Sabyasachi Mukherjee Curated

Indian Fashion Designer

CURATED BY :      +44 others


  • You’ve made something as traditional as the saree modern. How important do you think it is for tradition to change to survive or to stay the same?

  • What do you think is the reason for the growing demand for Indian style bridal wear around the world?

  • Do you think Sabyasachi would be the brand that it is today without Bollywood?

  • Actresses in the West have worn your designs. Do you feel a sense of pride when you see the West recognising your work?

  • Several Western designers are incorporating Eastern designs in their collections. What is your take on that?

  • You have this certain aura about you, which makes everyone fall in love with the Sabyasachi brand. Do you feel overwhelmed? How do you feel about the huge following that you have?

  • You’re one of the strongest advocates of the saree. What is it about the 6 yards of unstitched fabric that fascinates you so much?

  • What does fashion mean to you? What is the one piece of fashion advice you would like to give everyone?

  • Why do you think India lags behind in the fashion scene? What would you say is the way forward?

  • How can one be truly fashionable but also have a unique style?

  • What do you dislike about the Indian consumer market and their demand for designer clothes?

  • Fashion is all about change, but you don’t change anything because your designs are timeless. Can you enlighten us about this? Tell us about how the fashion business works.

  • Your outfits take a lot of time to make and they are all handcrafted. You spend a lot of time creating designs. Tell us about your creative process.

  • How did your story begin? We’re more interested in Sabyasachi the person rather than Sabyasachi the label.

    I always wanted to get into design; I didn’t want to do a desk job. And my father wanted me to be an engineer, because that’s what he was. And in India, you know a career is like an arranged marriage; because you don’t have a say in it, and your parents decide what you want to do. And I didn’t want any of that, I wanted to something where I could speak about myself, where I could talk about my opinion, where I could do something where I could utilise my mind as well – beyond being an engineer. And I didn’t know what that vocation would be, but I knew it wouldn’t be another 9-5 desk job.

  • Speaking of how national clothes can actually foster nationalism, you once said that if you want to build something global, you have to build something indigenous in context. So, how does your label support Indian textiles and handlooms in that context?

    See, I’ll tell you something very importantly, I’m not a fashion designer, I’m a person who’s into the business of clothing. I’m a businessman first, and I make no bones about it. I’m not here for charity, I’m not here to make beautiful things, I’m here to create a livelihood for myself, and the 19,000 people who work for me. I’m very committed to the craft in that every year, I give my HR a mandate that, in West Bengal we need to hire about 15% more people every year, annually. Which means more people get better jobs, which means more parents will let their children go to school to get educated and also get the respect of doing handicrafts. Because what happens, people look down on handicrafts as something that is unsustainable, something that is indigenous and cheap. But I think these people have hundreds of years of parampara and craft, and that craft needs to be preserved with pride. So whatever I do – whether through my art foundation, whether through my culture foundation, whether through my clothing, whether through my films – I always try to promote artisanal crafts so that a hundred thousand people can get work every year. Every time I do a couture show, I don’t care what people write in the reviews; I don’t care if people say he’s too blingy, or same-old, same-old, or this man doesn’t have an artistic vision, or that this man doesn’t have a sense of fashion. I know that every time a girl is buying an outfit from me, I’m being able to rescue five or six families for about a month. And that is the mission of the brand; you know we call it the People Tree movement: that you grow, as you create an inclusive growth of people who work for you. And that is the only mission that I care about, and nothing else matters to me.

  • What do you have to say about Rani Mukerje?

  • What do you have to say about Vidya Balan?

  • Why do you say Deepika Padukone scares you?

  • What’s your view about the wedding of Deepika and Ranveer?

  • Where do you stay in Mumbai?

  • When did you graduate?

  • What’s the story behind the making of the ‘Bipasha Blouse’?

  • What do you have to say about Aishwarya Rai?

  • Why is Amitabh Bachan a truly professional person to you? 

  • Can we do a rapid-fire round?

  • Why do you think Indian spends such a huge amount of money on their weddings?

  • What according to you is the wedding principle nowadays?

  • How did you manage to keep the secret of Deepika’s wedding from your team?

  • What was your experience at Deepika’s wedding? 

  • How was the experience of fashioning Deepika's outfit?  

  • Do you think that someday marriages of gay couples would also be celebrated in India?

  • When and how did you decide to establish your business in foreign lands?

  • What are your international ambitions?

  • What do you have to about India in terms of fashion and the wedding market?

  • What do you have to say about the economic growth in India?

  • What is your way of establishing a business?

  • Q. How have you managed to stay relevant for 20 years?

    I have never considered myself to be a fashion designer because I think I am more of a businessman. One of the reasons I have been relevant in my industry is because I’ve never been a part of it. I’ve always stayed on the fringes and observed it. Once you get into fashion, you get consumed by it and lose practicality in your quest for sartorial elegance. When I step back, I lead a simple life. I have friends from school who are still my friends… I have almost zero interaction with the industry. For me, it was important to create a business that was financially stable. While we were going to look at active clients, we were also looking at active bottom lines. Everything was structured like a business. Every strategy was carefully thought of; you don’t grow a business without strategy. I didn’t want my business to be like an FMCG one because if you look at fashion, you call it luxury. Yet it’s the most disposable business and industry in the world. I haven’t built a business out of creating classics because for me and a lot of us, the most important thing is value. If something does not tantamount to value, I wouldn’t expect my consumer to buy it. I think my relevance comes from the fact that I surround myself with people who think fashion is irrelevant.

  • Q. You are one of the most plagiarised designers in the country…

    I like that because I’d like to believe that you can only be plagiarised when the middle-class wants to buy you. If the super-rich wanted to buy you, you wouldn’t get plagiarised. Middle-class people are dheet (stubborn) as consumers and have a lot of sense… you cannot put cotton wool over their eyes with marketing. When I got to know they were buying plagiarised versions of my clothes, I realised that as a design philosophy there must be something that I am doing right. Because it’s difficult to get the middle-class to pay their hard-earned money to buy luxury products, or even versions of it, if they don’t connect with them.

  • Q. What is your design philosophy and how has it evolved over time?

    I don’t have a design philosophy, but I have agenda or DNA. I like to make clothes which are made by hand. Whether it’s embroidery or weaving, hand block printing or dyeing, I like clothes made by hands because when you create something out of human hands, it’s never perfect in the sense that imperfections give it personality. In today’s day and age, when the world gets more and more mechanised, it’s the things that you do by hand that are becoming more and more luxurious.

  • Q. Your family disagreed with your decision to join NIFT. What was it about fashion that inspired you to make it a career?

    I jumped into the deep end of the ocean without knowing how to swim. It wasn’t about fashion; I didn’t want to be a doctor. I dropped out of my education system because I didn’t believe in it… I thought it was too much of textbook education, barely any practical knowledge. I didn’t know anything about fashion, but I was like fine, it’s a career choice that I’ve made.

  • Q. What makes Sabyasachi the brand that he is today?

    I have no work ego. I will do whatever it takes to survive. I worked very hard for 20 years, never lost focus, sacrificed many things—personal relationships, friendships, interpersonal relationships with my family—because of the fact that every time the company’s turnover grew, it meant more people got employed. I was always ambitious about growth. I realised you create a business by securing your back-end first. I remember a time when my turnover was really low. I bought a huge factory on loan and my father asked why I needed to do that. I said, soon you’ll require the factory. Over the last 20 years, that factory has multiplied into 35 factories. The fact that we created so much employment in our sector is my proudest achievement in 20 years. My body of work has gone through many changes, but it still has the same DNA of the brand. I feel awkward telling people that I’m Sabyasachi because now Sabyasachi has become a brand; it’s not me anymore. I don’t belong to myself. The name doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the public at large. For a lot of people, the label is more important than the product. For me, fashion is a job… if you take the label off my face and put me on a train with hundred people, not a single person will ever guess that I’m a fashion designer. I don’t look like one, don’t dress like one and don’t talk like one. I’ve only been relevant because I’ve been irrelevant. If I made myself relevant, my brand wouldn’t have been relevant.

  • Q. What were some of the challenges in the fashion industry, especially when you started out?

    At that time, the biggest challenge was infrastructure. The fashion industry has become much more organised now. But the biggest problem today is that it’s harder to create stars because there are designers coming out of everywhere. Earlier, there were just two or three names… now fashion has become the next big business in education, just like hotel management. Everybody wants to open a fashion school because everybody wants to become a designer. There has been an infusion of great designers, but also an infusion of mediocrity. It’s going to be the survival of the fittest because the consumer is becoming more aware. People are going through what we call ‘fashion fatigue’. So only those who will be able to have an important and strong voice will be able to traverse the next 20 years.

  • Q. What sort of growth opportunities do you see in the international market?

    For the last 20 years, I focussed on India. I had many growth opportunities outside, but I didn’t take any because I wanted to grow my brand in India. I realised that for me to become important as a designer, first in my own eyes, and then for those who matter to me, I need to find my colloquial identity. So I need to have an opinion about my own region and country, and then go international. I’ve done that step by step… I was a Bengali designer who became a national designer. I want to move on and find another path. This time, I’m opening my voice out to the universe for whoever wishes to have me or find me.

  • Q. Why did you decide to take a break from fashion shows?

    One of my friends showed me Instagram and my first reaction was: How can this be for free? I can put an outfit on Instagram where people can see it and start following me. This is like doing your own show. I was getting ready for couture week and decided to stop the show and do it on Instagram. We took photographs and videos, and uploaded them on Instagram. There are hundreds and thousands of people who want to get into my stores, but they’re probably afraid of financial, cultural and language barriers. That’s one of the major reasons why I wanted to do a show on Instagram. I also decided on not giving any exclusives to the press anymore. Whatever we give is going to be democratic first with the consumer and the press can repost, and there’s been no looking back. Now more and more designers across the country are moving out of fashion weeks and doing this. If I decide to do shows, I’ll do them larger than life and blow them out of proportion. Otherwise, I’m happy to show things on Instagram.

  • Q. How do you manage to stand out in a competitive space?

    By being competitive and by questioning myself as to what value I’m giving consumers. Every year we do this mathematics, like if we increase the price points 10 fold, we increase quality 40 fold. We are not only targeting increasing bottom lines, but also good value. My mother thinks I’m the biggest con artist in this country. She keeps asking me what is so special about my clothes and why would anyone pay so much money to buy them. I keep asking myself the same question every year. I feel a little bit of that insecurity is nice. Every time I do a collection, I think that nothing’s going to sell. That insecurity, fear and sense of pragmatic practicality kind of helps you stay relevant.

  • Q. How do you maintain a balance between being a businessman and designer?

    If I did everything the way I wanted, I would never sell a piece because in my heart I’m a minimalist. I don’t customise any clothes, but that does not mean that I’m not empathetic to what people want. Recently I did a collection where there’s a lot of controversy about cleavage. The funny thing is that you put a woman in a bikini and nobody says anything, it is perfectly acceptable, but you put her in a sari with a low-cut blouse, suddenly everyone has a problem. Women as a community are done with people attaching labels on them for the way they dress. The internet has become a support group for people to discover their own kind of people. But today people have become more confident about their choices. The middle-class is leading this movement, and fashion has now become democratic. There used to be a trickle-down effect in India, where the poor used to dress like the rich, but now you will see that the rich have started dressing like the poor. Because they want to be respected for who they are, not for what they do and what they wear. So fashion is going through a phase right now where the democracy of choice is going to drive luxury. In that case we are all in a good space.

  • How did the collaboration with Christian Louboutin and Thomas Goode & Co. started?

    All good things happen over food. It was how my collaboration with Christian Louboutin began, and now with Thomas Goode as well.

  • Have you been a customer of Thomas Goode?

    I’ve been a Thomas Goode customer for a very long time. I love their crockery, their cutlery and their store in Mayfair which I think is probably one of the most beautiful stores in the world. So when Johnny Sandelson (Thomas Goode Chairman) spoke to me over dinner, I agreed in five minutes.

  • What are your thoughts on the collaboration with Thomas Goode?

    It was such a magic moment for me. As Bengalis, you know we have a culture of collecting dinner sets and tea sets. It’s a part of prestige in Bengali families. I don’t know if we care much for fancy cars but we do care for a good tea set. And so I thought this (collaboration) was a perfect fit.

  • What drove you to say "Yes" on the Thomas Goode collaboration?

    I think we both had complete clarity on what we wanted to do and the synergies matched.

  • Why the Indian bridal style is growing worldwide?

  • What do you have to say about your designs being replicated?

  • How much time does it take to make a bridal wear especially for a Bollywood bride?

  • Do you think Sabyasachi would be the brand it is without Bollywood?

  • How does it feels when you see the western countries recognizing your work?

  • What is your take on the Indian wedding market?

  • How have you managed to stay relevant for 20 years?

    I have never considered myself to be a fashion designer because I think I am more of a businessman. One of the reasons I have been relevant in my industry is because I’ve never been a part of it. I’ve always stayed on the fringes and observed it. Once you get into fashion, you get consumed by it and lose practicality in your quest for sartorial elegance. When I step back, I lead a simple life. I have friends from school who are still my friends… I have almost zero interaction with the industry. For me, it was important to create a business that was financially stable. While we were going to look at active clients, we were also looking at active bottom lines. Everything was structured like a business. Every strategy was carefully thought of; you don’t grow a business without strategy. I didn’t want my business to be like an FMCG one because if you look at fashion, you call it luxury. Yet it’s the most disposable business and industry in the world. I haven’t built a business out of creating classics because for me and a lot of us, the most important thing is value. If something does not tantamount to value, I wouldn’t expect my consumer to buy it. I think my relevance comes from the fact that I surround myself with people who think fashion is irrelevant.

  • You are one of the most plagiarised designers in the country…

    I like that because I’d like to believe that you can only be plagiarised when the middle-class wants to buy you. If the super-rich wanted to buy you, you wouldn’t get plagiarised. Middle-class people are dheet (stubborn) as consumers and have a lot of sense… you cannot put cotton wool over their eyes with marketing. When I got to know they were buying plagiarised versions of my clothes, I realised that as a design philosophy there must be something that I am doing right. Because it’s difficult to get the middle-class to pay their hard-earned money to buy luxury products, or even versions of it, if they don’t connect with them.

  • What is your design philosophy and how has it evolved over time?

    I don’t have a design philosophy, but I have agenda or DNA. I like to make clothes which are made by hand. Whether it’s embroidery or weaving, hand block printing or dyeing, I like clothes made by hands because when you create something out of human hands, it’s never perfect in the sense that imperfections give it personality. In today’s day and age, when the world gets more and more mechanised, it’s the things that you do by hand that are becoming more and more luxurious.

  • Your family disagreed with your decision to join NIFT. What was it about fashion that inspired you to make it a career?

    I jumped into the deep end of the ocean without knowing how to swim. It wasn’t about fashion; I didn’t want to be a doctor. I dropped out of my education system because I didn’t believe in it… I thought it was too much of textbook education, barely any practical knowledge. I didn’t know anything about fashion, but I was like fine, it’s a career choice that I’ve made.

  • What makes Sabyasachi the brand that he is today?

    I have no work ego. I will do whatever it takes to survive. I worked very hard for 20 years, never lost focus, sacrificed many things—personal relationships, friendships, interpersonal relationships with my family—because of the fact that every time the company’s turnover grew, it meant more people got employed. I was always ambitious about growth. I realised you create a business by securing your back-end first. I remember a time when my turnover was really low. I bought a huge factory on loan and my father asked why I needed to do that. I said, soon you’ll require the factory. Over the last 20 years, that factory has multiplied into 35 factories. The fact that we created so much employment in our sector is my proudest achievement in 20 years. My body of work has gone through many changes, but it still has the same DNA of the brand. I feel awkward telling people that I’m Sabyasachi because now Sabyasachi has become a brand; it’s not me anymore. I don’t belong to myself. The name doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the public at large. For a lot of people, the label is more important than the product. For me, fashion is a job… if you take the label off my face and put me on a train with hundred people, not a single person will ever guess that I’m a fashion designer. I don’t look like one, don’t dress like one and don’t talk like one. I’ve only been relevant because I’ve been irrelevant. If I made myself relevant, my brand wouldn’t have been relevant.

  • What were some of the challenges in the fashion industry, especially when you started out?

    At that time, the biggest challenge was infrastructure. The fashion industry has become much more organised now. But the biggest problem today is that it’s harder to create stars because there are designers coming out of everywhere. Earlier, there were just two or three names… now fashion has become the next big business in education, just like hotel management. Everybody wants to open a fashion school because everybody wants to become a designer. There has been an infusion of great designers, but also an infusion of mediocrity. It’s going to be the survival of the fittest because the consumer is becoming more aware. People are going through what we call ‘fashion fatigue’. So only those who will be able to have an important and strong voice will be able to traverse the next 20 years.

  • What sort of growth opportunities do you see in the international market?

    For the last 20 years, I focussed on India. I had many growth opportunities outside, but I didn’t take any because I wanted to grow my brand in India. I realised that for me to become important as a designer, first in my own eyes, and then for those who matter to me, I need to find my colloquial identity. So I need to have an opinion about my own region and country, and then go international. I’ve done that step by step… I was a Bengali designer who became a national designer. I want to move on and find another path. This time, I’m opening my voice out to the universe for whoever wishes to have me or find me.

  • Why did you decide to take a break from fashion shows?

    One of my friends showed me Instagram and my first reaction was: How can this be for free? I can put an outfit on Instagram where people can see it and start following me. This is like doing your own show. I was getting ready for couture week and decided to stop the show and do it on Instagram. We took photographs and videos, and uploaded them on Instagram. There are hundreds and thousands of people who want to get into my stores, but they’re probably afraid of financial, cultural and language barriers. That’s one of the major reasons why I wanted to do a show on Instagram. I also decided on not giving any exclusives to the press anymore. Whatever we give is going to be democratic first with the consumer and the press can repost, and there’s been no looking back. Now more and more designers across the country are moving out of fashion weeks and doing this. If I decide to do shows, I’ll do them larger than life and blow them out of proportion. Otherwise, I’m happy to show things on Instagram.

  • How do you manage to stand out in a competitive space?

    By being competitive and by questioning myself as to what value I’m giving consumers. Every year we do this mathematics, like if we increase the price points 10 fold, we increase quality 40 fold. We are not only targeting increasing bottom lines, but also good value. My mother thinks I’m the biggest con artist in this country. She keeps asking me what is so special about my clothes and why would anyone pay so much money to buy them. I keep asking myself the same question every year. I feel a little bit of that insecurity is nice. Every time I do a collection, I think that nothing’s going to sell. That insecurity, fear and sense of pragmatic practicality kind of helps you stay relevant.

  • How do you maintain a balance between being a businessman and designer?

    If I did everything the way I wanted, I would never sell a piece because in my heart I’m a minimalist. I don’t customise any clothes, but that does not mean that I’m not empathetic to what people want. Recently I did a collection where there’s a lot of controversy about cleavage. The funny thing is that you put a woman in a bikini and nobody says anything, it is perfectly acceptable, but you put her in a sari with a low-cut blouse, suddenly everyone has a problem. Women as a community are done with people attaching labels on them for the way they dress. The internet has become a support group for people to discover their own kind of people. But today people have become more confident about their choices. The middle-class is leading this movement, and fashion has now become democratic. There used to be a trickle-down effect in India, where the poor used to dress like the rich, but now you will see that the rich have started dressing like the poor. Because they want to be respected for who they are, not for what they do and what they wear. So fashion is going through a phase right now where the democracy of choice is going to drive luxury. In that case we are all in a good space.

  • The trademark Sabyasachi is about deep colours, forest greens, burgundies, deep reds. When can we actually see a splash of colours like a rainbow, bright colours, lighter hues

  • Since now we have the winters coming up, what do you think is the new trend for the winter brides?

  • How long did it take for you to open up your exclusive and extremely beautiful gorgeous store in New Delhi?

  • What are the features you kept on mind while opening your exclusive store in New Delhi?

  • How did you manage to give your store such a vintage yet a very royal look? Tell us about the places from where you sourced the decors and paintings you have put up in your store?

  • Tell us about the prints you had created while working on the collection of ‘Save the Tigers’ because as far as I know you had worked on it separately and unless you tell people about it, it would only be a hazy imagination to the people out there.

  • Tell us about what do you think is so different in your wedding lehengas that people are so obsessed about them.

  • Why do you think a bride would go for a sabyasachi lenhenga over any other for her big day?

  • In your years of experience, expertise and cumulative insights, what is your fundamental commandment for dressing up a bride?

  • Are there any bridal dos’ and don’ts as in any common mistake that bride or the bride’s mother or the bride’s mother-in-law does?

  • Do you change the way of approaching your design philosophy for destination weddings? Are they lighter or do you input more of a western input in them?

  • How would you tell a young bride about approaching each of the events that take place before and after marriage because no bride would prefer to look the same in her wedding as well as reception, haldi, cocktail and the list goes on?

  • How much has your own brand’s DNA changed over the years?

  • How important are trends in bridal wears and if they are important what would you say are the predominant trends for the season ahead?

  • Beauty has always been a very important part of every Sabyasachi campaign, but this is your first beauty collaboration with L’oreal. How did it come about?

    For quite some time, people were writing on my Instagram that your clothes are not affordable, we can’t buy them, we can only buy copies. This voice was becoming louder and louder. So I thought that at some point of time I would do some kind of a lateral diversity and beauty would be one of them. Because over the years we have created very strong beauty looks. Like the centre-parted hair with the bindi that people call the Sabya look, or the flat centre-parted hair with the sunglasses. I saw a lot of it being put into catalogues of beauty parlours all over India. They use the pictures for their in-house branding where they offer their clients the Sabyasachi bridal looks. So I thought it was important to get into beauty. Then I got a call from L’Oreal Paris saying that they were toying with the idea of doing a collaboration with an Indian designer. They are very picky; they have done only two collaborations — one with Balmain Olivier Rousteing and one with Isabel Marant. So they wanted to pick up a dialogue with me in India. I was very flattered because it’s a big recognition. They did their research on who had a very strong impact on the bridal and beauty market. When I asked them what we would do, they wanted me to come up with a comprehensive range of beauty products for the modern Indian woman. Then we decided that we were not going to create a new line, we were going to curate a new line.

  • How did you go about curating the collection for L’oreal?

    My idea of beauty is iconic. I don’t want beauty to be fashionable, I want beauty to be enduring. I want classic colours. Every modern woman wants a beauty kit in their handbag so that they can do their make-up anywhere… in a washroom or a hotel lobby. Modernity comes from having quick easy access and not having too much fuss. The Indian woman has two strong focus areas — the eyes and the mouth. So we did a lot of permutation combinations and we decided we were going to do a volumizing mascara, an eyeliner, and I will go through their colour bars of hundreds and thousands of shades and I will come up with a sharp palette of 10 to 12 lipsticks, that I can categorise as nudes, reds and a fashion colour, which at this point of time is a berry or a plum. So we decided to do a comprehensive package with these items. Different women have different ways of doing beauty… some people would wear liner and mascara only and a nude mouth, some people would only wear mascara with red lips, some people would wear liner, mascara and red lips, or mascara, liner and a plum mouth. So this is for everybody. The other thing was the bridal market… how we would do this for the bridal market. In the bridal market, most girls like strong eyes. So you have the liner and the mascara, and along with that you could do a nude mouth. For the reception you could do just a mascara and a liner with a red mouth. For mehndi, just a mascara and a nude mouth so that it looks fresh and almost like you are wearing no make-up. So from a no-make-up to classic to trendy, this small little packet will give you everything. And if people were to only buy a mascara, or a liner or a red mouth or plum mouth, within that comprehensive range a woman would be able to define herself. I will tell you a personal anecdote. You know Mita who works with me, she wore a lipstick from an international brand for 20 years. When that lipstick was discontinued, she went and told them, ‘Did you even ask us before discontinuing that lipstick? Now what will happen to my identity?’ There are many people like her. For me, beauty is all about finding the right colour and then sticking to it. I am not someone who likes people changing their make-up every day, I like people to have a particular identity. So why I did the classics was because if you find your right colour here, I would like you to wear it again and again and again. Everything our brand does, whether it’s clothing or beauty or jewellery, we want it to be more investment-led. I want to give them value for money and I want people to come back for more. That is the business model in which we have placed this collaboration. You find your look, you stick to it and you come back to us again and again for it. So my job here was to guide women on how to wear make-up and not just curate make-up alone

  • When designing the looks for L’oreal campaign, did you have any particular face in mind?

    When I was curating this line I was paying homage to all the classic beauties, whether it was Audrey Hepburn, whether it was Gayatri Devi, whether it was Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy. If you look at it, you’ll find this has a touch of old-world Hollywood glamour to it and this is a classic look that every woman aspires to have.

  • Does the L’oreal campaign look have reflections of any of the past Sabyasachi campaign looks?

    See, the winged eyeliner with the red mouth I have done many times, whether it was Aishwarya in Guzaarish, whether it was my campaign that I shot in Falaknuma. If you look at the Sabyasachi looks over the years, we have organic and clean, we have strong Indian bridals with strong kajal eyes, and we also have a little bit of retro glamour. So this was more in the retro glamour range with the winged eyeliner and the red lipstick.

  • Since you are engaged in bridal fashion, what is your idea of romance?

  • What roles do love and affection play in your life?

  • What is your first memory of love?

  • What do you think about recycling a mother’s bridal saree or lehenga?

  • Who and what do you visualize while starting a collection?

  • Who is a Sabyasachi kind of woman?

  • What do you love about Indian weddings and why?

  • Whom amongst the Bollywood stars would you pick to dress in a Sabyasachi outfit and why?

  • Every collection of yours has something new. What’s in store for us in your upcoming collection?

  • Are there any trends for the festive or wedding season that you’d like to recommend?

  • In some of your recent collections we find a lot of shades of green, which is different from your usual style of using reds and golds. What inspired you to choose green?

  • Where did the inspirations for Chota Sabya come from?

  • Has the hustle of today’s business taken the fun away from fashion? How do you strike a balance between creative expression and commercial viability?

    Oh, that’s very simple. I set my own rules. For instance, this year, I had too much on my calendar. I didn’t do ramp shows, I only had a showing on Instagram. Established designers must create new templates that suit their creativity instead of allowing the market to set the pace for them. Because, at the end of the day, only if you have the time and space for creative expression, can you create beautiful clothes that determine the durability of your brand.

  • Fashion has evolved into a glamorous industry, and today, many youngsters want to be part of it. But most of what we see on the ramp and in the retail space are risk-free repetitions. Your views on this?

    Well, for designers to evolve, the market has to evolve. But the mood is changing. There are designers who are willing to push boundaries and clients who are ready to experiment. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are changing the way people see and respond to fashion. The horizons are widening. This is a wonderful time for young designers to launch their labels and sustain their inventiveness.

  • Can you update us on your forays into jewellery design and interiors?

    I have collaborated with Hyderabad’s Kishandas & Company to create some iconic pieces that are hugely popular — and of course, plagiarised! I have a line coming up for Forever Mark. As for interiors, I wanted to design homes, but people did not seem to have enough confidence in me! So I ended up doing up my own stores. I have also done up the Cinema Suite for the Taj in London. Celebrities who have stayed in the hotel have appreciated it. A significant collaboration in interiors is happening in October.

  • What are your suggestions to keep traditions going ?

    People need to be educated about handmade textiles and crafts. A time will come when China will lose out to India because as people become aware, they will only want to support products that are ethically sourced and foster craft communities. Surprisingly, the new millennials are in favour of luxury that is completely handmade. I see that as a positive sign.

  • What is it about LFW that made you return?

    It’s here that I first made a mark as a designer. I’m familiar with the format, and know the people. It is like a homecoming. The good thing about LFW is that everything is taken care of – from building the set to inviting people. So I have the freedom to focus on the clothes. It is like putting together a complete show, but doing only half the work!

  • Finales are a challenge in LMF– given the expectations of people in the fraternity, profiles of attendees and the intangible themes created by Lakme for interpretation into garments. What do you think?

    Well, it’s not at all difficult for me. This is my fifth finale at LFW. Once the make-up and hair are set, it is easy to imagine the look and what the girls must wear. I’m way too senior to worry about pre-show stress. My biggest pressure comes from whether I will like what I create. Beyond that, even the critics’ reaction doesn’t really concern me.

  • Will your line at the Lakme Fashion Week be about Indian-ness like your other collections?

    Whether I do Western, Eastern or a combination, I always use Indian handcrafts, and all my clothes are handmade. Traditional textiles, block prints, weaves and embroidery are a constant in my collections. The theme being “Illuminate”, this line is about red-carpet clothes with a strong shimmer quotient.

  • Considering our diverse range of homespun textiles, do you think everyday must be celebrated as handloom day in India?

    Absolutely. It is mandatory at my stores. My staff wears only handloom saris or kurtas made of hand-woven fabric. My Instagram hashtag says ‘Wearing handloom everyday.’

  • Social media plays a significant role in promoting tradition. Smriti Irani’s ‘I wear handloom’ campaign on Twitter and the 100 Saree Pact are recent examples. Isn’t it time designers too found new ways to promote heritage?

    Yes. As more and more Western brands enter the market, our designers must first establish an identity of their own. The Zaras of the world are bringing active prêt into the country, so it is important for us to revive the market for Indian clothes. Reinventing tradition and rethinking marketing strategies are critical at this point.

  • If you were to spell out two major problems faced by the fashion world, what would they be?

    Lack of originality. Lack of self-belief.

  • Very few Indian designers have taken the effort to document fashion. What about you?

    Yes, I will at some point in time get down to writing about my brand. But for that, I will first have to find the right publisher!

  • Many corporate players are keen on collaborating with designers.Are you working with any one of them?

    I receive so many proposals for collaborations that I refuse one every day! I am collaborating with Asian Paints, Forever Mark and Christian Louboutin. Another huge one is coming up – but I will not be able to speak about it at the moment.

  • Do seasons really matter any more in the world of fashion?

    Global warming is making designers understand the importance of season-defying clothing. And people too, I feel, don't shop for seasons any more. They just want beautiful clothes.

  • What about your mother, a professor in the Government Arts College, who practices a lot of handicrafts? We’ve heard you designed your first saree for her, how has she been an inspiration in your life?

    She was absolutely zero inspiration, because she never wanted me to get into anything artistic, because she said that you’re a man, and that you’ll never make any money and you need to support a family, you need to support everybody etc. She wanted me to do something in the science vocation, but my mother was very bohemian, very artistic. She used to collect old sarees and cotton clothes, and I think that when there’s an artistic streak in your family, it boils down to you as well. And I think for both me and my sister, whatever we learnt about design, our first push was because our mother was an artist.

  • How does the bridal collection reflect the concept of Sabyasachi?

    Well at one point of time, I used to do only traditional clothing, but I’ve just realised that there are many more functions that have come into the wedding sphere – so there is mehendi, there is sangeet, there is reception and there is cocktail; and I was only catering to one or two particular looks, I was not someone who would do cocktail clothing, I was not someone who would do reception clothing, but I‘ve realised that even reception clothing and cocktail clothing is something that requires a lot of handiwork. Some of my pieces would take 1,400 hours of labour, which means jobs for many people. So, I’ve decided that we will extend our sensibilities of Indian handicrafts to different genres, so what we’re trying to do is modernise the craft by modernising the silhouette, but the core essence remains the same, it’s still handicraft; which means people can get jobs. I’m just trying to make the label more and more popular commercially so that I can sustain a very strong ecosystem of craft that would have otherwise become obsolete in West Bengal.

  • Earlier in the evening, when you were faced with so many negative comments, you obviously being you pulled off a very suave and comprehensive response, which is also mature, where you don’t give two ‘whatevers’ about what people have to say because you just don’t. But when you are collaborating with artists like this, at the end, you also see an artwork by Sabyasachi, so how do you defend your artwork in such collaborations? Because you have to restrain yourself in the public domain, how does that go for you?

     Well, I would just like to say to you that, whenever you do a collaboration, and this is something that I’ve learned in my life, you should do collaborations with people who have the same intent and mindset that you have. And as far as Vidya (you know, Balan) is concerned, and is people ask me how I would dress her up for Cannes again, I would say exactly the same thing.

  • Are your designs born out of narratives or with narratives?

    They’re born out of narratives, and I’ll tell you the reason why. I think the single biggest thing that creates aspiration is hope. People are hopeful of beautiful clothes from me, and I am hopeful of beautiful customers to dress. And, sometimes, if the customer doesn’t exist, you create a mythical customer inside your head. But, by doing so, you are creating an idea in the universe that other people can aspire to, and will try to live up to it. I put out a very strong visual narrative into the universe, and it was so addictive for a lot of people that they imbibed it within their daily lives. I remember a lot of A-lister actresses who normally wear short skirts, but when they start wearing a Sabya, they’ll put a bindi and they put a gajra in their hair; and I don’t tell them to do it, but they do it, because they also pay homage to the mythical creature that is a Sabyasachi woman. For me, it is an extremely bubbled, idealistic existence in a world that has gone completely haywire.

  • So you spoke of a ‘Golconda Princess’ once, is it a repetitive reference that you go back to in your mind, once in a while, or was it a onetime thing?

    If I were to give you the source of the Golconda Princess, I think it would be Saritha Choudary in Mira Nair’s Kamasutra. I was visually enthralled by the strength of that character and how Mira portrayed it, and in my head that is what a Golconda Princess would be. The reason I say Golconda Princess is that I’m very fond of old jewellery and I’m very fond of all the diamonds that came out of the Golconda Mine; and that is also a fictitious princess inside my head.

  • Speaking of profiles, you’ve said the most aspirational look in India is the royalty. And you’ve specifically demanded for culturally evolved royalty over stereotypical royalty. What is added by the cultural revolution to the personality of royalty that your couture represents?

    I’ll tell you something very simple, in India people hanker for a few things. Fashion is bought by people who have ne and fast money, which is not a new germinating point for culture. The nouveau riche. People always hanker for what they don’t have, and what the nouveau riche hanker for is social respect. That’s why they’ll have lifestyle coaches who will tell them what paintings to buy and what books to read, and which school their children should be sent to. Why I talk about culture clad royalty, which has an intellectual aura around them, this is the same sense of sophistication that the nouveau riche desperately tries to look up to. It’s the same method that Ralph Lauran has probably used in promoting his brand, because he knows in America, old money is a very aspirational thing. That’s why all his advertisements are created around that. In India, after money has given you everything, the first thing that people try and get is culture and education. And that is what I weave the inspiration stories around.

  • The show Band Baajaa Bride has become intensely popular with the Indian audience. So did you predict that popularity because of your label, or what Sabyasachi stands for? Or was it an intentional conscious effort to be a household name?

    I did it purely for the business, and while it was happening, I just realised that television has become such an important method, an important platform, to be able to reach out to the audience in the way you do. What we try to do, is to try and bring confidence back in a very fragmented society; because there is so much corruption, and there is so much of dichotomy, so much double faced hypocrisy in the wedding market in India, that I thought that I could use this show as an instrument of change to demystify certain things. Whether it’s about abuse, domestic abuse; whether it’s about women who are too educated being kicked out of the marriage market as non-marriage material, or whether it’s about divorces or second marriages, Band Baajaa Bride is a makeover show, and the reason it is popular is because of the clothes. The show is popular because of the content, because of the fact that we speak of common human emotion that can touch a chord with everyone who watches the show.

  • You said that you were inspired by food, and that we can expect a food show from you soon. How is that dream coming along? Give me your top three favourite examples of Kolkata street food.

     I want to bring food to the television because I think it is a very elemental pleasure, and it’s important to keep it simple. I want to make a food show to celebrate the basic food of India, and I think food gives me so much joy. I’m beginning to realise that I have a bit of an infectious personality, and I can convince people easily. So I wanted to use that show to spread joy. I am very partial to puchkas, biriyani and masala muri; and fish fry with mustard sauce, yeah.

  • You involve India’s cultural heritage heavily in your works. But how do you respond to the word Indian? Can you profess a singular ‘Indianness’, so to speak?

    Indian could be used very loosely or very tightly, but when I say Indian, I talk about a certain mindset; I talk about a certain way of being. I talk about a certain set of philosophies and value systems. I do not really mean made in India. You know, when people talk to me about the Indian way of life, I say it’s a way of life where the heart is always placed higher than the head. That is truly Indian; everything that you see in India that is spectacular, the heart has been placed above the head.

  • To the youngsters who haven’t heard of Matisse or Monet, who have been amongst some of your greatest impressionist inspirations, for colours or anything else that makes up art, why do we need art?

    I think we need art for hope; we need art to tell each other that every thing of beauty doesn’t have to have a context, or an economic or financial undertone. Also we need art because when we you live your life by the rules, it is very important to understand that frivolousness is equally important. It helps us to gain perspective in a very mechanised world.

  • Suggest a fail-safe day and evening wear.

    A little black dress for a woman and a white starched shirt for a man during the night. A printed summer dress for a woman and a linen shirt for a man during the day.

  • Which one is your favourite shopping stop?

    I like shopping in London because you get practically everything there from the outrageous to the most sublime.

  • What are you passionate about other than designing clothes?

    All sorts of food. I don’t have a favourite cuisine. If it’s well cooked, hot and fresh, I’ll eat anything.

  • What do you think is a must-have in Mumbai?

    For a woman it should be a cotton dress because you can spruce it up and spruce it down and a linen shirt for a man because these work well in palmy weather.

  • What are your five must-haves?

    A Pashmina shawl because I feel cold in flights and I travel a lot so an airport warmer is an essential. A moisturiser because I sleep better with that. A belt because it keeps your trousers from falling, a pair of jeans because you can wear it almost anywhere and a white shirt.

  • What is your new line is a slight departure from your signature style?

    It was a conscious decision because it’s my sub label, which is younger and is meant for a more city smart cosmopolitan crowd. It’s a little edgier and sexier, but it still has the mandates of the brand.

  • What’s your personal style statement?

    Easy. I like wearing simple understated clothes.

  • People reference you as a design ambassador of our country. How does this weigh on you?

    We are a very well loved brand.  I don’t want to sound arrogant, but what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, Sabyasachi probably is to fashion in India. This is one of the reasons peoples expectations of the brand is very high, there is a lot of pressure. Coming from a middle class background, when you look at success stories like this, people try to own your success and your life because they think you are a yardstick for their own professional success, hopes and ambitions. It’s happens to anyone very successful in any industry; there is ownership from the people at large. It’s normal. I knew where I was taking my brand and was prepared for this type of pressure.

  • It can be said that with power comes responsibility – do you agree with this?

    Hundred percent agreed. I am aware of my power and responsibility as well because I know where the brand stands in India and the pressures that come with it. It’s OK. I think it’s totally fair.

  • What kind of responsibilities do you think you are fulfilling in this big world of Fashion?

    Firstly, people expect you to represent an entire subcontinent in a certain way. People also want you to excel time and again …all the time. If Sabyasachi does something to the public eye that appears mediocre, people feel very let down. It doesn’t affect me because it’s a part of being successful. Because when you say ‘with power comes great responsibility’ – the powers are also given to you by the larger public. This strategy is to create a demand and supply for my craftsmen who are the base of my business, so that it becomes a sustainable business for them.

  • What key areas are you responsible for as a designer?

    In my own way, I preserve the textile heritage of India by creating awareness for my craftsmen and my work. A part of my job is to make sure I revive old traditions of India that have been forgotten or lost because it has not been economically viable. I make sure I don’t put my design ego into it and just revive things the way they were at one point in time by creating a more purist ideology within my customer. It’s a battle I fight by making crafts and tradition more commercially viable by exposing it to popular culture by putting my outfits on actresses. In India, Bollywood is a huge subculture with a very big following. This strategy is to create a demand and supply for my craftsmen who are the base of my business, so that it becomes a sustainable business for them. The second thing, in my own little way, is to instill a sense of nationalism and indigenous identity within a customer who is grappling with confusion. Fashion can be a very unkind world because it makes a living feeding on people’s insecurities. As a brand we try to keep our customer secure by helping them find an identity that is very close to who they are. I think the leaders in art and culture should encourage people to create their own benchmarks of luxury and intellectual property.

  • “We try to keep our customer secure by helping them find an identity that is very close to who they are”…according to who’s vision? Yours?

    Yes, within my vision. If you look at the body of work the brand has, we are very compassionate towards our customer. I have never tried to create an imagery that is very hard for my customer to imbibe. I think that’s cruel, because you are constantly making people unhappy by hanging the carrot too far way. We try and foster a sense of confidence within our customer, one that says,  ‘you should celebrate yourself for whom you are – and you should not be embarrassed about where you come from”. We try and create a very global national identity for our customer.

  • What did you mean earlier by, ‘we are trying to create a more purist ideology within our customer”, what is this ‘purist ideology’?

    When I look at a purist Indian movement as an art form, it has to encompass all of these ethos within a school of thought. What is happening in modern India is a mash of these and a lot of other things we are alien to. When I think about a purist Indian ideology, it comes from accepting who you are, where you come from and relying on your strengths. If something which is beautiful is neglected by India and is picked up by someone from the West, suddenly everyone in India makes a mad scramble for something like that. The Indian clothing industry is truly a torchbearer for the country India is. No other part of the world has such a strong sense of cultural, artistic and intellectual history that India has. I truly believe that a large part of global luxury has stemmed from this part of the country, and a lot of it used to stem from the purist school of thought of being ‘Indian’, which the West imbibed and gradually made their own. As an example, if something which is beautiful is neglected by India and is picked up by someone from the West, suddenly everyone in India makes a mad scramble for something like that. Case in point, when Gaultier turned brocade saris intro trousers, brocade suddenly had a big revival within India. Or when Diane Von Furstenburg put kholapuri’s on the runway in NY, suddenly everyone was selling gold lacquered kholapuri chappals here. Because we lack the purist thought of being Indian, I think we don’t understand the importance of being Indian in a global context. The world has always beaten us at our own game.  By asking people to imbibe the purist school of thought of ‘being Indian’, we are only trying to  tell them that they are leaders. I think the leaders in art and culture should encourage people to create their own benchmarks of luxury and intellectual property.

  • As a leader, how do you do you encourage people?

    Whether it’s a filmmaker, musician or other, I have interactions with people and inspire them to find the true voice within. I am also on the board of NIFT (Nation Institute of Fashion Technology), I work with the Indian Design Board and I am the board of Lakme Fashion Week. I write and interact with a lot of younger people in the fashion community. I always inspire people to find their own voice because it’s very important for a country to succeed, not just an individual. I’ve always felt Indians have been apologetic about their sense of perception and try to fit into a mold that’s been created by the West.

  • Where does your sense of nationalism stem from?

    I’ve always been proud of being Indian, knowing that I come from a land which is very special.  When you grow up ‘middle class’, you grow up with a lot of dignity and self respect, because you don’t have much, that’s the only thing that you can fall back upon. The lack of money sometimes makes you very sloppy – or it instills a sense of great harmony within you. I’ve always felt Indians have been apologetic about their sense of perception and try to fit into a mold that’s been created by the West.

  • Your brand states that it “represents a comfort zone to global Indians and remains undestroyed through major socio-economical-political changes”. What is the ‘comfort zone’?

    The Indian comfort zone is just about being Indian. That is what our brand celebrates through texture, color and the way we present beauty. What I see with global Indians right now is a great paradigm shift, where they are seeking out the importance of being India. That is quite heartening. A lot of people say we buy Sabyasachi because it makes us feel special. I don’t think its so much about the clothes or the design – its about the basic premise that we ask them you be who they are and also, unapologetic about being Indian. When you have a leader stating that to you and when it’s socially validated, you feel so much happier. We are Gods special children. We are creative, esthetic, sensitive and we have unique values. While the West has always emphasized on the peripheral – we have always emphasized on the core. Sometimes we look stupid to the rest of the world, we are far more superior in many ways. What we have doesn’t die out as the world changes. It’s a very organic revolution – by observation, introspection understanding how strong the Indian community really is. I don’t think I instill that in other people, I am only validating them.

  • What do you mean when you say ‘the West’?

    North America and people who have not been fortunate enough to grow up with the kind of history we have. I remember Oprah once asked me ‘what do you think about spirituality’ and I said, ‘for you guys it’s a luxury, for us it’s a way of life’.

  • There are so many parts of North America and countries in Europe with a very strong sense of cultural identity and history, not to mention contributions to art history. How can you say Indians are more special?

    The edge that India has from other countries is a very simple thing. This is a country where people have grown with value systems and a spiritual attachment …detachment is more like it. I remember Oprah once asked me ‘what do you think about spirituality’ and I said, ‘for you guys it’s a luxury, for us it’s a way of life’.  If you look at Indian fashion, a lot of Indian fashion has not changed over the years. In Japan, No one really wears the Kimono, in other countries the national dress is only worn on special occasions. In India we wear Indian clothing all the time. It is because we are so rooted to who we are and our sense of spirituality, down to those who have nothing is so strong, that its very difficult for globalization to shake us from our sense of self. I think where India scores above other nations – and I’m not stating that other countries don’t’ have strong heritage or culture – but what India has; even poverty, suppression  and political anarchy  have not been able to eradicate. Because we have a strong sense of self. I am not anti-west, there are many things I admire about the west; designers, artists, other people that I hugely admire. My agenda is to have a healthy balance. I am not anti-west, there are many things I admire about the west; designers, artists, other people that I hugely admire. My agenda is to have a healthy balance with our clothing – one should wear both and not be apologetic about it.  I am not here to make a political statement. Because if you are wearing only western clothes or only Indian, it’s a bit skewed – I think a wholesome person is one who manages to imbibe both in their wardrobe.

  • Do you believe that in two or three generations everyone will still have a strong sense of ‘being Indian’ represented through wearing the national dress at such scale? This ‘middle class’ you speak of, they are the ones going to Bangkok to buy their flat screen TVs – they are the ones hungriest for change.

    Everyone has to go through the aspirational curve to realize what is good and what is not bad. As they are on this curve, the infatuation with the West is shrinking at a far greater propensity than what used to happen. Yes, I am going to buy my flat screen TV and my iPhone5 but these are not going to hold my attention for too long. What differentiates us is that we are far less material than the rest of the world in many, many ways. That sense of detachment is what keeps our sense of self alive. Any country which has had a strong sense of culture will have a reinvention phase, revolution and renaissance. After a really long time I see Indian taking charge – the sense of leadership which the country did not have for a very long time is happening now. We have a very extensive copy market in the country,  so if I do a  Kanjeevaram collection one year, I know it would start in the copy market and begin reviving that craft

  • You speak about building a brand with a “very strong social perspective” – please explain what you mean by “social perspective”

    We try and encourage our customers to accept themselves for whom they are, irrespective of caste, color, shape and size – our brand celebrates everything. We create a huge market shift for many people who live on the fringes of fashion, a lot of dyers and weavers who otherwise would have extinguished or shifted to other vocations. Our biggest job is to maintain the ecosystem of craftsmen, weavers, dyers and printers in this country.  We employ about 1100 people, through outside job working we employ another 35000 people.  The fun part is we have a very extensive copy market in the country,  so if I do a  Kanjeevaram collection one year, I know it would start in the copy market and begin reviving that craft. A lot of Benarasi revived because of our initiative – it was dying ten years ago. Between me and the market that copies me we create a whole lot of employment for people at the craft level.  A lot of the younger generation whom otherwise would have gone into other vocations now realize it can be profitable to stay in this system.

  • Have you seen that change across generations? Reports indicate otherwise, that it’s yet to be seen in many craft areas whether or not they will thrive for the next generation.

    I’ve seen it, it’s huge. It’s almost become a revolution right now. If that didn’t happen my brand wouldn’t have grown. I believe in inclusive growth; if the people who make you don’t grow with you, then the brand will never sustain.

  • Regarding Cannes, for the first time in years, the public and media in India had a strong reaction to a designer, which in itself is a positive change. What is your side of the Cannes story?

    If you look at Vidya, she is one for the few actresses who broke the mold by not looking and behaving in a certain way, endorsing beauty products etc. She is very clear that her first job is about acting and not about her appearance. She openly says she does not like to be on display. She does say she has a social responsibility but she will not kill herself to achieve that. Because she has a responsibility to herself as well and if she’s not comfortable dressing a certain way, she won’t. When someone makes a statement like that – it is a strong, confident and rooted self that requires respect. When an under-confident person is faced with a confident person, it can bring out the best and the worst because you are confronted with something that leaves you uncomfortable. When I look at the extreme reactions that Vidya evokes in people, I say: if she has found her comfort zone and she wants to stick to it then it’s absolutely fine. Fashion poses this sense that everything in life has to be about variety.  I keep telling them the most iconic things in the world only happen through repetition. Whether it’s Monroe’s red lips, Madonna’s crucifix or Rekha’s Kanjeevaram sari’s. Because of the pressures of advertising, people expect too much and sometimes their expectations are illogical. Because of the pressures of advertising, people expect too much and sometimes their expectations are illogical. Some of the comments I read about Vidya at Cannes read, “ I like Vidya but I wish she would change it up’ or, ‘ Why did she do the same hairstyle for three days?’. That’s an immature comment in the sense that; there is an Aishwarya Rai,  a Sonam Kapoor and a Vidya Balan – three different people with completely different ideologies – one does not have to be the other.  What happens with celebrities is we want to put all our hopes and failures onto them – saying  ‘this is who you should be’. But you have to realize, a celebrity is also a person who has to first be who they want to be. It can’t change by peer or social pressure. India is going through a diverse movement and there are people who think that being purist Indian is regressive or alternatively, progressive. I think what she wore started off a dialogue between these two sects of people who are anyways at war with each other because it s a difference of ideology. What she did was expose the war between both.

  • Icons are developed over years of consistency – not over a week at Cannes. Whereas Vidya does tend to wear saris, there is no clear sense of style that she adheres too. For instance, her shoots with Vogue are a complete departure from that look entirely. There is no consistency in terms of an ‘Iconic Vidya look’ just yet. Do you think this lead to a misunderstanding of your efforts?

    There were two things we could have done. We could have taken the showman’s route or a far more intimate route. Since she was going to be a part of the jury I wanted her to shine. The sad part of all this that backfired heavily on me was that it took away from her accomplishment. No one spoke about her being a part of the jury – instead they spoke about her sense of clothing. Or rather, the lack of it. That’s the only thing I regret – the only reason I wanted to take a quieter route with her was that it was her moment and I didn’t want it to be consumed by fashion. And Vidya is not the type of person who likes to be consumed by fashion. Except for the first outfit, the one with her head covered, we did not design her clothes from the point of view of being on the red carpet. She had a job to do and we wanted to make a functional wardrobe, not one that was red carpet heavy. Covering ones head in India has not only been about respect to elders or subjugation to men – it has also been a sense of mystery. I think its very feminine and very decadent. When people begin pulling political agendas out of it – there is nothing I can say.

  • Iconic Vidya’s outfits became anything but understated. There was still an opportunity within that esthetic to have diversity. And yet it was not chosen. Why was it consciously chosen to stick to the plan when the press in India was reacting so negatively?

    I met people who were detached from fashion, a lot of them were very enamored with the way she was dressed. The fashion press in India wrote very negative things about her and I think when she covered her head, many looked at it as an act of subservience. That was humorous, because that same day when I was crossing the road near Buckingham palace there were people going for a royal visit and they were dressed up in their best – every singe woman was wearing a hat. In the Italian Riviera all the women wear scarves on their head. It’s a part of the culture. Covering ones head in India has not only been about respect to elders or subjugation to men – it has also been a sense of mystery. I think its very feminine and very decadent. When people begin pulling political agendas out of it – there is nothing I can say. They are entitled to their opinions. I am intelligent enough as a designer to not get into a sexist mode by saying covering your head means you are in subjugation to men in an international arena. The reason we did it was because it gave a very strong cultural identity to the clothing. She said, “when they look at me I want them to say, ‘here comes the lady from India’ ”. That’s why her head was covered. They pulled out their own agendas to slander her. Out there, the foreign media did not give it so much of a thought, they thought it was nice and different. I won’t apologize for what she wore – because I think in the end she did me and my country very proud.

  • One of the criticism was about Vidya was how she appeared to be wearing a costume. It didn’t seem to be something she would naturally wear. Do you think that reaction was justified, between costume and red carpet dressing?

    There are two things.  Firstly, a gown has become recognized as the standard in red carpet dressing by the fashion press. Isn’t the gown a costume? It’s a vestigial outfit you can’t wear everyday –  it’s the definition of costume. If a gown isn’t regarded as a costume and your national dress is – there is a little bit of hypocrisy at play. Somewhere down the line, if you think a national dress is costume then you are subjugating your own identity because you are embarrassed about standards being set by your own country.  I won’t apologize for what she wore – because I think in the end she did me and my country very proud. Initially only some people come along, then the entire community comes along. When you start something because of novelty people say its very beautiful, then because of repetition they say they don’t like it anymore and start criticizing. If you hold you ground, then people will start introspecting – wondering why things are not changing and they begin to start understanding your ideology. There is a very big disconnect between what the fashion press in India thinks and how Indians dress. The voice you read on the Internet is that of a minority – which has probably grown up on borrowed esthetics of the west.

  • Do you think that because you are a powerful brand, people will buy whatever you create?

    I don’t think so. The Indian customer at large is more product supreme than brand supreme. If they get a good product at a good price, they will come to you. The Indian consumer isn’t as brand conscious as the West. Today, if I didn’t give them a product that was identifiable at a good price, it wouldn’t translate into sales. I would have made her more Indian than what she was.

  • Looking back, would have done anything differently at Cannes?

    I would have paid more attention to some saris because I wanted her to wear a Patan Patola and could not get my hands on one because time was short. If I had my way, I would have made her more Indian than what she was. A lot of people commented on the nose ring, the funny thing is that Tiffany’s is creating a line based on The Great Gatsby and the jewelry in focus is the haath phool, which is Indian. This is what happens all the time, the West picks up what we should celebrate and we are so caught up in our own internal agendas of ‘to be Indian or not to be Indian’ – that India always ends up missing the boat.

  • Several fans and fashionistas wait with bated breath for your showcase. What can they look forward to at the Lakmè Fashion Week Grand Finale?

    The finale always has to be larger than life. So, I have done an extensive collection, which is going to be both Indian and western at the same time. Silhouettes shall range from short, micro mini cocktail dresses to stately sarees and lehengas. It's all evening wear, based on the theme - Illuminate and Shine, as you wear shimmer and shine mostly at night. The collection will be broken into different stories, and there will also be a big performance by the Symphony of India Orchaestra. All this, at a wide and big set.

  • Tell us about the theme for a season – Illuminate which in one of the interviews was stated as your favourite?

    India loves bling and shimmer. As we are moving towards the festive season, this theme is very well timed. In fact, we were independently planning to do a clothing line based on shimmer. We do a lot of traditional outfits and there was a need to break in to the market for cocktail clothing. So, when Lakmè approached me, asking if I would like to be the finale designer and informed that the theme would be Illuminate and Shine, I said why not! Both minds aligned at the same place and things just got easier The make up range is extremely beautiful. You see, India tends to go either too glossy or very iridescent with make up. Illuminate is a softer take on gloss, and I think it will look much nicer on Indian skin. I personally feel that the Indian skin looks very nice with a little bit of a wet sheen or humid gloss. So, it's going to be perfect for us. .

  • It’s been more than a decade since you were discovered. How have you seen Lakmè Fashion Week and the designers involved change over the years?

    Had I been discovered a decade later, I don't know if I would even stand a chance among these kids. When I came into fashion week, I did not know what a look book was and didn't even have a line sheet. I don't even know if I had prices on my outfits, leave alone tags (smiles). I wasn't even aware about the process of meeting buyers, nor did I have a laptop on me. In fact, when I got discovered, I had called my parents from a PCO. Everyone was saying great things about me, and the call dropped. So, I didn't even own a cellphone. Today, when I look at the kids, they are way smarter and organised. They have had a more aggressive education as compared to us. I have witnessed a big evolution.

  • What do you have to say about the melange of technology and fashion that we get to see these days?

    The fact that we chose to showcase our couture collection on Instagram should tell you how much we respect technology. We have an entire social media team working for us. It's a medium that should be used to streamline, grow and democratise your business. I don't agree with the fact that technology should be used in design. As the world gets more and more globalised, people will ultimately come to you for handcrafted things. So, you can still produce handcrafted items, but retain the market through technology.

  • What are your thoughts on the Ministry of Textiles and Hon. minister Smriti Irani’s #IWearHandloom initiative on social media?

    It's a fantastic initiative. I have always said that we have a lot to celebrate in this country, but we only celebrate when the west has given us a validation. It's time that India discovers itself before the west discovers us. When somebody with a strong political will can inspire an entire nation to think Indian, it's a fantastic opportunity for all of us.

  • Since the wedding season is just around the corner, several fans wanted your comment on the top trends for brides.

    Personally, I would always recommend that you don't think about trends. That's just not the correct way to shop for your wedding. Trends are transient, so your wedding outfits will become irrelevant in years to come. Your wedding album should stay on with you for the rest of your life. So, follow tradition and wear red & gold.

  • Do you consider fashion a language?

    Absolutely! Sometimes clothes convey what we feel, what we want to achieve, who we want to seduce or simply what we are all about, without saying a word. Style is one of the most potent non-verbal languages.

  • What is your idea of style?

    It actually means being 5'1 and being able to carry off fats with panache to a party.

  • Do you see style and intellectuality as related concepts?

    Clothes are an extension of one's intellect. Fashion is a mass phenomenon, while style is a distinctive expression of an individual via sense and sensibility.

  • What are your observations on Indian society and beauty?

    Every nationality has a regional standard for beauty whether they are Japanese, Chinese, Arab or African. But we Indians, almost always scrounge standards from the west. Most Indian men is women who are feminine and curvy, real women with real assets. However, the way women perceive beauty in society is very different .I wonder sometimes why women actually dress p apart from themselves - for their friends or spouses? There is typically a gender game, men and women dress to attract each other. But I feel that women actually dress up with the objective of subjugating their brethren. And in their quest for supremacy, they ignore and forfeit what men covet.

  • What do you think about India and its relationship with eroticism?

    It is a hypocritical relationship with eroticism. We are a country that has always been exposed to eroticism through our culture and through our history. I think because our country is so socially diverse, people have tried to exercise control at every level to unite populace as a tribe . In this context, religion has always had a strong influence. Because of this fact, our leaders have constantly taken such a high moral ground to politically discipline various segments of people. Therefore, we've always been very apologetic about expressing our sexuality.

  • Does fashion have a political role?

    Cultural clothing has such a unique way of uniting people and fostering nationalism. In that milieu, fashion having such a social voice will always make a political comment.

  • What are the three signs of beauty for you in a woman?

    Crows feet and laugh lines, a throaty laugh and an appetite for dessert.

  • You once said you were a traditionalist and that baring skin takes away the dignity of a woman. Why?

    I'd like to rephrase this now. Mindless showing off skin to be sexy, more than detracting from the dignity of a woman, gives the impression of her being unintelligent. As you know then, that you don't have the intellectual means of being sexual because your mind is not at work. You can be covered up completely and still be sexy in the most perverse of ways. The most potent sexual undercurrent is always evolved by the unseen.

  • You’re known for being inspired by Frida Kahlo, anyone like Frida Kahlo alive? Someone who embodies qualities she had?

    Rita Kapoor Chishti as she dons her ethnicity with feral pride. Usha Uthup, a crooner from Calcutta who sings Bob Dylan songs in Kanjeevaram saris and Reeboks that she adorns with sticky tape and ethnic fabric scraps.