Structure + Fluidity: In Conversation With Label 431-88 Founder Shweta Kapur

Shweta Kapur's 431-88 is a homegrown fashion brand with a global appeal that balances structure and fluidity to appeal to a global audience while staying true to its Indian roots.
Shweta Kapur's 431-88 is a homegrown fashion brand with a global appeal that balances structure and fluidity to appeal to a global audience while staying true to its Indian roots. 431-88

When Shweta Kapur’s 431-88 returned to the runway of Lakme Fashion Week in mid-October 2023, they made a mark with their Collection 20 which was inspired by the idea of the ‘IT Girl’. Toying with and exploring the idea of power - both having and controlling it vs. finding meaning in the soft power of letting things be - the collection drew from the dichotomous details from the 80s and 90s. From the structure and power of tailoring and crisp fabrics to the freedom of soft drapes and slinky materials.

In finding a design language that balances both her homegrown identity and global appeal, Shweta Kapur, the creative force behind the brand 431-88, has not just mastered this art but elevated it to a new level. As the label unveiled 'Collection 20' on the ramp at Lakme X FDCI Fashion Week in Delhi, it was also attempting to be a space for artistry, innovation, and a celebration of individuality. They fittingly featured the gorgeous Malaika Arora - an 'It Girl' in her own right.

A Decade of Distinctive Design

The journey of 431-88 began over a decade ago when Shweta Kapur, armed with her passion for design and a global perspective gained from studying in London and working in New York, set out to create a brand that goes beyond the ordinary. Her recent showcase at Lakmé Fashion Week, after a four-year hiatus, was a triumphant return to the runway. Kapur reflects on the experience, saying, "Honestly coming back to the fashion week after 4 years, it was a blast."

The brand has evolved over the years, and Kapur emphasises that certain aspects of their design language have remained constant. "For us as a label, there are certain aspects to our design language that have always been well-defined, which we try to incorporate into every collection we design," she explains. These include the focus on flattering silhouettes, the importance of fabric quality, and a commitment to creating pieces that stand the test of time.

A distinctive feature of 431-88 is its use of suiting fabrics sourced from Japan and Italy, reflecting their commitment to quality and longevity. Kapur notes, "The label is 10+ years old now, but I have a few pieces that I’ve had from day one, which look and feel brand new. It doesn't fade; it still looks like a fresh, crisp garment." This approach, she believes, aligns with the ideas of sustainable shopping, by encouraging customers to invest in pieces that last for years.

Balancing Flair and Functionality

The philosophy of 431-88 revolves around creating garments that not only look good but also feel good on the body. Kapur emphasises the importance of fabric that feels good on the skin, doesn't crush easily, and aligns with the lifestyle of the 431-88 muse – someone always on the go.

"Wherever we can work with fabrics that don’t require a lot of ironing or are lightweight, we do that," she says. This commitment to functionality extends to the incorporation of functional elements like pockets and a preference for separates that can be worn in a multitude of ways. Kapur explains, "People have so much to think about; getting dressed should be the last thing on your mind."

The brand's focus on structured drapes is evident in its latest collection, 'Collection 20.' Kapur elaborates on the thought process behind it, stating, "Even in this collection, what we did was we had corsets which fit well and paired it up with draped dhoti pants which are well draped." This juxtaposition of structured elements with fluid drapes defines the narrative of 'Collection 20’.

From Bralettes to Sarees: A Journey of Identity

The evolution of 431-88's identity reflects Shweta Kapur's journey as a designer. "I studied in London, I worked in New York, and I came back with this very naive perspective of doing luxury sportswear," Kapur recalls. Her initial collection featured bralettes, structured skirts, and leather belts – a style that felt ahead of its time for the Indian market. The turning point came when the brand questioned what the 431–88 woman would wear to a wedding. The answer was not a traditional saree but a contemporary, pre-draped version that caters to a global audience. Pre-draped sarees were not a novelty and the 431-88 take on it that showed off a little leg and exuded a luxe yet comfortable appeal got them a fair amount of flak, but also paved their way to popularity. Kapur acknowledges that these pre-draped sarees, despite the initial scepticism, played a pivotal role in expanding the brand's reach internationally.

Their Popsicle collection further solidified the brand's identity by offering a modern take on the traditional Indian salwar kameez. "These elements of having a touch of Indianess within our clothes gave us our identity," Kapur states. The brand successfully struck a balance, infusing Indian elements into its designs while maintaining a contemporary and international aesthetic.

Navigating a Global Community

Building a homegrown fashion brand with global appeal comes with its challenges. During our conversation, Kapur reflected on the changing dynamics of the fashion industry, emphasising the role of social media, particularly Instagram, in democratising the reach of brands. "Now it’s just like a flat map, no matter where you are, you can sell your brand anywhere in the world as long as you have Instagram," she observes.

Despite this, Kapur acknowledges that finding the right audience is key. "You’ve got to be mindful of who you’re marketing to and who you’re targeting, as that is the key to authentically telling the story of your brand," she advises. This strategic approach has allowed 431-88 to transcend geographical boundaries and connect with a diverse, global clientele.


Collection 20: The Power Play of Structure and Fluidity

The latest collection, 'Collection 20', serves as a testament to 431-88's ability to seamlessly blend contrasting elements. Kapur explains the inspiration behind the collection, stating, "If you look at the collection notes, you’ll see that it’s about power, right? We’re trying to play with the two parts of it - the power of having it all vs. the power of giving it away."

The collection presents a captivating narrative of balance – a dance between the structured power suiting of the 80s and the fluidity of the 90s. "It essentially comes back to walking the fine line of balance between structure and fluidity," Kapur elaborates.

'Collection 20' encapsulates the essence of the 431-88 woman – a modern, global individual who exudes power while embracing the softer, more fluid aspects of her personality. The garments, from oversized blazers to draped dhoti pants, offer versatility, allowing the wearer to play with different styles and make each piece their own. Kapur encourages this sense of playfulness, stating, "Whether you wear a shirt button open and sleeves rolled up, or as a jacket, there is a lot of room to play around with and make it your own." This ethos of individuality and self-expression is at the core of 431-88's design philosophy.

With a history spanning over a decade, 431-88 as a brand has evolved, adapted, and found its distinctive voice. The latest collection not only showcases the brand's commitment to pushing boundaries but also reaffirms its ability to create garments that resonate with a diverse, global audience. As 431-88 continues to redefine elegance and style, it remains a testament to the power of a homegrown brand finding its identity on the world stage.

Shweta Kapur's dedication to quality, functionality, and individuality ensures that each piece from 431-88 is not just a garment but a timeless expression of artistry and style. The brand's journey is a celebration of tradition, a nod to modernity, and an ode to the global woman who is unapologetically herself; the 431-88 woman.

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