Meet Deepen Sharma, The 23-Year-Old Fashion Prodigy

Deepen Sharma, a young homosexual designer-illustrator, tells us what it takes to make it in the fashion industry.

It was drizzling on a Tuesday afternoon and the occasional slight breeze that came from a nearby beach only fuelled my pleasant mood. I made my way into a sound café down the street, where I found Deepen illustrating a piece in a chic black diary.

Deepen Sharma is one of those rare, self-made, driven young professionals . The vivacious designer-illustrator that he is, Deepen has a lot going for him.

Deepen is versatile and always adds an experimental element in all of his creations, which sets him apart from all other 20-something designers/illustrators struggling to make a mark in the fashion industry. For Deepen, his journey began when he was three. Born to a seamster and seamstress, little Deepen would love spending time  in his parents’ workshop. Playfully but passionately, he would pass his time playing with boxes containing fabrics and buttons, laying them on the floor and creating contrasting, novel designs out of each.

“Fashion, to me, is an outlet of expression. It is extremely personal as everybody at some point or the other, connects with fashion, which is nothing but clothes at the end of the day. It is more like a communication of emotions,” says Deepen, while he closed his diary shut.

Deepen has always been fixated towards fashion illustration that ultimately led him to try out new channels and approaches. He has won several accolades for his breathtaking creations, such as ‘The Best Design Collection’, ‘Best Construction’ and ‘Most Viable Collection’ Awards at the Mod’art graduation show. Deepen won the  Vogue Honors 2012 India, and one of the Top 10 Finalists in Let’s Design season 5, was selected by ‘Chamomile – The Store’ to display his label at their store at Palladium, Mumbai.

Givenchy Illustration by Deepen Sharma
Givenchy Illustration by Deepen Sharma

Deepen has had a chain of successful stints in the fashion sphere and some of his major clients include Rabacha Shoes Paris, Verve Magazine (India), Darya London Jewellery, House of Anita Dongre, Nikhil Thampi, Payal Singhal, Neeta Lulla, Kamaali Couture, Elton J Fernandez (Maybelline India) and others.

He is also part of the faculty at Whistling Woods International – School of Fashion and Design;teaching the finer aspects of Fashion Illustration and CAD (Computer Aided Design).

These achievements didn’t come easy. Like every acclaimed professional, Deepen, too, faced roadblocks on his path to success. The daily commute from Thane to Bombay proved to be physically exhausting. In spite of everything, the one thing that never dissuaded Deepen was his sexuality. It is tough to exist as a homosexual in Indian society, let alone be accepted. But Deepen has been immensely lucky to have acquired support from his friends and family alike.

Whether it is a high cut pencil skirt or a carcanet made of unique jewels, you can see him sporting it all with grace and elegance. Deepen’s style is largely androgynous and edgy, fitted with comfort.

Scarf by Deepen Sharma
Scarf by Deepen Sharma

The designer also owns a scarves line which is available on his website. “As I had just started off, I had to consider factors like limited funds, production costs, etc. Since ‘scarves’ is a thing which does not require production in many (or any) sizes, I took a shot at it. I would love to start my own label but there’s still time for that. There’s much to learn and explore before I take the big leap,” he says.

From the diverse range of Deepen’s clientele, his favorites have been Nikhil Thampi and Payal Singhal. “Nikhil and Payal, both are very efficient and supportive. They tell me what they want and give me the liberty as to how I choose to do it. I think that is what every creative individual needs,” says Deepen.

Today when everything is overexposed and overdone , fashion is no exception. “The massive brand obsession will only be healthy to an extent,” says Deepen. It puts a great deal of pressure on the designers who strive to maintain the luxury and DNA of the house. Therefore, he says, it is imperative to be open to different brands. You might just be in for a surprise!

Berta Bridal Illustration by Deepen Sharma
Berta Bridal Illustration by Deepen Sharma

Further, the sought after designer-illustrator speaks about how the Indian Fashion Industry differs from an international one. “The Indian fashion industry is true to its roots and culture. The life-long techniques of weaving and embroidery are being carried forward, which is beautiful. The authenticity is intact. However, the greatest hurdle in India’s fashion industry is the quality of production. It is time that androgyny gets the space it deserves in the Indian market,” says he.

The most rewarding part of his job, says Deepen, is when his equals say “You inspire me”. Also, the most upsetting and equally inspiring moment of his career was when a client rejected his work saying it was not ‘professional enough’. He smiles while recalling, “It hit me where it hurt the most. But in a way, it has been a great thing. Every time I design something now, that statement plays in my head which pushes me to better myself. I think that episode has humbled me down.”

Deepen is currently working on a collection for an upcoming fashion event by 50 Shades of Gay (FSOG), a national campaign striving to seek equality for and featuring individuals across India who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. “The LGBT community in India needs serious help and through my work, I aspire to make a difference,” says Deepen.

For Deepen, every experience has been an important lesson in the course of his life. “Among all, Mod’art has been a blessing. We had a Spanish faculty named Ainhoa Moder, who opened us to the international fashion market, which was so intriguingly different. It made sure it provided us with everything that was upscale. The most important thing it has taught me is that quality matters more than anything else. The institute delivers practical knowledge, experiences and connections. Not to forget, lots of food!” he says jokingly.

Deepen also adds that CAD has a tremendous scope in the present and future Indian fashion industry. “CAD is the key. It is the cosmetic surgery of a product. Large-scale businesses and export houses rely on CAD as patterns and mass productions can be efficiently done through it. And since it is digital, it is faster, convenient, precise and accurate. CAD is crucial in the market as it is like the blue print of the dress,” he says.

It is important that everybody has their own style and more so, incorporate it into their day-to-day lives. Therefore, Deepen chronicles the five wardrobe must-haves for every man and woman. “A woman should own a pair of blue jeans (boyfriend, preferably), a pair of heels that makes you feel confident , a go-to accessory, a nice jacket, and a dress (any kind) that makes you feel sexy. For men, a watch (to look responsible), a crisp white shirt, blue jeans, a well-fitting pair of trousers and a good pair of shoes is mandatory,” advises Deepen.

Acceptance – of your own self and others’ opinion about you, plays an important role, “You must understand yourself and experiment gradually. Create your own identity through your style and let people know that you matter.”

It is unfortunate that while a few Indian parents are open to let their kids venture into the field of fashion, a large group still shows reluctance and dislike for the reasons that have been mulled over for ages. Deepen remarks, “The fashion industry in general is a very creative field, so you’re bound to meet creative people. It is like a basket of fruits. Some are good, while some are not. It depends on who you choose to interact with.”

Another reason, says Deepen, why the Indian parent is reluctant with regards to fashion is due to the great presence of the LGBT community in the industry. While some parts Indian media are trying to help the LGBT community, there are some who constantly pull them down by lending them stereotypical characters, which makes most of the audience channelize their brain in the same manner. Hence, it is disheartening to see great talents being suppressed due to social constructs like these. Deepen adds, “Every parent should let their kids follow their dream, learn from their mistakes and explore as much as they can. Let them grow as a person. That’s all that matters in the end.”

Water Color Illustration by Deepen Sharma
Water Color Illustration by Deepen Sharma

Talking about the pre-requisites for a breakthrough in the fashion industry, Deepen says it is vital to have the drive of doing it and finishing it. He says, “It requires dedication. Be honest to yourself and open to opinions. Give everything a chance, believe in all that you like and be your most authentic self.”

Deepen, who, despite of the unnerving societal stigmas, treads his road with confidence and wins hearts with his indigenous works and originality. And as we chatted away, I couldn’t help but hope to find another such Deepen (and many more) in a café, sketching and smiling into his black leather diary, following his dream.

Mili Doshi is a handpicked product of the Bayside Pathfinder where we empower the young and the young at heart with the power of storytelling. To become a part of our extended family of unique contributors, call up Prem Madnani at +91 9892913788 or email him on [email protected]