RUBINA’S RADAR | THE SABYASACHI INTERVIEW

Sabyasachi is India’s most exalted fashion designer, and he knows that. But he’s not lost to his own nous in vanilla vanities and egotism, with the veneration around his fashion métier. Sabyasachi the person, remains grounded, but Sabyasachi the brand, has taken flight, kissing open skies, with the launch of Sabyasachi Jewelry on October 22, 2019 in Mumbai. Sabyasachi Jewelry is his first standalone jewelry store in the country, located three flights up from the Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing store in Kala Ghoda. His bridal collections have played the role of a bride’s confidant for two odd decades, but his jewelry, in his own words, has turned Sabyasachi into a girl’s best friend today. His business smarts have expanded the realms of his brand rather successfully as his couture loyalists can’t quite get enough of the bejeweled lust box he’s opened up. They’re now seeking appointments for couture and carats, both.
gettyimages-1194484606-2048x2048Life-sized giraffes, fresh red roses, vintage artefacts, armoires and furniture in brass and solid wood, glimmering chandeliers, floral carpets, velvet drapes, tchotchke, conversational wall art in Hindi and Arabic alongside his framed jewelry sketches, with Chinese, African and Indian art and design collectibles make up the grandiloquent design speak of the store. In the artistic polarity of it all, the pièce de résistance are the gleaming emeralds, sapphires and rubies that seem to be telling stories of empresses and emperors of sovereign worlds gone by. Lilting American soul plays in the background at Sabyasachi Jewelry, which is in sharp contrast to the melancholic strains of Indian music that waft through his Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing stores across India. Invoking nostalgia is the couturier’s masterstroke, and it works.
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Edging steadily onto the global playing field with heterogeneous collaborations with Christian Louboutin (Paris) in 2015, Pottery Barn (USA) in 2016, L’oreal Paris (France) in 2018 and Thomas Goode (UK) in 2019, Sabyasachi is an insatiable man, who seeks immortality through his work. In a world where commitment is precious luxury, he’s the only Indian designer to have committed fans – a hallowed dominion so far reserved for Bollywood and cricket personalities in India. Sabyasachi can neither play cricket nor act, though at best, he thinks he’s a good mimic. And he is indeed.

Rubina A Khan converses with Bengal’s very own tiger, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, at Sabyasachi Jewelry in Mumbai:

The opening of Sabyasachi Jewelry is a portentous moment in Indian jewelry history. How are you feeling?
I feel relieved as the store is finally done – it took us about eight months to, actually not to do the store, but to collect everything, all the collectibles because I wanted Sabyasachi Jewelry to look like a modern museum…a bit of Indian art and craft, a bit of global craft, furniture from all over the world. We had a 16-foot Ming vase that had to hoisted up into the store through a crane as it couldn’t come through the elevator or the staircase. And I was very worried that it would break. It’s a very fragile, temperamental store. And I’m glad that the grand end worked out.
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What attracted you towards the business of making jewelry in an economy where clothing giants are shutting shop globally due to slack sales?
I have a theory that when the economy is down, people do what is called smart shopping – they don’t shop in depth; they shop in width, which means they buy new things. But they shop in exceptional width, which means they will buy something that is really important and something that is spectacular and I think my jewelry brand, Sabyasachi Jewelry has all of that to offer people.
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Are successful luxury brands like Sabyasachi Calcutta immune to the economical slowdown? Or do you think inherent brain genius and strategic marketing can override anything?
You know when there is a slowdown, like I said, people don’t stop spending money, they’re just careful about how they spend it.  And if you give exceptional value to them, no amount of marketing bullshit is going to help you override a failing economy. But if you give your customer great value and a unique, bespoke product, you will be able to convince them to spend their money.
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What made you invest your mind, and your own money into this opulent jewelry store?
When you sell important things, you have to give your customers respect. I think today, shopping for something that will stay with you probably for the rest of your life, because jewelry is not really perishable, the experience needs to also leave an indelible impression in your mind. It needs to create a beautiful experience, full of wonderment, that you’ll never forget. When you’re shopping for weddings or special occasions, where you shop and how you shop is as important as what you shop.
gettyimages-1194525486-2048x2048Do you have a favourite stone yet for your jewelry?
I love sapphires, yellow sapphires because old Indian jadau jewelry used to made with pukhraj, even white sapphires for that matter. I love rose cut diamonds – I love mutual cuts (old mine cuts) they are not brilliant cuts, so they have a little bit of softness and warmth in them – rounded and beautiful and soft. I don’t like jewelry with too much bling and shine as it takes the personality out of the jewellery. As us Indians have brown skin, I hate diamonds set in white gold because I think Indian people need warmth because it makes your face glow. When you wear diamonds set in white gold it makes your face ashen, but when you wear diamonds, actually mutual diamonds, which are slightly more softer, set in yellow gold, not rose gold… it just gives you that old world, rounded beauty. I think the problem with jewellery and stones in India is that people just want to blindly ape a tradition that has been created by the West and they don’t really buy what looks good on them. So if you ask me, I prefer stones with warmth that’s why I like sapphires. I don’t like the rubies that you find in the market right now, because once you start liking Burmese rubies, not even pigeon blood, the pomegranate color with a slight brown tinge in it, it’s like having good wine. It’s a one-way education and once you get exposed to good things in life, there’s no turning back.
gettyimages-1194495289-2048x2048Do you sketch your pieces like your clothes?
Absolutely. You can’t make mistakes with jewelry, but what I also do is that I keep my sketches in my jewelry very organic. A lot of jewelry is completely dependent on produce. When I make jewelry, I don’t assemble the piece till the last moment because there’s always a little tweaking, which I call the ‘Sabyasachi tweaking’ that I like to do. I’d love to combine emeralds which are expensive with aquamarines and turquoise, same color family, but with a huge difference in prices, or I’d like to put rock crystals and diamonds, which is a little unheard of, with white sapphires, all together because beautiful jewelry is also about audacity and courage. Otherwise you’re just one of the pack and that doesn’t interest me.

What is the most desirable piece of jewellery in the store? And what does this desirable piece of art sell at?
Desirable always doesn’t have to be very expensive. I am not a jewellery person – but it’s something that I would wear – it’s an old pendant, an old mutual cut diamond pendant with a single line of basra pearls and it’s not very expensive – it about INR 9.5 lakh, but it’s just so delicious and evolved. It’s like a character that comes without a pedigree, but someone that you’d love to marry and take back home because it’s just so special.
gettyimages-1194491248-2048x2048Are diamonds still a girl’s best friend?
Rubina, ask the ladies. Many of them tell me Sabya is a girl’s best friend.

How does it feel to be the biggest Indian designer brand, and perhaps the only one to succeed on the global playing field?
I don’t know if I am the most influential or the most popular, but I just know that I am onto something big in my life and I will work very hard till that dream comes true.

If you ever sought outside investment, what would be the reason for you to do so? Strategy. I would never pick up investment for money because I think the business generates enough cash-flow for us to be able to fund ourselves for the next 20 years and grow. But, I am not going to be there forever, so I want to consolidate this business in such a way that it lives far beyond my lifetime. Nandana Sen had given me an issue of Vogue for my birthday, a 1920 issue I think… 150 odd pages and the only name I recognised in it was Tiffany and I realised that in 100 years, so many brands have come and gone, and I don’t want that to happen to my brand. I love the way Chanel has been built beyond Coco Chanel’s lifetime and I think that I’ll find my own Karl Lagerfeld along the way who’s going to take the business from me, to future generations.
gettyimages-1194478437-2048x2048You’ve reached a stage where your creativity is not dependent or driven by money anymore. So what makes you chase the next new collaboration or expand your revenues streams with your creative energies?
I want to grow the business in such a way that it can help consolidate craft and create a lot of employment, and also probably help communities and enable us make the world a better place to live in. The beautiful thing about being in design is the fact that you create tremendous positive inspiration for people; you create hope. Beautiful design makes people happy and there’s a big debate about whether so much is necessary or not, but I think as long as you can create a brand that inspires people to become better versions of themselves, you should keep growing and that’s how I want to grow Sabyasachi Calcutta.

You’re the dream couture designer, definitely in India. Having seen so many blushing brides and grooms, do you know what the color of love is? Or what it even feels like?
Well, they say that the color of love is Sabaysachi red but I am just being arrogant! But I’ll you, I am personally touched by love every day of my life because I am a very positive person. Love does not have to come from one person. It can come from everything that you touch and everything you do and everything that I imbibe around me. I am a very loved person is all I’ll say.
gettyimages-1194480317-2048x2048Would you describe yourself as a ruthless businessman who loves the arts but is uninhibited and unabashed about stating and claiming his creative price?
I don’t know if I would call myself ruthless, but I would probably call myself exacting. And when you call yourself exacting, a lot of people label you ruthless. I wouldn’t have it any other way actually, because for me, if I have to do something I have to do it well or I wouldn’t do it at all. There’s no price to my creativity – I would do something for you if I was inspired enough to do it. Money is inconsequential for me, but of course, the money that we charge, if it helps us create something that can build a larger community or create bigger businesses that employ more and more people, it’s very exciting. For a lot of people who think that because I make such lavish clothing and jewels, truth be told, I wear a lot of simple clothes. A lot of my clothes actually come from Uniqlo. Money is just a number for me and it feels great to make money, because in many ways it is a marker of success. But I don’t do things for money. I do things for growth – tangible and intangible. And intangible growth is far more important to me.
gettyimages-1194477822-2048x2048Given your heart and soul are not for sale by what you just said, what would you sell your brain for?
I’d sell my brain for a minority stake at Apple or a majority stake at Amazon!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2019

RUBINA’S RADAR | A VERY FASHIONABLY YOURS APRIL

India’s couturier extraordinaire, Sabyasachi’s nonpareil fashion métier makes him an exalted being in the world of fashion. Today, the enviable designer ceases to be just about khaki, silks, embroidery, jewellery and his L’Oréal Paris x Sabyasachi Calcutta (a non-negotiable term when it came to his historic collaboration) makeup line. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, of the eponymous label Sabyasachi, is a vibe, and a very desired one at that.

NEW DELHI, NEW DELHI – MARCH 04: Indian fashion designer and couturier extraordinaire, Sabyasachi, opened his first flagship store in the capital, and his fourth in the country, spread over 13,500 square feet with two separate wings housing bespoke bridal wear, jewellery and accessories for women and men at Kutub Serai, Mehrauli on March 5, 2016 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

From Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma and cricketer Virat Kohli’s wedding in Tuscany in 2017 to Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh’s ceremonies in Lake Como in 2018 to Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ coupling in Jodhpur in 2018 to the Ambani twins – Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal in Udaipur in 2018 to Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta in Mumbai in 2019, the fashion artistry at all these extravagant weddings was designed and orchestrated by Sabyasachi. In a country where bridal wear, our equivalent of the West’s haute couture, is of supreme importance when it comes to the big spend, all these celebrated brides and grooms from diverse worlds of film, sport, music and business wanted Sabyasachi to “do” their clothes and jewellery on their big day. And that’s saying a lot because there certainly is no dearth of designers doing bridal collections in India. For someone who is on a no-sugar health plan, he sure is taking the biggest bite from giant wedding laddoos, India’s sweetest business!

Sabyasachi celebrates 20 years of his fashion story this year, with Kashgaar Bazaar – a runway presentation, in collaboration with the world’s most famous red-soled cobbler, Christian Louboutin on April 6th in Mumbai. The fashion extravaganza has international guests flying down especially for it and it’s already blowing up everyone’s minds with expectations of Sabyasachi’s grandiloquent style. Mumbai’s temperatures are soaring, but the anticipation of what Sabyasachi’s bringing to the city in April is taking it to another level of fashion heat!

NEW DELHI, INDIA – JULY 29: Indian fashion designer and couturier, Sabyasachi checks in on models and last minute fittings just before his opening show for the Fashion Design Council of India’s (FDCI) Amazon India Couture Week 2015. Sabyasachi and Lebanese shoe designer Christian Louboutin collaborated on the couture line together with his famous red-soled shoes adding glamour to the shimmering regality of the couturier’s designs at the Taj Palace Hotel on July 29, 2015 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

Pharrell Williams makes the world a very happy place with his music, but he wants to make it happier with his fashion and design aesthete with a colourful collection for Parisian fashion house, Chanel. Williams is the first ever guest designer for the fashion house, having collaborated on it with the late Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s creative director for 36 years. It was Lagerfeld who named the collection Chanel Pharrell.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: Pharrell Williams arrives at the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

To coincide with the launch at Chanel’s flagship in Seoul, Korea on Friday, March 29, the Grammy winning artiste released a behind-the-scenes video of the collection. In it, the multihyphenate talks about gender-fluidity, meeting Karl Lagerfeld and the importance and influence of the number 5 in the collection as well as Akira and motorcycle gangs.

Yellow bathrobes, brightly-colored hoodies and embroidered graffiti sweatshirts, terry-cloth bucket hats, sunglasses, T-shirts, opulent diamond jewellery and the double C bags make up the Chanel Pharrell collection, dedicated to both men and women. And, sneakers with hand-drawn text and doodles, but of course, and loafers and sliders. After the Seoul launch, the complete Chanel Pharrell collection releases worldwide on April 4.

A very fashionably yours April indeed!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2019