Arnav Malhotra, founder of Chennai-based menswear label, No Grey Area, on why clothing has to be both stylish and utilitarian
Arnav Malhotra grew up around the fashion business — his parents, Tina and Atul Malhotra, were in the export business, and for the last 20 years, have run the multi-designer boutique Evoluzione, with stores in Chennai, Bengaluru and Delhi. The business graduate from the University of Exeter, who recently launched No Grey Area (NGA), a menswear label, says, “I never wanted to be part of the fashion industry, and even if I was involved in the family business, I thought it would be around software or design, not clothing.”
However, over the past two years, he was increasingly involved in sourcing, working directly with designers. In May 2019, he curated The Sartorial Modernist, an edit for Evoluzione featuring 10 menswear designers who question and reinvent silhouettes, and renew and revive Indian crafts and fabrics. This included Akshat Bansal’s Bloni, Suket Dhir, Unit by Rajat Suri, Khanijo and more. He was also heavily involved in the store relaunch last year, introducing menswear labels as part of their new business strategy. The stage seemed set for him to be a major part of management, when instead, younger sister Ahaanaa stepped into that role, and NGA was launched.
Introduction to fashion
Arnav’s stint in New York introduced him to style that is more individualistic than designer or brand-based. “That’s where I fell in love with fashion. NGA has been in the pipeline for a couple of years now, ever since I returned to Chennai in 2018,” says Arnav. The first collection of 2020 — or Episode 01 of Season 01 — is called Phantasm, and features everything from T-shirts to dhoti pants and bandhgalas to bomber jackets. Working out of Chennai, he heads a team of designers, giving them “creative direction”.
“Across the board, Indian menswear is under-represented. Internationally, people would immediately know what a sari is, but that’s not the case with a bandhgala or a bandi. With NGA, we are looking to add utility to clothing and modernising silhouettes in a way that makes Indian clothing accessible,” Arnav says, explaining his aim of extending the reach of traditional outfits. The basic palette features white, black, navy or olive green as the base with maximalist prints of lions, flying fish and elephants. Look for the space camo pattern for a futuristic theme.
Arnav Malhotra in a No Grey Area T-shirt
While the casual T-shirts (with prints of dragons and phases of the moon, reminiscent of Rohit Bal) are made of cotton, the line also has reversible silk bandi bomber jackets featuring more quirky designs on one side and a plain colour on the other. The resort shirts are made of bemberg fabric, which is a sustainable textile created from cotton seed linters. “We source fabric, zippers and buttons from all over the world,” he adds.
Ask who the target audience is, with the affordable starting price of ₹4,500 and he says this has been a sore point with potential customers. “You say it is great pricing, but in the aftermath of the pandemic, people are more concerned with the price tag. They want to know why a simple T-shirt costs ‘so much’. It comes down to quality and construction,” he explains. In his previous experience of curating new brands aimed at a younger audience, Arnav has found that they would pick clothing that is comfortable, utilitarian and in tune with their personal style over a well-known brand. This gives him hope for NGA.
His own style is eclectic, featuring floral suits and streetwear. Some of his current favourite brands are NoughtOne and Space Biskit for athleisure. For formal wear, he picks the classic designers: Rohit Bal, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna, Rajesh Pratap Singh. Ask if we can expect another curation at Evoluzione soon, and Arnav laughs. “NGA is keeping me busy and is now my full-time work, so I do not know if that will be possible any time soon. You’ll have to ask Ahaanaa,” he concludes.