MEET KSHITIJ KANKARIA
Kshitij Kankaria is pioneering Indian aesthetics through his meticulous duo-chromatic, yet surprisingly colorful styling approach.
He is the founder of Soak, a creator’s collective defined by the cultural momentum and diverse ideas of India. Kankaria also heads up Soak Foundation, which donates 5% of the earnings towards child safeguarding and developing creative educational platform for them.
We speak with the creative director, brand consultant and stylist, a resident of Mumbai and the contributor of the magazine project Bandra Sentimental. Keep an eye out for Kankaria’s rich mix of projects on the horizon.
Qompendium: Kshitij, your interest in styling, where did this urge come from?
Kshitij: I became interested in styling while studying design and fashion. As a student, I realised styling can be a great tool to hide some flaws that could have come about while creating an outfit. And later, after I graduated from college, it was a good way to make some money without investing and waiting for the product to sell. Besides, I never wanted to work a 9 to 5 job and I never have.
Qompendium: Was it easy to get your first gig? Do you have an academic background or are you completely self-taught?
Kshitij: Honestly, my first few gigs were at college where I helped with styling the shows of senior students and assisted with their collection shoots. Academically, I never learned how to style, and I have never assisted anyone either. But technical knowledge in fashion design helped me a lot and it still comes in very handy.
Qompendium: How important is it to shape your own visual approach on a daily basis? Do you look outside your own practice for inspiration?
Kshitij: Oh! Always. Trying to find mediums of expression that are beyond the realm of simply styling or fashion is extremely essential to me. It refreshes my perspective and keeps me excited. Both film and music play a big part in my process.
Nostalgia is definitely an underlying theme that I feel strongly connected to through my work. My memory of what it was to be a young child in a small town in India is something that I revisit and draw from — it’s something unique and true to me.
Bandra, from Persian Bandar, also called Vandre
is a coastal suburb located in Mumbai, Salsette Island in Maharashtra, India. The suburb is located to the immediate north of the Mithi River, which separates Bandra from Mumbai City district. It is the third-largest commercial hub in Maharashtra, after Mumbai City district and Pune, primarily aided by the Bandra-Kurla Complex. Additionally, many personalities who are active in Bollywood, cricket and politics reside in the suburb.
Qompendium: We see quite a lot of Indian cultural references in your work which seem to be important to you …
Kshitij: Very important, so much so that it has become natural to me. It is an essential part of the process of being true to myself and being unique. It is very important to show that part of myself and to talk about my culture and add elements of nostalgia, relationships, subtlety of fashion and the feeling of remembering things you might have felt at a time in your life.
I like exploring vulnerability and transferring that feeling into a visual so it’s not just another fashion image with gorgeous clothes; it’s a feeling that you can experience visually.
Qompendium: Your work for Bandra Sentimental has inspired us in many ways. Please do tell us about your collaboration with the very talented photographer Romain Sellier?
Kshitij: Thank you so much.
We met for the first time in Mumbai when he came to shoot. Together we explored the city and after a few days we started to shoot some photographs. Romain has such an eye for finding uniqueness in a every casual environment and his eye for casting is just phenomenal. I learned so much while shooting Bandra Sentimental and am lucky to be able to use that acquired knowledge for the rest of my career.
My fondest memories of shooting Bandra Sentimental are mainly the easy banter with Romain and the friendship we built during that time.
Qompendium: What’s the story behind all these thoughtfully crafted pictures?
Kshitij: The idea came to us from exploring a certain part of Mumbai which, coincidentally, was my neighborhood. We went exploring with open eyes, while searching for the right colors and compositions as a main reference point. We decided to take our inspiration from individuals whom you would not usually notice on a normal day. They inspired us through their style and take on color.
Qompendium: Lately, we have seen editorials ranging from six-figure campaigns to iPhone DIY shoots. How important are big budgets?
Kshitij: The medium and approach keeps changing in fashion imagery. Adapting to the new and creating space for change is important. In the last few years, the definition of beauty has changed so drastically and that alone has made our industry diverse, inclusive and warm. As far as you maintain quality with what you do and keep your personal style intact – whether it’s an iPhone camera or a painstakingly produced shoot – is all good. Just go for it. No matter which medium, budgets demonstrate respect for talent and the trust a brand has in them. Spending bigger budgets does not always guarantee greater quality, but it definitely helps and gives you the freedom to create within an easier framework.
Qompendium: Let’s talk about brands. Some do not always have the right approach or are aware that their actions might end up being controversial or even misunderstood by their own target group. What are your thoughts about this?
Kshitij: Brands have a huge responsibility not just to their audience, but to the growth of the industry as a whole. Brands standing for a cause or speaking up for a message – whether right or wrong – have a huge impact. Making references could be easily misinterpreted, while taking a risk for a cause can end up being controversial. Therefore, brands should do a great amount of research and study cultures to understand them and clarify their own intentions. We in the industry are all trying really hard to come together and talk about topics of all kinds, including the ones that are taboo in fashion. I see progression and it’s a good step forward because making mistakes on this front and at such a large scale takes us a few steps back.
Spending bigger budgets do not always guarantee greater quality but it definitely helps and gives you freedom to create within an easier framework.
Kshitij: I love Ryan McKinley and I admire Ibrahim Kamara’s way of representing a culture. Have you seen this new publication called “Atmos”? Their conversations on environment and untold stories should be in the spotlight and shared by a larger group of people from art, fashion and other creatives. Their quality of storytelling and clarity of messaging is so great. It made me so happy to see it.
Qompendium: Trends and face-filters on Instagram and influencer fandom – what does success mean to you?
Kshitij: I don’t think too much about it. The only rule I have is to not put myself out there too much where it can distract from my work. However, I do like people who like to have fun with face-filters. It definitely doesn’t define success for me in any way.
Qompendium: Not everything that is produced on such channels is of highly creative quality, but in a way still relevant, no?
Kshitij: Right, relevancy is a term, which is derived from my own knowledge of my work and things around it that inspire it. If it’s relevant in my mind and I’m keeping up with the world, then I don’t care which viewpoint others might have on it. Most of the time, I have a point of view in my mind when taking up a project and as far as that view is well translated, I’m good.
Qompendium: Do you agree that most ideas are built on ideas of others and so it is senseless to call out copycats?
Kshitij: We have so many mediums, which inspire fashion, so when people derive their ideas or thoughts from the same inspiration it’s very normal. But taking a product, taking inspiration from it directly to create a similar product is laziness and you can always see how the results get compromised. You can also compare things if you want and be the fashion police or look at it from a distance and make your judgments. Either way copycats will not be respected in the long run.
Qompendium: This leads to the topic of creative process; how do you seek creative input for your assignments.
Kshitij: As I mentioned before, if I’m happy and honest with my work, then I don’t pay attention to another person’s perception of it. I move on. There were times in my life when I took inspiration from others and wanted to make my work look like someone else’s. In my heart I knew I was not doing the right thing. But as I grew up and matured, I realized it was not exciting for me to create work appreciated by a small group of people who may or may not have seen the work I took inspiration from. I knew I would hit a wall soon. And I did.
So now I’m very careful about being true and honest to my approach and making sure that my team is on the same page. Most of the time, I run in the opposite direction when I see a vision board with fashion images.
Creative differences start a conversation, which helps tremendously given the fact that everyone has the same goal.
Qompendium: Have you been sitting on a project too cool for a commercial project but at the same time not so demanding for yourself? What would your dream project look like?
Kshitij: I see commercial jobs and personal work differently and like to be challenged on both fronts while delivering on both. My dream project would be to secure a home and a farm in the mountains and a small holiday house on the beach.
Qompendium: Wow, now that is ambitious. It’s been said that you are a prolific stylist with an outstanding aesthetic. From your large body of work, what is the best project you have been involved in to date?
Kshitij: I love “Shedding the Last Layer” and “Bandra Sentimental.” There is a project that I’ve been working on over the past year, and it will be coming out as soon as we get back to normal times.
Qompendium: What have you learnt from your team?
Kshitij: A lot, a lot, a lot.
My immediate team of assistants really challenge me and ask questions all the time. Most of the time they are never happy with my applications of an idea. The process really keeps me grounded and gives me confidence at the same time. I really believe in collective efforts. The only thing I can’t stand is a lack of discipline or punctuality. But I really appreciate creative differences because they start conversations, which helps tremendously given the fact that everyone has the same goal.
Qompendium: Besides being a professional and getting things done in this creative space, I think there’s always humanity within us. What is your work ethic?
Kshitij: It’s essential to me that people respect each other at work, but hierarchy in creative industries should not be taken too seriously. It’s a place to grow for everyone and that’s the fun of it. I’ve seen people being really classist and humiliating others financially due power plays. I take a stand against it and choose to withdraw myself from such environments, regardless of what it might bring about for me.
Qompendium: What would you change with regard to industry standards or policies?
Kshitij: So many things. However, I don’t like to be political in my words because I don’t think I’ve seen enough or gone through it all. However, I really appreciate people who do it for us. The fact that we are talking about this right now means that things are changing because of the times we’ve found ourselves in. It’s all going to be for the better, I hope.
Qompendium: Do you think some brand narratives are outdated?
Kshitij: Yes. Many.
Qompendium: Going back to your beautiful homeland, who is the next Indian creative? Whose work would you love the world to know?
Kshitij: Ashish Shah. He is already doing so well and I’m so happy to see how his work is being widely appreciated.
Qompendium: What would be the best Frank Ocean song to listen to while reading this Interview?
Kshitij: Haha it’s a long interview. Let’s put “blonde” on shuffle.