by Zohra KhanNov 12, 2021
"I think my entire life is made of clichés. I think they are the way they are because everybody loves them. I like things that everybody loves. I get inspired by things that are usual and everywhere.”
- Sabyasachi Mukherjee
For Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the most magical days of his life constitute going to the school on a boat, directing a play when he was in grade three, cutting his father’s socks to make bodycon dresses for his sister’s dolls, and taking little picnics and adventures while growing up in an old British mill in Kolkata, India. In this episode of UNSCRIPTED, we discover unknown facts about the journey of a charming little Bengali boy who went on to become the undisputable powerhouse of Indian fashion.
Talking about his childhood, Mukherjee says, “I went to school on a hand rown boat, all the children used to sing Rabindra Sangeet and we would pass Tagore Summer House. […] We used to have magical Christmas parties where women wore organza sarees and played mahjong while men played bridge. It was magical because it was idyllic. We were secluded, and didn’t have much, so all we could depend on was imagination.”
Mukherjee (b. 1974), who has also ventured into jewellery design, belongs to a middle-class Bengali family where his father was a chemical engineer and mother, a fine arts teacher. While growing up, it was his mother’s deftness in stitching fabrics and his father’s liberal approach to life that young Mukherjee found inspiration in. While one taught him how to tinker with textiles, the other showed him the path to survival. Speaking of the latter, he says, “If I owe my career, my life and everything to one person, it would be my father…I saw my first adult film because of him. He said to me, ‘if you grow up, grow up with me.’ He helped me build my business. He is still my closest friend.”
Mukherjee lived visually rich days in his childhood and called some of the most strong-minded, confident women figures, family. Though he was a brilliant kid, education he says, bored him all his life, and fashion happened to him for the mere reason that it was cheap to pursue at that time.
He might be one of the most influential Indian fashion designer today, but his academic tryst into fashion design initially met his own lack of interest added with his parents’ disappointment who felt their son would throw away a good education to become a darzi (tailor). While he barely attended classes at the NIFT Kolkata feeling what he was taught was very myopic, he thoroughly enjoyed the part when he got to choreograph fashion shows at “small clubs, bars, and shabby little hotels”. Describing graduation as “jumping off the cliff without a parachute hoping someone would save him”, we ask him who finally came to his rescue. He answers with a smile: “My conviction saved me.”
I hate customising clothes. I think when you are a designer, people should pay for your voice, not their own. Else they can go to a darzi (tailor).
Mukherjee is celebrated for his knowledge of transforming ancient textiles into modern silhouettes using handcrafted techniques such as dying, embroidery, and block printing. His eponymous studio, which was established in 2001 with a workforce of three, today works with thousands of employees and operates through multiple stores across India. A Bollywood favourite, especially revered for Indian bridal wear in which he weaves clever layering with the old world charm, his designs take one on an adventure through India’s rich history, craftsmanship, and storytelling culture.
Speaking fondly about the Indian saree and his fascination that makes him keep reinventing it, Mukherjee contemplates some of his earliest memories associated with the garment. “I have grown up with women wearing sarees. They played tennis, and rode buses. My mother’s friends, wearing sarees, used to hang out from the buses because those used to be very crowded in Kolkata. I remember my grandmother tying a knot at the end of a saree, towards her ankle, so that the garment doesn’t ride up while she was sleeping. It’s so seamless, and that’s the only garment that I know for the longest time in my life.”
Beyond fashion design, the haute couture designer also has to his portfolio several collaborations straddling décor, interior design, and home furnishing. His key projects in these areas include a capsule collection of products for American home store brand Pottery Barn, bespoke tableware for UK’s luxury retailer Thomas Goode, cinema-inspired interiors of the magnificent Cinema Suite of the Taj suites and residences in London, exquisite bags and shoes for Christian Louboutin, design of his flagship jewellery store in Kalaghoda, Mumbai, and a collection of wallpapers and furnishings for Asian Paints.
On UNSCRIPTED, Mukherjee tells STIR about a Sabyasachi-sm that he is tired of, what he does to stay strong in his mind, and what happens when creativity encounters controversy.
All this and more! Tap on the cover video to watch the full conversation.
All visuals © Sabyasachi, unless stated otherwise. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.
Curated by PramitiMadhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.