How queer couture is showing the way

If you haven’t seen Abu-Sandeep’s revolutionary campaigns yet, please leave the room

When couture designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla host a party, any evening is a weekend. You may as well drop what you are doing and ready yourself (in sparkling clothes, always) for an all-night banger. If it is a Tuesday or a Thursday night, they are not sorry. And neither will you be.

In the middle of last week, Jaya Bachchan, Sonali Bendre, Neha Dhupia, Huma Qureshi, a few dozen incredible content creators, another dozen queer activists, drags, trans persons, and those that call themselves ‘they’ collected at a secret residential address in Mumbai’s Juhu that was disclosed just 24 hours prior to the party. The designers launched a new fashion film―essentially a social media campaign and a song written by Burudu and Khosla―that has become quite the ear-worm ever since. Called ‘Mera Noor Hain Mashhoor’, the song is about finding one’s inner light and embracing it. It is about falling in love with yourself. And finding sexiness in whatever your size, shape or sexual preferences might be. It was so subversive that it was almost defiant. And yet, which society today would not encourage healing and self-care?

This is not their first progressive campaign though. The past few years have seen the Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla label on a quiet yet loud rampage advocating inclusivity, diversity and queerness. If you have not yet noticed, you may please leave the room.

A giddha dancer | Courtesy instagram/abujanisandeepkhosla A giddha dancer | Courtesy instagram/abujanisandeepkhosla

Just a month before this campaign, the designers deep-dived into their roots (Khosla hails from Kapurthala, Punjab) and came up with a cultural marvel―the giddha dancers of the state. In ceremonies, women dance to the beat of claps. But with Noor Zora and group, Abu-Sandeep unearth the first male giddha dancers who cross-dress and perform in their beautiful, bright and shimmering couture. “As long as you lovingly dance to the tune of your calling, it does not matter what others think,” Khosla says.

Last July, the label had dancer and choreographer Shantanu Maheshwari (he also starred opposite Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi) dress as a devil in a salsa-meets-kathak rendition―a comment on good winning over evil.

In June 2022, the month of queer pride, they featured trans activist Sushant Divgikr, and Queer Parivaar actors Shiva Raichandani and Raimu Itfum.

Their ‘Proud To Love’ campaign of 2021 featured love of all sorts―from platonic to familial to even self-love. Their ‘Love is a Many Splendoured Thing’ campaign of 2020 began its conversation around same-sex love.

It is ironic to recall that the Abu-Sandeep label, now 36 years in the business of making clothes, is actually a veteran of Indian fashion. They have been known to dress the most stylish grandmothers we know―Jaya Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia, Dame Judi Dench, Shakira Caine and others. The go-to names of the most illustrious Indian families―the Ambanis, the GVK Reddys of Hyderabad, the Bachchans―are suddenly the new black.

So, what makes the Abu-Sandeep duo, respectively 63 and 60, the youngest people in the room? The same trait that has suddenly made them the ‘coolest’ couture label in the country right now. Abu-Sandeep get their secret sauce by surrounding themselves with young creative people, social outliers if you may. Their home is open to anyone who is famous or struggling, as long as they are authentic. Their world is a safe space for the queer, the curious and the creative.

The designers are personally patron saints to so many souls, both lost and found. Their campaigns have come to be a cultural dialogue that journals the social changes sweeping India.