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The only Indian brand as part of Bayt Damas in Dubai: Sabyasachi Mukherjee on his latest Middle East venture

Dubai - India’s most sought-after designer finally has an outpost In Dubai (and not for his clothes). Sabyasachi Mukherjee takes us through his journey

By Sujata Assomull

Published: Mon 27 Sep 2021, 9:00 PM

He has a following of over 4.7 million on Instagram, has collaborated with French shoemaker Christian Louboutin, and most recently was invited to be a part of the iconic H&M fashion collaboration. We are, of course, talking about Kolkata’s Sabyasachi Mukherjee. The latest feather in his cap — to be the only Indian brand to be a part of the Bayt Damas in Dubai — the region’s first lifestyle destination dedicated to jewellery (other heavy-weights at the store include Graff and Mikimoto). A designer who tends to grant interviews only at these landmark moments, and refrains from being a part of trend stories, this Indian couturier is in a league of his own. His career has been one of immense highs, littered with a few controversies. The 47-year-old creator is never out of the fashion headlines in India, and now he has eyes on going global. And yes, Dubai is very much a part of his plan.

A New York state of mind

It was in 2002 at the Lakme India Fashion Week where India first took note of the designer from Kolkata. Where he presented 1999 NIFT Kolkata graduation collection, Kashgar Bazaar. Models carried books as accessories and wore beautiful mish mash of textile practices that were steeped in Indian traditions, however, many of silhouettes looked towards the West. It set the ball rolling for him to show at New York and Milan Fashion Week and iconic fashion stores, such as London’s multibrand boutique, Browns, in the early years of his career. (When he celebrated his 20th anniversary in 2019, he paid homage to this debut collection.)

As the designer began to understand the dynamics of the industry, he looked more to the domestic market and switched his “gear” to become the Badshah of bridal Indian fashion — Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Priyanka Chopra all got married wearing one of his couture ensembles. A very wise commercial move that gave him the canvas to display his admiration for India’s heritage of craftsman-ship. It led to Indian retail giant Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited acquiring a 51 per cent stake in Sabyasachi brand for INR398 crore earlier this year.

Having conquered India, he once again is focusing on the international market. His first stop will be America. “I’ve been hyper-focused on setting up my New York store, and with the pandemic, we’ve had to make a lot of changes to our calendar. But after my New York store opens early next year, I’ll definitely be looking at a flagship in Dubai next!” Until then, Bayt Damas is giving those who have not yet discovered Sabyasachi a peek into his eclectic maximalist world. From the Chintz-inspired wallpaper, mirrors, carpets, textile hangings, vases, books and other curiosities, it is like a mini Sabyasachi flagship store. Expect him to make a stop in the city very soon to visit his new out-post in Dubai. “India has never been just one story, each and every Indian — whether local or global — tells their own story their way. With the Indian diaspora, comes a rich, layered and textured narrative of perseverance and progress, struggle and success. The global Indian community has been part of the Sabyasachi community from the start and are some of my loudest champions, till date.”

Bling it on

At Bayt Damas, you find everything from travel-friendly trinkets with semi-precious stones to bridal-worthy statement neck-laces. “Jewellery can be worn as armor or adornment, to add a bit of whimsy or regal grandeur, an heirloom or totem, and so on— but at the heart of it, it’s a beautiful reflection of your personal style and your individual-ity,” says the designer. Of course, with the festive season coming up, ’tis the season to bling it on. Though Sabyasachi’s first love will always be fashion, he does feel that for the festive season, jewellery might be a smarter investment. “Traditionally, we used to only buy new clothes on or for occasions! But times have changed, we’ve seen consumption and over-consumption, and now it’s time for conscious consumption. To be more sustainable, Diwali could be the perfect day to wear the heirlooms that have been passed down the generations, or upcycle a vintage piece, or even rewear one of your bridal saris. And the more we move into conscious buying, Diwali could also become that one occasion for you to invest in something meaningful.”

The craft conflict

As someone who has always been an advocate for slow fashion, he also believes that fashion should be accessible to everyone. Known for his high price points, he collaborated with leading Swedish fast fashion brand H&M, making a price-friendly capsule called Wanderlust. Previous designers invited to be a part of this collaboration are Karl Lagerfeld, Giam-battista Valli and Jimmy Choo. While previous H&M limited edition collections have been sold in this region, this one was not available in this region. “Distribution was decided on by H&M, so this would be a question for them,” says Sabyasachi.

The mass-produced boho chic capsule was a riot of colours, digital chintz prints and predictable-yet-popular Indian motifs. Globally, there was much anticipation and excitement for this launch, it was a land-mark moment for South Asian fashion. The Indian media seemed disappointed with the collaboration and questioned how a designer so committed to crafts could work with a fast fashion brand with local artisanal organisations and wrote an open letter to the designer. “We are, therefore, deeply pained by the missed opportunity that ‘Wanderlust’ has been for artisan livelihoods. The publicity material implies that the range is connected with Indian craft. However, the range is not made by Indian artisans and with no visible benefit to them.” Consumers, however, were not concerned with these debates and the collection sold out within minutes in most markets. “I think we sometimes view collaborations through a rather myopic lens; and so, it’s easy to box this as a fast fashion high street global brand collaborating with a slow fashion artisanal luxury brand. I’ve always believed that authenticity comes from being true to who you are. I am not looking at becoming a fast fashion brand, but I am focused on becoming a global Indian design house. And this collaboration was the perfect opportunity for India, and for me to put ‘Designed in India’ on the global map.” He says he will an-nounce more collaborations that stay true to this mission.

Even Sabyasachi’s worst critics cannot take away the fact that he has understood what it takes to turn a fashion label into a fashion house, and now is poised to take his India story global.


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