# Old is new
While many product designers would claim to be forward-looking, one New Delhi-based designer looks avidly to the past. With her unique new furniture company, Wrap Art & Design, Gunjan Gupta, 33, seeks out the best in traditional art and craft techniques to recreate them in a contemporary medium.
On the surface: Gunjan Gupta plays with reflections on her chair
Gupta says she has always been fascinated with traditional handicrafts and India’s rich design heritage. However, as an interior designer in New Delhi, she saw a dearth of contemporary, original design.
“What’s available (on the furniture market) is a lot of imported furniture, or copies of Western furniture made locally,” she says, in the sleek warehouse that houses her design studio in South Delhi. “What I didn’t see was a lot of originality, or an engagement with indigenous skills.”
In 2004, Gupta decided she wanted more creative input than interior designing allowed for, and left India to pursue a master’s degree at Central St Martins College of Art & Design in London. She decided her focus would be on rectifying the absence of an Indian perspective in design.
Her first experiments began with gold- and silver-leafing. After researching it, she decided to revive the silver wrapping technique used in throne decoration. “It is an ancient craft, which I have contemporized.”
She worked closely with the artisans, learning the leafing process. But, rather than using traditional furniture forms, she chose to experiment with strong, geometric shapes, based partly on Art Deco design.
The combination of gold reflecting onto silver on very angular surfaces creates a sensual glow that is hard to take your eyes off of. “It is not necessarily a piece of furniture you want to recline on. And the art is not so much mine, but the skill of the artisan, the uniqueness of it.”
When Gupta exhibited her line at the highly acclaimed design show 100% Design in London, she instantly became noted for her radical designs and traditional techniques.
The past year has seen a whirlwind of critical acclaim for her work. On the heels of 100% Design, Gupta was invited to present at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Swarovski hired her for a crystal project due in January 2008. Aston Martin, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Sotheby’s have all shown interest in working with her. Private collectors abroad and in India, such as hotelier Anupam Poddar, have commissioned her work for their homes.
Recently, the British Council named her the Indian Young Design Entrepreneur of 2007, saying: “Gunjan has identified a future for Indian craft in the contemporary context, clearly articulated and executed to high quality. The products are themselves incredibly evocative and beautifully produced.”
She has now begun to explore other areas of craftsmanship, particularly with stone carvers. “I am very interested in the craft. It means working with materials which are not your everyday materials for furniture, but it is very sustainable work.”
Her products start at around Rs70,000, and go upwards depending on the commission.
Gupta is proud of her work, “We’re delving back, recycling traditions.”
# Maximum heritage
Four years ago, Vikram Goyal and his sister Divya envisioned a home accessory store with a mission: Take traditional craft and contemporize it. However, what had seemed simple fell apart when it was put into practice.
“We had no knowledge base. It was difficult to get suppliers, we couldn’t find supplies,” recalls Goyal. So, Goyal switched to searching for rare items around South-East Asia and packaging them for the luxury home market.
Finally, a year ago, Goyal decided he was ready to start making his designs through traditional craft methods. With craftsmen in South India, Gujarat and Rajasthan, Goyal started to forge coffee tables with intricate mother-of-pearl inlays, gold-leafed sculptures modelled after Mughal inkpots, and candle holders modelled after traditional door frames in old Delhi architecture.
“This is where we always wanted to be at,” Goyal says. “We wanted to do Indian Modern, using Indian craft to create something contemporary.”
This is not Goyal’s first time selling India. He began with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, working for Morgan Stanley, marketing India to global investors before the country was a fashionable economic choice.
When he moved back to India seven years ago, ready to start his own business, Goyal ventured into cosmetics with a contemporary line of ayurvedic products called Kama Ayurveda. “We took something indigenous and used international design, packaging and design principles,” Goyal says. “It’s now in 160 stores across India and we supply to the Oberoi and Park hotels.”
The same principle spurred Goyal on to start Viya Home in New Delhi. Though he didn’t train as a designer, he says he has an innate love for putting things together, and that his sense of colour and proportion have grown strong.
While most Indian designers over the past few years have stuck to minimalism, Goyal’s products—both of his own design and sourced—are unapologetically opulent. Take, for instance, the marble-topped, gold-leafed stools based on rosewater sprinklers. Or the 5ft sculpture of a traditional Bengali bridegroom’s headgear (see picture). His pieces, which are in the price range of around Rs5,000 to Rs1 lakh, draw from traditional craftsmanship and forms. He finds inspiration in Indian forms such as the lotus flower or the hookah.
He sees the tide of interior design turning back his way. “Everyone was going minimal, minimal, minimal. But they’re all looking like the lobby of the Grand Hyatt. And I think there’s a shift now towards things that have history, texture, form.”
His challenges ahead will be to find new craftspeople and attract the high-end Indian luxury market. “People here will spend thousands of rupees on Italian marble or Italian accessories,” Goyal says. “We’re trying to give them Indian substitutes. We have a rich, if not richer, heritage to offer.”