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!

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©Rubina A Khan 2019

Rohit Bal Launches His First Home Collection & Apparel Line, Husn-E-Taairaat With Good Earth

Rohit Bal’s fashionable silhouette cuts through his own luminosity of an evolving design métier, with a celestial force that is quintessentially maximalist like him. India’s irrefragable and original master couturier, appositely so, has designed a luxurious home décor and apparel line for Good Earth, an indigenously Indian design house like his own eponymous label, called the Husn-E-Taairaat collection that launched in Mumbai today. Not only can you wear the designer now, but also drink, eat, admire, entertain and sleep in Bal with his exquisitely designed tableware, vases, scarves, espresso and tea service sets and more from this jewel-toned capsule collection.

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The original master couturier Rohit Bal

ROHIT BAL:

How did the Husn-E-Taairat Home and Apparel collaboration come about with Good Earth?
I’ve always known that if I designed a home décor line, it would only be with Good Earth, India’s leading design house, simply because it’s a beautiful and aesthetic match of our sensibilities. It was either this or designing a home line for my own store. Home décor is virgin terrain for me, and a completely new and exciting category that I have stepped into with my design métier with Good Earth. My Husn-E-Taairaat (which means ‘beauty of a bird’ in Persian) collection for Good Earth is a reinterpretation of the themes that inspired my 2015 couture line, that was a tribute to the rich crafts of Persia that drew parallels with renaissance and post-impressionism art movements, in the form of a fine home décor and a capsule fashion line. It’s a juxtaposition of my thoughts, influences, art affiliations and a deep, personal love for Indian textiles and the collection celebrates the beauty of wildlife, birds and flowers. The signature motifs of this collection are inspired by vintage Pichwai paintings, one of the most intricate styles of Indian temple art hailing from Rajasthan. The apparel collection in Habutai silk resonates a contemporary aesthetic, with modern silhouettes and a relaxed style, which is very Good Earth. Together, we have beautifully captured my maximalist style and nature inspired motifs in a gorgeous set of home art collectibles accentuated by Good Earth’s rich design language and technical creation expertise.

How easy or difficult was it re-imagining your couture line into Cushions, Espresso and Tea Sets, Tapas Plates, Glasses, Trinket Trays and Vases?
There are a multitude of common inspirations in my work and that of Good Earth’s – most importantly a common love for nature, wildlife, decorative arts and crafts and the need for reviving and preserving indigenous fabrics and techniques. This enabled us to work with an inspired and synergized design language, without losing our individual design essence that is clearly visible in our capsule collection. It was a joy to create a line of exclusive collectibles and select accent pieces for home décor and dining. We have used detailed hand decoration of artwork decals and placement of motifs on fine bone china, ceramic and glass, accentuated with 24 carat gold and platinum. Vibrant shades of royal blue and jade are offset with creams and natural tones to bring this collection to life. Again, all the products feature my signature motifs – multi-colored lotuses, long-tailed birds like peacocks, fruits, beauty, nature, wildlife, flora and fauna. There is a very limited range of pieces in both, home décor and apparel. The collection features less than ten unique styles and pieces and some of the pieces are very few in number, for example the tall vase which is really special, and we have only made three of the same.

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Husn-E-Taairaat home collectibles

What are price points for the Rohit Bal Husn-E-Taairaat line?
The collection ranges from gifts starting at $85 (AED 310 approximately) to limited pieces that go upwards of $1500 (AED 5500 approximately).

Who will this designer home collection appeal to and why?
This collection will appeal to young, urban, tasteful millennials around the world, including Dubai of course, looking for everyday luxury and a slice of Rohit Bal, presented in Good Earth’s signature style and that too at very attractive price points. This line has been designed with a strong focus on individual, stand-out pieces and not complete product sets, making it highly versatile and immensely appealing to a wide variety of age groups and home settings.

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Rohit Bal & Simran Lal of Good Earth

SIMRAN LAL:

How is it that a 20-year old indigenous Indian brand like yours did not collaborate with Rohit Bal earlier on and now that you have, why him?
Gosh it’s sometimes hard to believe that myself that Good Earth turns 21 in January 2017! I can’t imagine what life was like before Good Earth and where we shopped ourselves. We’ve never gone out strategically seeking or courting collaborations. It’s always been an organic process for us – a natural extension of conversations about shared inspirations and style and that is how the Rohit Bal Husn-E-Taairaat collection came about right after his 2015 couture collection. There’s a natural synergy between Good Earth and Rohit Bal. We share a commitment to craft traditions, a passion for Persian art and culture and love of nature. Being Kashmiri, Rohit has an understanding and deep reverence for flowers and wildlife, all of which are at the heart of our design vocabulary and language. We also share an audience, but for different occasions, and that makes this collaboration particularly exciting. Good Earth is known for everyday luxury and thoughtful gifts while Rohit Bal couture is aspired to for milestone occasions. So we thought it would be fun to make his couture collection relevant in an everyday context. The collaboration with Rohit has been a very enriching experience and I’m sure this association will continue for a very long time.

When will the Husn-E-Taairaat line be available to purchase online, particularly in Dubai and the Middle East?
The collection will be available Nov 21st onwards on http://www.goodearth.in and we ship to over 50 countries, including Dubai and the Middle East. However, for limited edition pieces like the tall vase, which we only have 3 pieces of, one can make the purchase by emailing us directly. Given the Rohit Bal design history and extraordinary demand, we expect the Husn-E-Taairaat collection to go down extremely well in Dubai and the Middle East, which has always shown a penchant for our classic and decorative design aesthetic.

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Husn-E-Taairaat apparel and home collectibles

What is your favorite part of the Rohit Bal Good Earth collection?
We are bringing a quintessentially Rohit Bal ‘look’ to home décor with his maximalist style with our maker expertise with quality, pattern play and gift ideas. There is also a charming high tea service. We’ve never done one in such a crepuscular palette and now I wonder why! It’s so rich and opulent in jewel tones and hand decorated with glimmering 24-carat gold accents. It’s very festive and very Rohit Bal and I love it. My favorite hostess gift for the season would be the jewel glass candles with a heady tuberose fragrance. In the apparel collection, I think my first buy is going to be the jacket. Maybe it’s just the weather, but I love the versatility of this statement apparel piece that can be styled with saris, dresses, pants and farshis alike.

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on November 12, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016