Kartik Research Spring 2025 Menswear

“It can be dangerous to build a brand around cultural identity.” Kartik Kumra was in a reflective mood at a showroom appointment following his runway debut at Paris Fashion Week.

Kumra was an economics major at the University of Pennsylvania when he launched Kartik Research, then named Karu Research, in 2020. The idea then was to offer one-off pieces made in partnership with or highlighting Indian craftsmanship. There were other brands, particularly stateside, in the same aesthetic space, but Kumra, who was born in Delhi, could offer the real thing. These weren’t replicas of traditional kantha textiles or Indian embroideries, which have become commonplace across luxury and contemporary menswear over the past decade; they came from the source. “Everything you see here has no electricity in the fabric production process,” said Kumra. “Each fabric you see is produced by someone different. I have all of these guys on my WhatsApp.”

Kumra was a 2023 LVMH Prize semi-finalist and joined the official Paris Fashion Week menswear calendar in January. His first runway show this season was followed by a presentation. Kartik Research is now stocked at 52 doors, including Mr. Porter, SSENSE, Dover Street Market Paris, and Selfridges. For someone who built a label based on instinct rather than industry connections, Kumra is doing pretty well for himself.

“I was an enthusiast, I used to resell and whatnot, and when I used to go into DSM as more of a fan, my main observation was, why is there no Indian brand here?” Kumra scaled his business slowly but with intention. Spring 2025 is his seventh collection, “but the fourth proper season,” he said. He works on two collections a year plus two exclusive Mr. Porter capsules. He’s gained a legion of fans, particularly stateside in New York, for his relaxed proportions and impeccable make. These are the kinds of clothes—slow fashion, artisanally made, sophisticated but not pretentious, and, let’s face it, with a good backstory—that menswear-heads scour the globe (and the internet) for.

What has changed with the growth of his business since his college days, said Kumra, is his sense of responsibility. After his presentation in January, he was invited to a dinner with ministers of the Indian cabinet as a young entrepreneur. The evening prompted some self-reflection: “There was no real pressure when I was a small brand, but we’re the only Indian brand on this platform,” said Kumra. “There’s a responsibility to maybe not being so romantic with our storytelling.” So far the direction at Kartik Research has included shooting lookbooks in dreamy palaces and “getting into the tropes of India,” but Kumra now understands that while his culture is integral to his identity and his label’s, he can also be more expansive with its interpretation and portrayal, particularly as his brand continues to grow globally. “This time I looked a lot at documentary photographers, local artisans’ uniforms, and studied religious pilgrimages,” he said.

The result is Kumra’s most complete and nuanced collection yet. Working with handwoven khadi fabrics, which became a symbol of the Indian freedom struggle with Mahatma Gandhi, gave the clothes both a sense of lightness and a lived-in patina. He trimmed embellished pieces with leather and added beaded waistbands to tailored trousers and jeans made out of repurposed Levi’s, balancing an artisanal-but-contemporary tension he’s teetered in in the past.

Kumra knows when to hold back and when to push magnificent textile treatments like a beaded flower or a block print. (the latter by an artist that also works with Yohji Yamamoto). It may be his familiarity with them that produces this sense of pragmatism. He’s not making souvenirs—neither for shoppers at his store in New Delhi that opened two months ago nor for those who will visit the one in New York coming later this year. His work is romantic but not sentimental, and that is a good thing.

“All of this could be mechanized and replicated, we could recreate this through a luxury factory in India, but that defeats the purpose,” said Kumra, reflecting on growing his business. “The challenge of working with artists and small scale producers is do they go with me when I scale?” he continued. The answer is yes, they do. “One of the reasons I started the brand is that I felt like there was a lack of South Asian culture out there outside of the Bollywood movies or music that doesn’t really make it out of our own diaspora,” said Kumra. He’s betting on fashion, and his label, to be able to change that.

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