Chevron-patterned midis with noodle straps, khaki shirt dresses, A-line skirts with peasant tops and lace-trimmed bralettes crafted out of organic cottons, linens and cotton silks. Nimish Shah’s Spring/Summer 15 collection draws from the tones of an Indian summer. Light and carefree. The London College of Fashion graduate’s lifestyle label, Shift, has turned quite a few heads over a last five years. Reputed for clean-cut conservative hemlines with a touch of whimsy, the designer defines his aesthetic as, “Minimalist, Scandinavian chic (sometimes shabby) with a vintage hangover.” He attributes his house aesthetic to his 2007 stint at Chole in Paris. “It has shaped the way I look at things, emotions, my love affair with all things vintage and attempt at creating the most mundane items with just a bit of edge.”
In many ways, Shah’s work process is a mirror reflection of the final output; classic with a twist. While his approach is usually academic – and admittedly, a deterrent to innovation at times – he often finds himself straying off the beaten path, leading with his gut. He considers himself a “freestyle worker”, more curator than designer. “I am someone who can put things together in a story. I have a strong vision of our house aesthetic which pretty much gives me a boundary to play within.” Inspiration, which appears in time capsules and emotions, usually is the result of placing himself in the heart of his ever-evolving muse. “I almost feel the way my muse for the season would. (She is the same woman but is also growing in my head.) Like real people, my muse aspires towards finesse in life and sometimes just wants to be playful – that’s how we come up with something for everyone from ages 16 to 80!”
A childhood fascination with Environmental Science and crafting communities moulded Shah’s frugal, consumer-conscious attitude that seeped into the very fabric of his design label. As a brand, Shift is consciously rooted in a common sense approach to sustainability and transparency. Its material palette includes organic, fair trade and natural fibres along with artisanal handloom textiles. Sometimes though, it’s the best intentions that present the toughest hurdles. “The biggest challenge is the fact that it [crafts] cannot be formulated and cheapened; or made available by pumping steroids. It’s a bit like pleasure of eating mangoes in season; any other time they just feel wrong. It is everything against popular culture. For example, there is a gap between demand, supply and desirability, and changing times along with job satisfaction and social status of the craftsmen,” he elaborates.
Projects like quilting in Gujarat and knitting in south India have been an exercise in letting go. “The biggest lesson learnt here has been, whatever you are willing to pay craft communities, you are seeking work from people for whom priority in life falls in the order of family, society and then work. Delays due to a wedding in family, sickness, weather and the most irrelevant excuses are unfortunately the reality. You cannot run a tight ship. This is slow fashion and slow life. It creates products for purveyors and collectors of finery not for campaign lead demands. You just have to work around these challenges.”
The impetus for designer’s recent debut into the world of interior fashion was once again sustainable living. “I have always employed conscious pattern cutting in my design to minimise waste. This is not always possible. The idea for the patchwork quilts came from this waste line and application of a more cradle-to-grave approach on how to put the waste (fabric) to use. Of course, they are far more tedious to make then our clothes and have a lot more value addition. So making no excuse of waste – we really wanted to make something that people would like instantly along with making us a zero waste factory,” he explains. That being said, Shah is eager to translate Shift’s aesthetic onto interior spaces, be it homes, galleries, or public areas. He promises fans an extensive line of home linen by late 2015 or early next year.