Sabyasachi Mukherjee uses “fashion” almost like it’s a dirty word. That is ironic considering that the young designer has made a thriving enterprise of it. “Fashion plays on people’s insecurities,” he says, sitting on an antiquated settee in Carma—his newly-opened flagship in Delhi.
When Sabyasachi was invited to stock at the iconic fashion store six years ago, with the likes of Rohit Bal and Reena Dhaka, he was flabbergasted. Now he has landed a coup by having the store exclusively to himself. The store marks his foray into furniture and jewellery. There are also handcrafted zardozi jootis made of ostrich leather (which require a special permit). Two more flagships, in Kolkata and Mumbai, are set to open over December and January.
Timeless: The store’s decor is a throwback to the past. Sudhanshu Malhotra / Mint
Sabyasachi attributes his steady sales to the fact that his designs seldom subscribe to the cyclicity of the fashion world. “It’s disgusting to be told that something is ‘in and out’ every season. Why should anyone spend their hard-earned money on something that could well be a manufactured whim?”
Today, the 35 year-old is much-altered from the shy student who made the fashion world take notice when he graduated from NIFT Kolkata in 1999. After having wooed his clientele with textured fabrics and plush palettes, the designer has picked a new hat: The astute businessman. Walking through his store, he spouts consumer theories, deconstructing his success with the quiet ease of a man who knows he’s made it.
His clothes, he believes, sell because of their timelessness and repeatability. But complaints come in equal measure. He’s often been told that he’s been doing the Anarkali cut forever. Customers who come in and say that they want to buy his sarees because the “kanjeevaram is old-fashioned” also irritate him. The Anarkali will always be one of his staples, he insists. “That cut has been around for centuries. Who gets to decide that it should die now?”
He points to two kinds of consumers—the woman who buys him purely because of his label (or because he is expensive enough) and the woman who shops at his store the same way she’d shop at a handicraft fair “because she likes what she sees”. Sadly, he says, the first kind is still his primary buyer. “Fashion labels function as a security blanket for those with low self-esteem,” he says.
But the vintage lover is forward-looking as well. Early next year, Sabyasachi will curate a line of woven sarees—everything from chanderis and paithans from Maharashtra to kantha and dhakai from Bengal—at his store. The Sabyasachi branding will only be in the packaging: 1920’s handpainted Italian biscuit tins. Apart from a generic bent towards Sabyasachi’s trademark colours, deep reds and purples, the sarees themselves will not be tampered with. “I’m very happy to borrow from someone better than me rather than trying to show my individuality by attempting something rubbish.” That surely is grown-up talk.
FOR THE LONG HAUL
Ten essentials for the Indian woman’s wardrobe:
A pair of jootis, a woven saree in silk and one in cotton, your mother’s wedding saree, a neutral street-style batua, a handwork dupatta, a pair of ornate Indian earrings, an edgy “folksy” choli, full-length printed skirt, basic churidar.