A decade-spanning endeavour towards pioneering the next generation of fashion has moulded HUEMN into the vivid label we know it as today. The brand has been a staple for the past 8 years, since the label’s very inception in 2012. The decade of evolution in its genre-defying collections, innovative design style and conscious approach to fashion, has been one to witness.
One of the few Indian labels to find representation at the Vogue talents 2018, helmed by Vogue Italia, HUEMN is an award-winning RTW brand with an unapologetic and thought-provoking undertone. Designer brands and labels are often known for their complacent stance towards social issues and disregard of conscious fashion. HUEMN’s creative direction however has never been inclined towards ‘people-pleasing’ or diving into herd-defined norms. Its limited-edition pieces and powerful collaborations almost always bear a rich narrative or exciting back-story; inspired either by the voice of change-makers or by an underlying need to kindle conversation over societal issues.
This narrative-driven curation and the unwavering consistency in visual-composition are what make HUEMN’s swiftly-switching silhouettes, a treat to own, wear or even flaunt. The most enthralling factor however is HUEMN’s fearless representation of diverse individuals and the visceral portrayal of their distinct stories and experiences, branching from love and loss, to ambition, gender, and sadness. This gritty re-telling of personal stories through thoughtful fashion sparks dialogue around inclusivity, mindful-buying as well as individuality.
HUEMN’s Catalogue : Non-Binary Fashion, Socially Responsible Design And Narrative-Inspired Pieces
HUEMN has always laid emphasis on building a niche characterised by gender-fluid designs for the progressive youth, employing socially-responsible modes to create its collections bringing stories to life that eventually translate to the blizzard of conflicting emotions and experiences our lives are signified by.
Another loch HUEMN has dared to set foot in, is championing inclusivity in fashion and expanding our myopic idea of gender.
Charles Bukowski: The Brand’s Greatest Muse
Often regarded as the founding-father of literary counterculture and a pioneer of poetry that captures candid sentiments, Charles Bukowski’s forthright genius has served as a key precedent for the brand to model its collections after. Endearingly referred to by his alter-ego, Hank Chinaski, the blunt and unapologetic flavor his writing is seasoned with has often emboldened the founding duo to craft their styles with a ‘no-filter’ approach akin to Bukowski’s.
Introduced to co-founder Pranav, while on a work-led excursion, Bukowksi’s body of modern literature impacted both, his work ethic and creative sensibilities. “Bukowski’s ‘If you’re going to try go all the way, else don’t even try’ philosophy has been a continuous fuel for the brand’s creative decisions and always will be’’ quotes pranav, articulating the impact the author’s pool of poetry have had on HUEMN’s evolution over the years.
Bukowski’s cult classics profoundly rooted in realism, ‘Roll the dice’ and ‘style’ among others have been creative forces that have shaped the brand’s vision over the years. This unique juxtaposition of strong literary influence with ingenuity in fashion are what have given birth to HUEMN’s dauntless designs.
Happy Hank Day: Celebrating The Genius’ 100th Birthday With HUEMN & Their Affordable 100 Pieces Of Limited Edition T-shirts
Born to german-american parents on August 16, 1920; today would ideally be Hank’s 100th birthday, were he alive and able to witness the sheer distance his words have travelled and the indelible impression the truth in his work has left on generations of readers. Having been the brand’s spirit-animal since its inception, the decision to celebrate the literary stalwart’s 100th birthday, came to Shyma and Pranav quite naturally.
Despite the ongoing pandemic and their inability to host an in-person pop-up, the founders’ creative instinct led them to commemorate Chinaski’s century, using two online verticals. The first one being an exclusive drop of reasonably priced T’s printed with Mark Hanauer’s sensational portrait of Hank for Oui magazine’s 81’ feature. Adorned with a motif of Bukowski’s infamous ‘boxer’ at the back and a coveted quote etched across the T’s shoulder, make this limited edition drop, an ideal wardrobe staple.,
What many are oblivious to and perhaps the most intriguing thing about the drop is that this very still, that precisely captures hank in his element, that had initially made its way to HUEMN’s Fall 14’ collection in form of a massive Shirt-print; has now been revived and remodeled to embellish a basic-white Tee. Only 100 pieces adding to the exclusivity of the Hank x HUEMN drop. The collaboration’s reasonable price point makes the designer Tee’s an affordable luxury for readers as well as fashion-enthusiasts.
In addition, HUEMN also came up with visual stories over social-media to pay homage to the urban legend and invoke a sense of nostalgia among Bukowksi stans and HUEMN’s audience alike. This congregation of trivia, quotes and countless behind-the-scenes moments define the symbiotic relationship the brand has shared with the philosophy, language, and voice of Bukowski’s work. Regardless of one’s gender, caste, creed or social standing, there is gold to be found in this beautiful, intricately-knit curation on HUEMN’s Instagram handle.
In Conversation With The Creators
To know more about their creative process behind the collection and the intimate relation they share with the literary whiz, Homegrown reached out to HUEMN co-founders, Pranav Misra and Shyma Shetty.
I. HG: Today’s fast fashion industry is an ambitious, experimental landscape. Hank, on the other hand, was a harsh realist, so how has drawing inspiration from him played out for the brand?
Shyma Shetty: There is a punch to Bukowski’s writing that is undeniable. What I like about him is that he’s opinionated, complex and layered; and even though there are many things about him that I (or a reader today) would disagree with, he chased his truth without fear of judgement or backlash with raw and gripping honesty. This is the crux of great creative.
Bukowski’s work has inspired our work at HUEMN in very nuanced ways. He tore down literary boundaries and went into writing territory that was unconventional yet retained an authenticity that is commendable. As he famously said, “The secret is in the sentence.” Write as if you are only writing that one sentence and try to make it immortal, and I think our journey with HUEMN has been similar.
II. HG: How has Bukowski’s work impacted the brand’s creative direction over the years?
Pranav Misra: Bukowski is a genius of a creative figure whose work has influenced me immensely, and that has translated into the brand effortlessly. I cannot pinpoint and put an image to it, because it is a part of the creative process, not an end result. Over the years, HUEMN has emerged with a distinct brand language and a narrative which is unique and equally relevant. Bukowski’s- “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even try.” philosophy has been a continuous fuel for the brand’s creative decisions and will always be. The act of creativity is not for the weak. Life is not easy, and pain is inevitable but to turn that pain around into strength that fuels you, is the challenge and creativity is what comes to rescue each time; and if you use it in style, and never give up, you make art.
I remember Jens Peter Jacobsen’s book ‘ Niels Lyhne’. I am reading the last page and the protagonist who is an atheist is dying and so his friend asks him whether he should call the pastor to which Niels says ‘No’ and so the friend while he stands at the window looks up at the stars and mutters “ If I were God, I would rather bless the one who does not change his mind at the end” I think this is what Bukowski means in his life’s philosophy and his poem “Don’t try” and it is what I live by.
III. HG: How personal is the process for you and Pranav every time HUEMN introduces a new piece/collection? How does working on a collection impact the two of you as ‘humans’?
Pranav Misra: The creative process is extremely personal. Ideas are born out of a sudden urge to express-almost a necessity to release what’s been collected. Then there are hours and days which are dedicated to that idea. Like a sculptor sculpting a statue for weeks/months over an idea that he would have got one day as a necessity to express. How can this entire process not be personal, it has to be, it can’t be any other way, it should be. As I said earlier a necessity to release what’s been ‘collected’. So you let things happen and observe and learn and unlearn but you don’t react, instead you wait. you wait for it to overflow out of you.
Everything that you see, hear, watch, read is impacting you, it is changing something inside you. I am of a nature where I do not like to express my opinions, my views, my take anywhere else other than my work. And so everything I create comes from an extremely personal space where information has been fermenting for a while. This is the reason that over the years of working at HUEMN, I have had the opportunity to meet some brilliant minds, observe society closely, learn and grow. I have gotten way more as a human from HUEMN than I have given back.
Shyma Shetty: Every time we work on a collection, we grow more as individuals. A collection is a few weeks of shedding your skin that has grown heavy with an idea whose time has come. Once it is out in the world, it is freeing; and you have a fresh new space in you that you start filling with new ideas, conversation and direction, that takes you elsewhere, very quickly. Then, you start the whole process again. It is a metamorphosis, in its own way.
IV. HG: From the fall 14’ collection inspired by Bukowski’s work, up until HUEMN’s celebration of his 100th birthday, how has the brand evolved !?
Shyma Shetty: HUEMN is constantly evolving but the DNA of the brand is a constant and that’s comforting. We have both structures, and space to play. Some things are the same from Fall 14 to Spring 21- a fearless approach, impeccable product and heart in the right place, informed by the social and cultural landscape of the times. We always have and always will drive conversation, focus on impact, tell great stories and make clean, exciting ready-to-wear that is honest and will remain in wardrobes through generations.
Some things are different. We’re more grown-up, our business is more nuanced, our team has grown to include more trained and skilled individuals, the brand direction has strongly turned towards promoting craftsmen and homegrown craft in our silhouettes. We are constantly innovating to push the boundaries of our understanding of material and shapes and new stories that need to be told have found their way to us. We do appreciate our journey and hold our muses close, though. Bukowski turns 100 on the 16th of August and we wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion with the extended HUEMN family, as he has been one of our earliest muses and someone we still reach for.
We’ve been doing a 10-day celebration of all things, Bukowski, on our social media stories; outlining his life and work, sharing our stories and snippets from what inspires us etc and it also culminates in a launch of 100 limited edition t-shirts with Mark’s portrait of Bukowski on his 100th birthday. This is meant as a fun activity that is almost a memento for Bukowski lovers, as there are so few t-shirts. The portrait is definitely a collectable and since our Bukowski portrait shirt sold out in 2014, we haven’t re-released the portrait. This is also why we decided to release the t-shirt at a very reachable price-point for genuine Hank lovers. As for the product- it an oversized, super-soft tee that also has some interesting detail on it like an excerpt from one of our favourite poems on the shoulder and an image of a graphic that’s on his grave, on the back. As with most of the HUEMN products, it’s a story waiting to be told by the wearer and I’m immensely excited for everyone who’s able to get their hands on it, this weekend.
V. HG: HUEMN’s non-binary clothing section that has created significant impact over the years. How relevant is it today & how does it play out with audiences in 2020’s progressive social landscape!?
Shyma Shetty: There is much work to be done on the subject of gender normality and societal understanding of it. It is as relevant today as it was when we introduced the non-binary line tab and will continue to be, till gender is not a point of contention in clothing. Yes, we are more progressive today, but we also live in pockets of society and social media bubbles that allow us a macro view that is not an accurate or inclusive representation of society at large. Through history, clothing has been both empowering and constraining, enabling differences in class and gender. Decades ago, the commoners were not allowed to wear purple. Today men can’t wear skirts. School uniforms for boys and girls are still different in most schools in 2020 and we are okay with it as a society.
As far as gender-inclusive fashion is concerned, we need to normalise our diverse shapes, preferences and needs, first; and stop putting people in boxes like ‘female’, ‘plus-size’, ‘brown’, ‘apple-shaped’ or whatever else stereotypes there are. People are non-binary by nature and shouldn’t have to fit themselves in boxes to be understood. Fashion imagery has to change. The idea of ‘beauty’ has always been driven by fashion media and it makes people who don’t fit in feel like they aren’t beautiful. This is the biggest lie of the previous generations and today we must work very hard to unlearn our personal biases of gender, shapes and race. We need to stop celebrating a certain look and empower our consumer with the idea that they don’t need to fit-in and celebrating who they are would help them live their bestest lives. Gender is just a part of it. Yes, we have come a long way, but there is much work to be done.
VI. HG: What other urban phenomena have served as stimulus for HUEMN’s collection over the years ? Any notable figures akin to Bukowski that one may expect to see collections inspired by?
Pranav Misra: Society is a stimulus.
I have been very influenced by Francis bacon’s work recently. I visited an exhibition of his work at the Centre Pompidou in the September of ‘19 which brought an immense change in me. This brought back the pain that I had felt at my father’s sudden passing away in 2018. It affected me personally. I remember as I walked across the gallery I had tears in my eyes and at that point, I didn’t even know what I was crying for. It is like a bottle of soda which someone comes and shakes so that the cap cannot take the pressure anymore and it breaks and the liquid leaks. The things about my father that were buried deep within, the pain started coming into my work in that collection and it was extremely personal. I was also so inspired by his craft that we did a reinterpretation of his ‘Slaughterhouse’ in one of our creations.
VII. HG: HUEMN has always been unapologetic when it comes to driving conversation around change. In today’s scenario, what impact does the brand aim to have, socially and in the fashion space?
Shyma Shetty: I’m a strong believer that the arts- whether fine art, fashion or performance art are supposed to provoke and not comfort. To inspire thought and instigate conversation- to make you feel and arouse a reaction.
Throughout history, fashion has been a powerful force and an accurate representation of the times. It needs to lift people up and empower. It needs to rally an audience and facilitate new conversations. HUEMN gives us a voice to put ideas out there, ideas we think need wheels. The conversations we address today with our art are more meaningful than ever, considering we are on the brink of crisis’ especially in societal ideas and environmental context. Speaking a universal tongue and uniting as humans is the need of the hour, especially since we can now harness wider audiences.
HUEMN has always been a cultural provocateur and we work hard to push the envelope- to celebrate the underdogs, to re-define luxury, tell untold stories, create thought provoking campaigns, take a stand on inclusion and bring about a slow fashion revolution through re-purposing and mindful buying. We are a responsible, relevant, wholesome and fearless brand and my aim with HUEMN is to continue up that path.
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