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Sabyasachi: From footpaths to palaces

In a candid conversation with Asmita Aggarwal, fashion designer, jewellery designer and couturier from Kolkata, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, opens up about his early struggles and reveals his lockdown diary

There are some things that no one knows about you. They are your best-kept secrets.

Like Sabyasachi, now a star, once designed a range of furnishings for Bombay dyeing which became an instant hit; it had reversible cushions in clashing prints. But this was the time when he wasn’t well-known and received nominal remuneration. Little did people know that his company would surpass even established ones.

“I just took a lot of risks, had no investment from anyone. Everything is self-created by me. And it involves long hours of hard work and almost no personal life,” he laughs.

No one also knows that he sold costume jewellery on the footpaths of Kolkata before he became a biggie in the fashion industry and a preferred one for Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra on their special days.

“I loved dressing all three women and they are varied, but have interesting tastes. The beauty of my label is that it can cater to all body types without wanting to change anything and accepting them as they are,” says Sabyasachi.

His childhood and lockdown diary

His brand extensions have done so well that Sabyasachi now has four factories, three outside Kolkata to manufacture jewellery and one in Kolkata.

“At heart, I am a simple middle-class boy and growing up, my father instilled a lot of discipline in me. That’s why work is worship for me,” he says.

With a lot of spare time during the pandemic and fashion limping back to business, he has turned a chef from knowing nothing at all.

“I didn’t know how to boil an egg, never had the time. Now I am compensating for all lost time in the kitchen,” he adds.

Beauty comes in all shapes and shades

His love for dark-skinned girls is well-known and that’s why his muse Varshita Thatavarti, who he spotted at his Chennai store as a buyer, is now a sensation and has a huge fan following of her own.

Sabyasachi jewellery is now available at the legendary store Bergdorf Goodman.

“I ran behind her once she left the premises and complimented her for her beauty. She found it quite hard to grasp when I told her I would like her to model for the brand. She didn’t believe me, today she is one the biggest star and has been flooded with modelling offers. She told me that most people thought she was dark and overweight so she didn’t get work,” he says.

The Instagram campaign which features Varshita is now a massive hit with women are saluting the spirit of the brand to open a dialogue about that no one talks about in fashion. Like size and skin colour, as fashion so far was all about thin, tall and so-called beautiful girls.

Main problem with modelling is that agencies don’t have plus-size models, but now diversity is a huge movement.

“Beauty should be divorced from size and skin colour because in the end it is all about confidence,” he adds.

Sabyasachi recalls his meet with French shoe designer Louboutin 

As a designer, there is no one in the league of Sabyasachi and he says that his collaborations and meeting with the French legendary shoe designer Christian Louboutin was full of serendipity. “It was raining heavily in Mumbai and my shoes were muddy. I had gone to the store to get a dry pair when I spotted Christian Louboutin and admiring my clothing,” he says.

“I couldn’t believe it when he asked me see me. I was a little embarrassed as my shoes were so dirty. He just laughed looking at me and then magically we became design collaborators,” he recalls.

The collaboration with American giant Pottery Barn

Few know that Sabya also has branched out into home linen and tableware with an American giant Pottery Barn, which has 149 stores across the country, making it the most coveted home store.

“I want to create a brand that when a woman visits, she can buy clothes, shoes, make-up, and jewellery,” he adds.

His business strategy and future plans

Each hand-crafted piece from Sabyasachi comes with a guarantee certificate for the gold, stones and diamonds used.

“The jewellery trade was always considered shady. I wanted to remove that tag from it so that brides who come to buy from me can have trust. I design all pieces along with a team. I don’t see myself as a dress-maker. I want to be a big brand,” he says.

He wants to look beyond to make his brand the most coveted. He also wants to include even his art foundation that he is emotionally invested in.

The interesting part is that he supports artists who are talented, but don’t have means to create a livelihood from their talent. “My mom used to be an artist and growing up, we had no money. That’s how this idea came up to offer scholarships to such people who want to make a future,” he concludes.

Asmita Aggarwal has been a journalist for 27 years. Has worked with Hindustan Times, Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle and Cosmopolitan, and been editor-in-chief with the iconic French L’OFFICIEL. Relaunched The Patriot in Delhi and is a consultant with the Fashion Design Council of India. Teaches fashion communication at Pearl Academy and NIFT.