‘There are more important things in life than fashion’

SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE, known as the ‘Hermes of India’ and ‘King of Kolkata Couture’, moves around in the higher echelons of the glamorous and glitzy world of fashion but is surprisingly untouched by it all.

By Vijaya Sukumar (Contributor)

Published: Wed 18 Jun 2008, 12:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:18 PM

On the contrary Sabyasachi is disillusioned by the superficiality in the world of fashion and revels in his middle class upbringing that has kept him grounded and close to life’s realities. His unique and indigenous designs have won him rave reviews across the globe and he has the distinction of being the only Indian designer to be invited to showcase at the Milan Fashion week 2004 and has been voted by Asia Inc, a Singapore based business magazine as one of the ten most influential Indians in Asia.

His label sells worldwide in countries like U.S.A, Kuwait, UAE, Switzerland, Russia and U.K. amongst others. He describes his collections as ‘an international styling with an Indian soul.’ Sabyasachi was in Dubai for the inauguration of two brand new concept stores Rivoli Silks and the region’s first Bombay Dyeing store at Zabeel Road. Bombay Dyeing is India’s first textile brand to collaborate with leading designers Sabyasachi and Wendell Rodericks to offer high-end lifestyle products.

Sabyasachi’s first bed and bath collection for Bombay Dyeing was a huge success and he is now launching his second collection titled Bombay Dyeing Sabyasachi Tao Collection, a line inspired by the mystique of the Orient and simplicity of Taoism. Exotic and extravagant, the collection has Taoist art motifs set in an eclectic colour palette exuding royalty and opulence.

The extremely articulate and intellectual designer spoke to City Times at length about his views on creativity, the hollowness in the fashion world and his collections.

On diversifying into home furnishing

Personally I think for most people a career is like a marriage once you get into it you don’t want to explore beyond it, you take it for granted.

The downside of being successful is that you stagnate and the lateral mobility of creativity is very high. If today creativity is a more aesthetic process, with technical help you can do far more things beyond furnishings, you can even design cars for instance. I love tex tiles; I started off with jewellery and furnishings before I got into fashion. So when Bombay Dyeing came up to me with a proposal for my own home linen it was like a perfect brand extension because it is close to something which I do.

His collection for Bombay Dyeing

When I first started with Bombay Dyeing we mutually decided that it would be an extension of what I really stood for. What I really stood for is colours, a crazy mix and match of cross cultural influences and prints. My bed linen collection includes the Bombay Dyeing Sabyasachi Art and Kitsch collections. I used a lot of ethnic prints from all over the world from Kazhakastan, Uzbek, Transylvania or India.

It’s more like a traveloguebased collection of different prints from all over put together. I started offering four pillows which were a mix and match variety.

Though it is a mass market product women should be allowed to customise their houses so depending on how you arrange your pillows you still get a unique bed. At some point of time I will offer separates to people you buy a bedsheet, your own choice of pillowcases and make your own beds so basically I am allowing the housewife to become a designer herself.

The growing consciousness for dressing up the home

When there is disposable income you want to spend it and now because of the burgeoning economy in India there is the real rise of the upper middle class. That segment wants to flaunt their money, whether in the form of clothes, bags, footwear or homes because people are becoming more social and I think a home is the best way to flaunt your status. Hence there is this big propensity to dress up your home in designer wear.

His views on the fashion world

I think I am a little too intelligent to belong to the fashion industry to begin with and it’s not the fashion industry that bothers me, because it is a serious business. Especially in India it creates a lot of employment for people at grass root levels. What bothers me is this entire obsession with fashion, there are more important things in life than fashion. With fashion and films we tend to be a little more egocentric; we don’t believe in a world outside ours. For us catastrophe is when five metres of fabric don’t arrive on the table. Fashion was moving away from reality into a zone of unreal existence which was bothering me but thankfully now I am doing a lot of other more meaningful things.

Sometimes servicing the top end of the market does stagnate the mind. You are totally out of touch with what’s happening around you.

When I speak to some friends for them their world revolves around whether their child is getting good grades and here we are thinking about which woman to dress. Fashion has to exist within a socio-economic-political space and when there is so much happening in the world fussing over an evening gown or a pair of Jimmy Choo footwear is not my idea of existence.

The idealism has changed; I love creativity but this entire obsession to fit into a certain school to arrive in society is something that I have stopped believing in.

On using traditional techniques of kantha, bandhini, gota, bagru etc in his collections

We are in a zone of information technology, we have more information than we need, sms’es have destroyed relationships, and the world is becoming closer. Luxury I believe is whatever is rare and today naturalism is rare.

Very rarely do I find women who don’t colour their hair and to me that is luxury.

Everybody is botoxed; it is like the entire world is being morphed by human beings.

Five years ago I knew that at some point of time people will start tiring of technology and they will start yearning for naturalness. One of the reasons I started doing Indian things was because the world was becoming too techno savvy. India has so much of hand made resources and passion to offer in terms of textiles. At some point of time I am going to start an organic label almost on the lines of Fabindia - that’s been my dream. Almost every designer has this dream of being reviewed by Suzy Menkes of International Herald Tribune. Recently in Mumbai she reviewed my collection and she said ‘In a world full of cookie cutter collections where everything looks the same, it’s nice to see Sabyasachi’s clothes because it reminds you of the earth.’

On his collections having unusual names like ‘The Frog Princess’ ‘The Snail’ , and ‘The Nair Sisters’

I think that’s the filmmaker in me. I have grown up reading a lot and my favourite author is Rabindranath Tagore who said, ‘you walk around the world looking for beauty, rarely do you know when you come back home it is lying on your doorstep on a little dewdrop on a blade of grass right next to you.’ For me fashion has always been like that - I don’t need to go to Tibet or Egypt to look for inspiration. Inspiration comes from various sources.

‘The Nair Sisters’ collection was based on the Srinivasan sisters who used to stay next-door. They used to ride bicycles dressed in their father’s shirts worn with pavadas or skirts. I was 10 or 11 at that time and that image remained with me. I kept thinking of those sisters in their dowdy shirts, big skirts, black rimmed glasses and oiled hair. So this beautiful memory was converted, Westernised and created into a collection.

‘The Snail’ was my protest against technology. While everybody was looking for lighter options in fabrics and faster production ‘The Snail’ was entirely hand made, hand printed, hand dyed, textured so it took a long time to make the collection. Everything was looking so digitised, morphed and the same everywhere - it was almost looking like a botoxed version of Pamela Anderson everywhere. There was no real woman inside so ‘The Snail’ was my protest to that. ‘Frog Princess’ was about superficiality in fashion, it happened because my sister was suffering from slight anorexia and I was questioning the fact as to why do we have to be constantly under pressure to be accepted into society. We have this apathy towards large hips so this entire collection was about big skirts with larger hips it was about people who don’t need to conform to a certain section of society. It has always been about what I have seen or felt, that’s why those names come.

On the role of real women in fashion

The reason I have stopped believing in fashion is because it has started promoting and creating a very unhealthy and unreachable atmosphere. You are constantly creating an image.

People are realising that fashion is like a disciplinarian school where you are constantly made to stand and sit, today this is in and that is out. There is a proverbial carrot being dangled in front of you all the time, you are running to reach it but never reach it. It creates a lot of unhealthiness that is not needed. Today people who inspire me are those who do not follow fashion, people who are so much their own person that they don’t need a Gucci handbag or a Chanel glasses to say to someone in society that I have arrived.

For me style is a woman who is 5ft 1 and wears flats to a party; she does not want to wear killer heels to prove anything to anyone. She is comfortable being who she is and that kind of assertion is important in fashion and sometime soon we will get real women on the ramp.

Movies and future plans

I did costumes for three films - Black, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Baabul.

Right now I’m working on a script on a Tagore film, a short story. Once I finish the script I will start directing the movie, hopefully by 2010.

It will be in Hindi as I want it to reach out to a wider audience but probably it will be an art house film from what it’s shaping out to be. Then I want to start doing jewellery as I love traditional Indian jewellery. I definitely want to start an affordable prêt line which will be for everyone not just the elite.

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