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Trevillion and Clark introduced Indian men to western clothing. Assuming control, Mohanlal Sons focused on women.

Even the 200-year-long British rule could not change the way Indians dressed. What did change it, however, was the opening of missionary schools, where children and faculty were introduced to European-style shirts, trousers, coats, and ties. The second big event was the opening of the Suez Canal, which reduced travel time to England. So, a lot of Indians, including the royalty and the rich business families, began traveling to the UK and acquired wardrobes much like the British.

“English tailoring was highly regarded and for many Indian visitors, the first stop in London was to the Savile Row Shops to order their bespoke, made to measure suits in wool and linen. Scions of Indian royalty and business families kept a tab on changing British fashion and they observed that top-end tailoring was central to being well dressed,” said Mayank Mohan, the fifth generation owner of Mohanlal Sons – a men’s clothing and tailoring establishment operating since 1881.

In that era, the British had a prescribed dress norm for every activity, be it formal dinners, official appointments, sports, or horse riding. So, Indians visiting Britain would have to order multiple sets of various types of suits.

As time went by, tailoring for Indian customers from the upper crust was such good business that many British tailoring establishments opened up shops in the Indian capital and in some hill stations which were the summer fashion capitals of India.

Moving to complete English attire

One of the most celebrated tailoring landmarks was Trevillion & Clark – a design house for men established by Mrs and Mr Clark in 1881 in Mussoorie. 

“Indian men made tentative steps towards British dressing style by first adopting the overcoats and waistcoats over their Indian garments, like kurta and churidar. As elevated furniture like desks and chairs were gradually introduced into homes, we got more comfortable with formal pants and adopted the full western silhouette. By the start of the 20th century, many Indian men began to wear complete English attire, including accessories like hats, pocket handkerchiefs, socks and shoes,” said Mayank, showing photographs of clothing cuts and styles popular in the 1910s.

Bespoke outfitters and tailoring units like Trevillion & Clark had to pay utmost attention to the smallest details. Adopting the latest cut, ensuring fabrics with a complimentary fall, double seams made of imported threads, and fashionable buttons made of gold, silver, porcelain, and ivory. 

“India had a 4,000-year-old history of producing textiles – mainly cotton. Then came the industrial revolution where large quantities could be made at much lower costs due to modern looms and spinning techniques. People in India began to adopt European fabrics, styles, and colours,” said Mayank Mohan. “At first, the European manufacturers were mainly producing wool fabrics, which became very popular for tailored men’s suits. For shirts, the more expensive silk came from France and those that cost slightly less came from Japan, China, and Bokhara. Tailoring shops like Trevillion & Clark would stock a variety of imported materials for winter and summer suits,” Mayank added.

To begin, men wore large dark suits in black, grey, and brown hues. But then came the checks and stripes. These were exclusive imported items, and hence they were expensive. Later, Lahore became a centre for weaving English checks  and plaids into woollen cloth.

Inclination toward marriage business 

A tailoring shop, a photography studio, a shoe shop, and a watch shop – all in one row along the mall road in Mussoorie – became a hub for men’s shopping requirements and attracted a lot of Europeans as well as rich Indians. The who’s who of British society as well as the upper Indian society visited the Trevillion & Clark shop. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Nawab of Pataudi, Clarks was a landmark fashion stopover. But as the time of independence came, Mrs and Mr Clark decided to leave India around 1947 and began to look for buyers for their establishments. 

“The Puranchand Agarwal family was based out of Meerut but they also owned a lot of land in Mussoorie. The extended family had various shops, cinema halls, and houses in this hill station. My great grandfather Lala Mohanlal ji knew that the Trevillion & Clark business had a great branding and loyal customer base and so it would be a good buy,” said Mayank Mohan.

The business changed hands and for a long time there was not much change in the style of functioning. However, legacy only gets you so far before you have to reinvent yourself if you want to grow your business.

Mohanlal Sons made a new beginning by being one of the first tailoring units to make women’s western coats. While the men’s fashions had changed tremendously to become more westernised – the women in India remained loyal to the Indian silhouette of saree and salwar kameez even till the 1960s. But slowly, the younger women turned to western cuts, and a mix of fashion became popular. It was largely cotton clothing in the summer season, but during the winter, Indian women actively turned toward western coats and jackets. 

With their extensive experience in men’s woollen materials and cuts – Mohanlal Sons could swiftly fill in the gap. Instead of dull black and brown, they created women’s coats in resplendent colours – rich red, lush green, and ripe burgundy, with embellishments on sleeves and cuffs. They created a choice of collars as well – chelsea, notched, winged, funnel, mandarin, and peter pan to match a variety of cuts in short and long women’s coats that could be worn with both western and Indian garments. 

One day, Mayank’s grandfather, Manmohan Agarwal, came to the shop and was told that the police had sealed off the entire Connaught Place market. Traffic from all sides was shut off and no customers were allowed to enter the area. Everyone was puzzled and thought perhaps there was some bomb scare or a terror threat. A few minutes later, then-Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga walked into the shop to buy some coats. These were days when the civil war was still underway and the Sri Lankan president was on a State visit to Delhi. She had taken some time out from hectic diplomatic parleys to buy herself a few coats. 

Fashion business is cyclical in nature. Trends which seem to have lapsed come back as showstoppers. The same seems to have happened at Mohanlal Sons. They were one of the first shops to initiate a change in men’s wardrobe from long coats or achkans toward the British way of dressing. 

But now driven by the marriage business, their mainstay again is long sherwanis, ethnic kurtas,  pajamas, and wedding turbans. The new luxury items again are to have the best fabrics with 60 to 160 count threads, fine Zardozi or silk cloth, and handmade work of dananalkibadkazari, sequins, and moti

The men of today are not shy to experiment with colours, and it’s now common for grooms to wear mustard, lilac, or even peach, which were strictly women’s domain earlier.

The big fat Indian wedding has led to a renewed boom in their business. “There is only one business in India that is recession proof – the marriage business. So, we have perched ourselves firmly on the marriage cart,” said Mayank with a smile, showing a recent picture of a grandfather, father, and the groom twinning in wine-coloured achkans from his atelier.



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