He’s Bollywood’s bona fide bride whisperer who has dressed up A-listers such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma on their wedding days.
But celebrated Indian designer to the stars, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, tells Gulf News in an exclusive interview that he doesn’t “really care about public expectations”, even if billions of eyes are boring into him.
The designer, whose ensembles reflect India’s rich heritage in embroidery and textiles, is acutely aware that his creations could be embraced or rejected.
“The first thing that you need to remember is that when these brides comes to us, they all come to us with a singular vision of wanting to be ‘Sabya brides’ — whether it’s Anushka, Priyanka, Deepika who choose to wear us … I don’t really care about public expectations because I know we will polarise people. Some people will like what you do and some people won’t like what you do,” said Mukherjee in a sit-down interview with Gulf News at the launch of his bespoke jewellery collection stocked at Bayt Damas on Al Wasl Road.
The designer from Kolkata also reminds us that actresses who choose to wear his creations are not keen to ‘dress up like actresses’ and want their identities and quirks to shine through during one of their most momentous occasions in their lives.
His eyes and ears are always on realising the ‘vision of the bride’. If Sharma chose a pastel lehenga (skirt) with delicate motifs, Chopra Jonas opted for an all-red voluminous skirt with hand-cut organza flowers and French knots.
“When you start becoming a big brand, we start understanding that with great power comes great responsibility and then comes great criticism. One needs to learn how to handle that,” Mukherjee said.
He remembers how Sharma, who was readying to marry cricketer Virat Kohli in Italy in December 2017, had a minimalist vision when she came to meet him for a bridal trousseau brainstorming session.
“She had just come straight from a [film] shoot and she was wearing no make-up and she looked beautiful. I asked: ‘do you think you can wear this for your wedding?’ … And, she went for her wedding with almost no make-up … She had the courage and confidence to do that and that’s what people noticed,” Mukherjee recalled.
Sharma’s wedding portraits that saw her looking radiant in a pastel pink lehenga became emblematic of brides opting for simpler and minimalist designs as opposed to going overboard or blindingly blingtastic with the traditional red on their special day.
“With Anushka, I don’t think it was about the Sabyasachi lehenga actually. It was about the way she put it together … The freshness, the charm, the intimacy, and the confidence with which she wore it. Going bare skin on your own wedding! I always try to pay homage to what a bride would want,” said Mukherjee.
He also reminds us that these celebrity brides are just like regular women who block out everybody’s expectations so that they can be honest to themselves.
Bollywood celebrity weddings have become one of the most scrutinised and bloody sports in entertainment journalism, with media houses scrambling to get pictures and details of the bride and groom. What the celebrity bride wore often gains national and international significance with their carefully put-together wedding trousseau being pulled apart by fashion critics and influencers.
“But your wedding dress is not really about wearing a brand, it’s also your identity that you’re carrying with you for the rest of your life. There’s going to be pictures from that day that you will share with your children and your great grandchildren,” said Mukherjee.
Just like his well-heeled celebrity clients, Mukherjee also tries to keep his head above the noise and chaos ahead of a star wedding. He has reached a point in his flourishing career that he doesn’t bother about conformity or approval.
“I don’t care about it all because I set my own rules. I don’t even do fashion weeks anymore. I democratically show my clothes on my Instagram because why show your clothes to 500 people at a fashion week, when I can show it to five billion … You have to literally reinvent the wheel from scratch if you really don’t have a proof of concept or marketing. I have never shied away from anything — be it gender fluidity or body positivity or skin colour,” pointed out Mukherjee.
The models featured wearing his creations on Instagram aren’t reed-thin models with porcelain skin tones, and they come in all sizes, shapes and colours. It’s representative and wholesome. But being inclusive is in his DNA, claims the designer.
“When you are born middle-class in India, you are excluded from a lot of privileges. So when you belong to the other side, you realise how it feels to be excluded … when I do my work, I try to be as democratic as possible. I cannot be democratic in terms of prices, but I like to be democratic in terms of accessibility … For me, body positivity has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a fad right now,” said Mukherjee. In his experience, his customers come in all shapes and sizes, so he wants to ideally represent them all.
Just before this interview, this journalist observed how approachable, patient and personal Mukherjee was with potential customers — a young lady in her mid-20 and her mother — who came to shop for his eponymous jewellery line at Bayt Damas.
The fashion maven, who has sourced clothes for Bollywood stars in films such as ‘Guzaarish’, ‘English Vinglish’ and ‘Raavan’, spoke sparingly but listened intently to what the young lady wanted without interrupting her or interjecting in a flamboyant fashion.
He’s a keen observer of his life and people, which is reflected in the way he conducted himself during the interview. Unlike most Indian designers who fraternise and party with Bollywood stars, he’s rarely seen hobnobbing with them. He seems to be cut from a different cloth, but does it ever get lonely?
“I was a born loner. I enjoy my own space. You could be alone but you don’t have to feel isolated … With every brand, there comes a time when you control the customer and then comes a time when the customer controls you and finally you come to a position where you control the customer. Today I am in that privileged position and I do exactly what I want to do and I still manage to make sales … It’s a wonderful place for a creative person to be,” said Mukherjee.
He makes these declarations without a hint of artifice or pride. The facts stack in his favour. When he became the first Indian designer to collaborate with Swedish retail high-street fashion giant H&M with his capsule collection ‘Wanderlust’, it flew off the racks and sold out globally in 10 minutes. However, he came under fire as many found the designs pedestrian and boring. So how did he handle the flak that came along with the sparkle?
“You know, a lot of people thought I would be doing cheaper lehengas for H&M and I don’t why I would do that since this was an international collection sold in countries as diverse as Japan, Sweden, America, France … I was very happy it got sold out worldwide in less than 10 minutes … It was a great testimonial to the power of Indian design,” said Mukherjee. He doesn’t intend to do such a collaboration again but hopes that he has paved the way for other Indian designers.
“We broke a glass ceiling there because India has always been looked upon as a manufacturing country and never as a design country. It was H&M’s first collaboration with an Indian designer … I have opened the door, and many others will march to the door and probably do things much better and stronger than me,” he said.
His vision is equally clear when it comes to his jewellery designs, often spotted on pop stars such as Katy Perry.
“Design, democracy, confidence are the three code words in all our designs … I look at jewellery from a beauty perspective and not from an investment perspective. In India, a lot of people buy jewellery from the point of investment and end up buying jewellery that do not look nice on them at all. If you are looking at investment, then buy gold bricks or real estate,” said Mukherjee. Each and every piece on display at his chic lair has a story to tell and is magnificently designed with influences from the Arab world.
“I always look at jewellery from the perspective of a confident woman … She’s someone who will never wear Chanel head to toe and might pair a Chanel jacket with Nike shoes or a Levis Jeans … She’s a woman who will wear a Cartier bracelet, but wear the beads given by her friend from Tibet … It’s mismatched, but precious,” said Mukherjee. His aesthetic is like the lady who keeps a precious Picasso painting next to her two-year-old’s drawing.
“Because both are equally precious to her and matter to her … She displays a democracy of choice which makes it exuberant … I want to bring that sense of democracy into my designs. I don’t rationalise.”
The wedding industry being recessionproof: “Yes, it is quite recessionproof because everybody saves up for that one big moment in their lives.”
The current fashion moment in India: “We are going through both maximalism and minimalism at the same time … This has happened worldwide throughout all crises whether it was during the Great Depression or the second world war or the global pandemic right now. There are going to be two kinds of people. One says, we need to be responsible and they will turn ethical shoppers, but there will be another set who wants to blow it all up and be reckless. There’s going to be exuberance and restraint. Both will coexist side by side.”