wasn’t present at face value. Shweta laid bare the way she runs her organisation - from the involvement of her mum Seema to the way she works with her Karigars and masters. But the showcase also captured the bigger questions that she has been drawn to in life. Soon after they started the project, Neil and Doyel mentioned that they realised they were seeking to create something that captured what honestly constitutes 431-88 as a label and Shweta as a person, all the while translating it into a experience.

How Shweta Kapur & Laid Bare Fashion's Gentle Tenderness
Space, Form, Emotion, & Movement: The Sublime Hybridity Of

At the actual event, the Hallway presented meticulously arranged garments, each speaking volumes in simplicity, inviting a meditative gaze on the structure of the designs. Moving into The Bonsai Nursery, inhabiting fabric sculptures and miniature Bonsai trees, facilitating an experiential contemplation of materiality and nature's harmony. The final section was an experiential space that facilitated introspection titled What Kind of Water Are You? There one could find what interconnects us through the lens of a water body. This is where attendees were given the aforementioned polaroids with the titles of waterbodies written across it, and a little blurb that spoke to their ‘nature’, so to speak. 

Pause (and Reflect) On The Way of Life

When asked about how they went about creating the immersive exhibit itself, the duo from Howareyoufeelingstudio mentioned how the space in use dictates what they do. In this case, it was a nursery, and there were many natural elements that they used to add sensorial layers to the overall narrative they were seeking to drive home. Within the same name nursery, there were big century-year-old bonsai plants as well as young trees. From Doyel’s perspective, “A nursery already holds a grounding feeling, the trees full of wisdom hold space to reflect and as the young trees ask for care and prompt participation. We enhanced or highlighted that by creating sculptural pieces as if drawn into the space that has a counterpoint to the bonsais yet mimics them in form. These held different essential parts of the brand in the use of materiality or craftsmanship. We wanted to create an art-gallery-like feeling for the experience of these to create an awareness of what goes into 431-88. To not make it too serious and as the works weren’t ‘art’ we felt we could keep concept notes next to the sculptures which had personal notes and thought-blurbs of Shweta. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and that easy and fun relaxed approach makes the brand.”

Though the concepts of reflection, introspection and evolution are serious, crucial questions that can change the very course of one’s life, there is also an element of lightness and play that comes with breaking away from the industry standards. With Pause(&Reflect), the brand created an immersive sartorial experience for the select few, that was more focused on a shift in mindset - one conducive to appreciating the finer things in life that ranged from the details of crafts, finding acceptance in flaws, trusting the process all while paying heed to the deeper questions that one often pushes to the back of their mind, while ‘on-the-go.’ Through this immersive experience that arose from the creative partnership between 431-88 and, an alternative way of perceiving fashion and trying to understand it as a feeling beyond buying, wearing or showing it, emerged. The mindset here was rather about cherishing it attires enough to inspire introspection, and on observing it as the art and cultural object that it is, flaws and all. 

While the offline event garnered a lot of attention and encouraged many results, one of the favourite pieces of content to emerge from the event that Shweta and her publicist Tanishka talked about was the most unserious thing ever - Sustainable fashion creator Sanjana Rishi took a fall while strutting along the array of meticulously arranged figures wearing 431-88 during the event, while capturing content. But instead of posting only the brilliant images she had from the event, she posted a reel of said fall, swearing to Shweta that she would get the pieces back clean and unstained. Infact, Shweta has commented "wouldn't have it any other way" on the said video.

And that is in fact the reality. In their attempt to break away from the norms and embrace the charm of imperfection, 431-88 and created a showcase that inspired this original project that embraces falls, stains and all. It clearly fulfills the initial intention to inspire genuine and unbound self-expression and creative flow. 

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