Meet Tanya Garg, A Visual Designer At Luxury Brand Shivan and Narresh

For Tanya Garg, working as a visual designer at Indian luxury holiday-wear brand, Shivan and Narresh, was an unimaginable possibility five years ago. Growing up, the Delhi-based 23 year old’s most obvious career path always seemed to involve her family business. 

However, Garg’s passion for fashion, meaningful imagery and design ultimately led her to pursue an unconventional course – Fashion Styling and Image Design at Pearl Academy. She hasn’t looked back ever since and is thrilled to be in an industry that has endless scope for growth, innovation and change. Garg hopes to be part of the generation of creatives who don’t just have conversations about size diversity, sustainability and fair pay – but actually produce mindful work and use the power of communication to demand long overdue social responsibility. This attitude is perfectly in sync with her future goal which focuses on introducing herself as a zero waste creative/professional.

I chat with Tanya to find out all about her journey as a a visual designer at Shivan and Narresh, what her role actually entails and a complete breakdown of the steps which go into creating the beautiful campaign images that grace our feeds. Read along for her interesting insights on the sort of the imagery and brand values that are bound to resonate with customers in a post-pandemic world.

Q.What does your role as a visual designer at Shivan and Narresh, specifically entail?

I report directly to the creative director and one half of the duo – Narresh. My role is to ideate, conceptualise and direct major editorial campaigns. Casting talents, building the right team of photographers, beauty professionals and stylists, location scouting and set design, are some of my major responsibilities. I also oversee the visual appeal of various marketing collaterals and social media campaigns, whilst contributing to graphic design for the same.

The favourite part of my job is the ability to creatively direct photoshoots and I especially enjoy the initial stage – brainstorming around unachievable ideas and doing the research to make them feasible. It’s never the same kind of work every day and I’m incredibly lucky to have found a brand where innovation is always appreciated and there’s a lot of creative freedom to play around with themes.

Tanya Garg, a visual designer at Shivan and Narresh
Tanya Garg, a visual designer at Shivan and Narresh

Q. Can you tell us what lead you to work at Shivan and Narresh?

I got associated with the brand through a collaboration opportunity that came my way in June 2019, right after graduation. The brief was to pitch an accessory campaign for S&N under the macro ideology of ‘Art of Holidays’. I worked with my classmate Drishti on the project, and we came up with the idea of linking escapism to travel- since it is essentially a break/escape from reality. The aim was to showcase their accessories in a fresh yet minimal way through breezy and fuss-free imagery, with elements from everyday life that momentarily transport us – to show travel without physically travelling. The brand had always shot their previous campaigns in exotic locations abroad, so this was an amazing chance to do something that hadn’t been done before.

The project was widely appreciated which led to more opportunities, such as the creative direction and styling of two collaboration photoshoots with Heads Up For Tails and Bent Chair. Just when we thought it’s time to say goodbye, we were offered the position of visual designers at the brand and of course, we jumped at the chance!

Campaign visuals from ‘Art Of Holidays’

Q. How would you describe your work and are there any personal favourite projects you’d like to share with us?

I don’t think my work has a particular style, but I find minimal content more visually appealing. A favourite project of mine would have to be my final degree project called ‘Stranger Faces’. It has a special place in my creative journey because the project was self-initiated as well as directed with no restrictions in terms of theme, so it truly allowed me to explore and experiment.

I compiled a research paper in the form of a coffee table book, look-book and fashion film, driven by the idea of self portraiture. The title ‘’Stranger Faces’ symbolises that over time, we forget who we truly are and what we actually look like, and our face becomes a stranger to us. This suggests that whilst being engrossed in trying to look a certain way to fit the ideal standards of beauty set by society, we let these strangers actually mirror us to become the way they please. We essentially distort our image to their liking.

Stills from Stranger Faces’ shoot that represents distorted beauty

My research book was compiled in the form of open work, inspired by Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal. In between the research and other illustrations, blank pages were inserted that instructed the reader to do something. For example: make a collage of all the photos where you think you look horrible, declutter your camera roll or take a photo of yourself from your worst possible angle and stick it here. The motive was to enable readers to introspect and undergo a journey of self-reflection while going through my research.

For the shoot, my initial idea was to use mirrors because they have always been so central to the idea of self-portraiture, vanity and self-expression – but when I was talking about distortion, a simple mirror just wouldn’t suffice. This is why I experimented with funhouse mirrors and mirror films which resulted in quirky disproportionate and strange reflections every time you looked into them. 

Experimental mirrors and quirky reflections formed the main component of the shoot

Q. Storytelling and creating powerful visuals, which stand apart from the tons of imagery that flood our social media platforms daily, can be considered a massive challenge. How do you ensure that your creative direction stands out?

I definitely want my creative direction to stand out but don’t feel that it’s at that stage yet. As of now, all I’m trying to do is learn something new with each project and work towards creating something thoughtful and powerful, these aspects are more important to me that uniqueness.

Having said that, I completely agree that we are flooded with tons of imagery which can cause comparison anxiety in people starting out, making them feel pressured to ‘think outside the box’ or ‘do something different’. I know I surely fall into this category, but over time I’ve realised that this overflow of visual content can also be used to my advantage. For instance, serving as inspiration, or perhaps as a guide to figure out what sort of work doesn’t resonate with you or something you don’t wish to produce.

Creative direction by Tanya Garg

Q. What is the process of designing a brand campaign like? Can you run us through it?  

The first step is to understand the brief and inspiration behind the collection which is going to be photographed. For example, you can’t talk or depict a sustainability factor in images of a collection surrounding PVC trousers. Therefore, it is essential to analyse the pieces in the collection thoroughly, including design, fabrics, silhouettes and the overall inspiration behind it. This brings you closer to recognising the mood and vibe of the garments. Once this basic information is ready, it’s helpful to brainstorm with visuals as well as keywords to work out an answer to – what should the images say when the viewer looks at them?

The next important decision is to come up with a concept, theme and vision for the campaign, which encompasses all aspects of production – collecting references for poses, frames, shots, compositions, backdrops, styling, hair, makeup and assembling a team of models, photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists who collectively bring the vision to life.

Bear in mind that even with the most detailed of plans, shoot days are often always a royal mess. Always remember to factor in various backup options, be quick on your feet and have a determined attitude to make things work by hook or crook.

Mujigay campaign for Shivan and Narresh

Q. Where do you look for inspiration and overcome creative blocks, if any?

Whenever I face a creative block, instead of trying too hard to find inspiration, I just let the situation be and take a break from work. Creative blocks are often just caused by being overworked and burnt out, so I think some relaxation and de-stressing is very important to feel rejuvenated again.

Self-reflection is another great quick-fix, because more often than not, we can find inspiration in past encounters, memories and experiences. I prefer watching Ted Talks and documentaries on topics I’m interested in, be it fashion-related or not. This helps me feel passionate and inventive again. Trust your creativity to flow in naturally and that ‘bing’ moment is bound to happen. For me, it’s strangely right before bed! 

Q. Visual designing is a relatively unique field to be pursuing as a career, especially in India. What drove you to take this up and did you ever face any pressure from society or your family circle to consider an alternative (or conventional) professional path?

The shift from fashion stylist to visual designer was so effortless that it never felt like I’m doing something entirely new. The transition was definitely in my favour, since the role of a visual designer equips you with project management skills and a direction-oriented outlook.

However, it was tough for my parents to support this path, particularly because they wanted me to join the family business.  It took them a while to see that I’m actually good at what I’m pursuing and can make a living out of it.  So whilst choosing a relatively unconventional career path has its share of struggles and criticism, it’s still worth it if you love what you do and enjoy the journey.

Q. Your career trajectory also includes working as a freelance stylist for a brief period. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Prior to starting a full-time job as the visual designer at Shivan and Narresh, I completed a few styling and creative direction projects with them, along with a styling gig for Doodlage. 

 Tanya’s styling gigs

Q. Freelancing comes with its share of struggles and uncertainty, how did you navigate through that and what was the biggest lesson you learnt?

Freelancing can seem very exciting as you’re dealing with new projects daily, but it undoubtedly requires a lot of patience and self- belief. It is an extremely unstable and dynamic work environment, especially when starting out. The hard truth is that very few brands reply to your emails and those are the moments when you have to make a decision – either let this shake your self-confidence or take it in your stride and continue on working to make your portfolio stronger.

Personally, I feel quite lucky to have gotten associated with Shivan & Narresh and consequently starting a job, especially a creative one in which I’ve never faced any sort of restrictions.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who is debating on whether to establish themselves as a freelancer or work for a long-term employer in India’s fashion industry?

I’d recommend freelancing only if one has the patience to wait around for results and keep working hard nonetheless. With immense competition around, it is difficult to stand out and get accepted by brands instantly. Keeping these challenges in mind, this path requires an open mind towards collaboration and self-initiated projects, along with a continuous focus on building a portfolio. Everybody should take the liberty to figure out what they are cut out for, it could be freelance, employment or a combination of both.

Q. How has the pandemic affected your work flow and routine structure?

The pandemic has changed the way we all live and work but personally I am not struggling to deliver. In fact, I think my productivity has increased at home. The only challenge that I sometimes face is to draw the line between home and work life, because with nowhere to go it becomes easy to bury myself in emails or projects and not dedicate enough time to unwind. This is something I’m hoping to change, through enrolling myself in interesting online courses and webinars.

Q. Retail and luxury are some of the worst affected sectors by Covid-19. Additionally, conversations around meaningful brand values, sustainability and wellness are growing. How do you think these factors will combine to encourage brands to adapt to a post-pandemic world and what sort of imagery/art direction do you predict will resonate with consumers the most?

I think the pandemic will finally slow down the fashion industry, forcing them to re-evaluate their way of working, business values, waste management, sustainability efforts, and production scale, amongst many other things. It’s likely that luxury houses will give going ‘season-less’ a thought and experience the long overdue changes that activists have been demanding since decades. With Gucci and Saint Laurent deciding to ditch the fashion calendar, I hope more pioneers will follow.

Fashion weeks around the globe will become digital, which will be a huge relief for the environment and the strain on resources it causes. I predict there will be reinvention and innovation in various aspects such as remodelling the retail environment and rising focus on e-commerce platforms. Digital brand presence has always been on the forefront but it is likely to matter even more in the coming days, as collaboration and audience interaction on social media gains popularity. Hosting live sessions, engaging in take-overs, and announcing contests are some steps, which might not translate into immediate sales for a brand, but could prove effective to engage with consumers in the current situation.

With regards to image-making and art direction, companies will have to be extremely sensitive and mindful. In a world where social distancing is the new normal, you can’t have an image showing ten models piled upon one another. Travelling to an exotic country or foreign destination for a photoshoot now comes with various risks and with many consumers cooped up at home it is better to focus on creating relevant empathetic content.

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