Celebrated Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who has dressed up A-listers like Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Alia Bhatt on their wedding day, believes he’s being stereotyped as this “thoroughbred intellectual”.
But there’s more to him than that snobby label, says the Kolkata-born couturier who has his own clothing store in New York and stocks his jewellery at Bayt By Damas in Dubai.
“I’m very fluid ... Many believe that I just read Jean Paul Sartre or Tagore [Rabindranath] ... But did you know my favourite movie is about Godzillas and Supercrocs ... They are mindless, but I love it because they don’t require logical thinking,” said Mukherjee in an interview with Gulf News in February.
The 49-year-old designer’s biggest pet-peeve is when he is given these tags by the press. But he doesn’t let them define him.
“Recently, there was a woman who came in a Fuchsia Jalabiya (tunic) with a turban to meet me here in Dubai, and I immediately took a picture of her and sent it to my design team in India, saying: ‘this is the future’.”
Interestingly, he was never a fan of Fuchsia but instantly knew that this local customer was onto something there.
“I am led by volatile instincts, and I have trained myself to listen to them,” said Mukherjee. One such impulse is his belief that he has outgrown his dressing up of Bollywood stars phase. He also believes that reducing India to just Bollywood is “very myopic”.
“I don’t like that, and it’s time to move on because I am a person who’s constantly evolving. The idea of India cannot be just controlled or projected by Bollywood alone. There’s so much more to India than Bollywood and cricket. There’s so much more to India than just that. Look at our architecture,” said Mukherjee. While he may have outgrown the maximalist world of Bollywood stars, he has an interesting spin on how he often projects himself differently.
“I’m probably a minimalist who projects as a maximalist … I have very minimal needs. My head is very non-cluttered ... The maximalist bit comes from my mother’s mother who was very rich and my minimalism comes from my father’s family, who were refugees and very poor,” explained Mukherjee, adding that while he loved them both, it was his father’s mother who truly taught him about life. “ ... I learnt the power of self from father’s mother. She had nothing, but she had everything. She fascinated me ... She created so much with so little and that’s the real power.”
Born into a Bengali-Brahmin household, Mukherjee is a self-made designer who has worked his way up in the fashion industry. From collaborating with retail giant H&M to joining hands with Christian Louboutin, Mukherjee’s success story is a colourful one.
Interestingly, he also has an ambivalent attitude towards money.
“I enjoy my money and I have made lots of money in my life. But if tomorrow, every penny was to be taken away from me, I would never think about it. I am not attached to money and that gives you clarity.” His attitude towards fashion is equally interesting.
“Fashion is marketing and not creativity,” he declares. He also adds that his critics often blast him for creating clothes that are repetitive and familiar, but he claims he wants to create clothes that can work for the next four decades. “Just imagine if Rolls-Royce were to change their car every single year.”
While any conversation with him can be a crash course in life, we moved to a quirky territory. Here’s his quick take on a few eccentric questions fashion, life and more:
If you had to wear one outfit every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A white shirt and jeans. Firstly, it’s casual and non-pretentious. Secondly, depending on how you style it, you can take the outfit from morning to night. You can take the look from the bedroom to the boardroom and every other place that you can think of. Not only is a white shirt and denim deceptively charming, but it also becomes your gate pass to many other places depending on how you put it together.
If you could use only one colour in your designs for the rest of your career, what would you choose and why?
White, and I believe this colour is enjoying a moment in the sun. I truly believe that white is the new black. It’s such a deceptive colour because for me, it’s such a “dress-up shade”. While it’s difficult to work with white and shades of white, it’s also a strong and pristine colour. It borders on versatility. I love white now, probably because of my post-Covid-19 reset, and I can use that colour in many different ways. It could be daywear, evening wear, or summer wear depending on the fabric you choose. Plus, white always looks glamorous.
What’s the most unusual place you have ever drawn inspiration from?
Listening to music really helps my creative juices flow. It opens up characters and fictional places in me. It triggers images and ideas inside my head. And when I go to a place for inspiration, I play music that takes me to faraway magical places that don’t exist but simply inspire. Surprisingly, my study where I work is done up in dark colours. It helps me focus. White expands you, while dark colours help narrow your imagination. When I am working, I prefer to stay in darker places.
If you could only design for one season for the rest of your career, which season would you choose to work on and why?
Spring-Summer. I come from a tropical country, and I am also someone who feels happy and enchanted by sunshine and sunlight. I don’t do cold places very well. I also believe that spring is always such a joyous season. Right now, I don’t find excitement in anything that’s morbid anymore. My post-Covid-19 reset is to avoid sepia-tones entirely. I am constantly looking for light and freshness.
If you could design an outfit that doubles up as a piece of furniture, what would it look like?
I would design an outer jacket, maybe a puffer one, which is very comfortable and cushy. It will be so comfortable and cosy that the jacket can double up as a lounge chair where you can watch movies while eating popcorn.
How would you dress up aliens if you were asked to do so?
Aliens exist in dark spaces, and I believe they must be lonely and alone. So I would definitely work with rich brocades with lots of floral patterns. It’s my job to show them happiness.
If you could dress up an animal, which one would it be?
I have seven dogs, and I believe my inspiration starts at home. They always instill a certain sense of coziness in me ... But to answer your question truthfully, I will not dress up an animal at all. Animals are just so beautiful when created by nature. Honestly, I feel uncomfortable with that idea because they have been created perfectly. Human beings aren’t born that way. We are most beautiful when we are allowed to be free. And what could be more freeing than not wearing any clothes at all? So, I would keep the animal, at least, out of fashion.
If you could design a wedding outfit for a fictional character from a film or book, what would the dress look like?
I have always been fascinated with Spider-Man because as a child, he struck me as someone who’s a boy-next-door. I will keep it simple. I will dress him up in a white linen shirt with a pair of white linen pants. A paisley print scarf would be a nice touch. Plus, Spidey costumes are tight, so he will find my designs liberating.