It is difficult to not appear like a fan girl of designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s new store, as we soak in the ambiance at first glance. The imposing chandeliers, every inch of the floor covered in fine carpets, walls bedecked with vintage ceramic plates and clocks, and a rack of clothes that many women in the country would covet. But when you spot the man behind this opulence walk in, in sweatpants, and as he warms up to the conversation, it’s easy to gauge the respect and authority that he commands for his craft.
We met with couturier two days before his new store in Kala Ghoda was to open. But he wasn’t breaking sweat, considering a garden had to be laid out in the store and business to be done keeping the “60/40 ratio”, he shares, of the experiential and retail space.
All that bothers him is that, “Two of my carpets are still to come.” Business will happen, and he is making enough to continue with his lavish ideas of creating approachable spaces for everyone in the city, he tells us. Not just us, the industry too will agree that Mukherjee’s move to a bigger store space in just four years since the launch of his earlier store is one example of his success. We let Ella Fitzgerald croon All Through the Night in the background, as the designer leads us into his mind.
Calcutta to Bombay
Interspersed with wooden columns from Gujarat and Kerala, the store could possibly resemble the home of a well-heeled officer from the Raj era. He has cut up seven carpets to dress the stairs of the store, where he says, people can drop by for coffee, read a book, and leave, satisfied. This is just one of the stories that the curios in the store, will tell, which include driving the contractors up the wall while sourcing a “Purani cheentwala canvas from Pakistan” (it took eight weeks to arrive) to attar bottles that were glued to the tables, as Mukherjee would make the contractors shift their positions, every day.
“I was getting very restricted by the space. The brand was getting bigger, I was keen to do more things including affordable ready-to-wear and bridal that was taking more space. You can’t put both customers together,” he reasons.
Besides, developing a financial stronghold by taking a chance to move to a bigger space, and parking issues in the earlier spot, also led to the decision.
Mukherjee has tried to replicate the zamindar houses and the clubs of colonial Calcutta, with the aid of printed curtains, drapery, brass banisters, “Parsis and old Calcuttans have the tendency of hoarding things and putting it up on the wall; it’s quirky and magical and personally, my sensibility too.” Though he has a habit of collecting things that don’t matter to people and creating spaces that he terms as ‘beautiful clutter’, his personal way of living is simple, unlike his stores.
Back to accesorising: Through this store he will also be working with accessories again, with a special collaboration with jewelers Kishandas & Co from Hyderabad with whom he will be curating heritage pieces, that he feels do justice to the sensibility of his clothes.
Building a brand
“You have to do things the correct way to send out a message to people who don’t understand you. Milking a brand for the sake of money is not a good thing to do for the longevity of the brand. In India, we want a lot of returns without investing too much,” he maintains.
This, he feels is the reason behind indulging himself in his stores rather than buying a big car or a house for himself.
Like selling a great product in a plastic bag that has no thought to it, Mukherjee feels that India has beautiful stories but we don’t have anyone to tell our stories. “Already, China has patented some of our saris, selling it as their own.
Patenting and getting the legal accreditation done for things that you own and marketing it the right way is important. But I am excited about the new government; I feel they will have an active strategy for marketing India,” he shares.
Change for good
He feels that the new designers don’t just hit the gym and present themselves well, but have a razor-sharp vision as well. He believes that youngsters today are giving him healthy competition. When we prod him to name a few who’ve caught his eye, he mentions Aneeth Arora, Ruchika Sachdeva, Arjun and Kanika Saluja, Amit Aggarwal, Gaurav Gupta, Huemn by Pranav Mishra and Shyma Shetty.
What lies ahead?
Mukherjee feels that for a good business model in India to trickle down, one must concentrate on the business for
10-15 years, be an image-maker and then, reach out to the masses. It doesn’t work the other way round, he feels.
Catering to the lower-end section of the market is what he wishes to do too; “It is the future of business. That business will be at least 50 times bigger than my current business. It needs a lot of capital commitment and planning, and we are working towards it. As the brand grows, the craving for it within the lower, middle, and upper middle class should grow,” he asserts.
Mukherjee wants to make clothes that can be replicated in millions in local markets as he feels his collection is a hit when it is copied and seen across stores everywhere. This, he enjoys more than getting celebrities dressed since it reminds him of his roots. He hails from a family of educationists and was never dazzled by glamour and celebrities.
He plans to work on film again soon. As for the chain ‘trickle-down’ production, he plans to get himself ready for the stage in two or three years’ time, and dabble in home décor too.
At Ador House, 6 K Dubash Marg, Fort.
Sabya wants to open a restaurant!
The couturier seems to have conquered it all but one of his biggest dreams, “…is to run a restaurant! I am a foodie and I like food in its purest form. You cannot give me intellectual bul%@#t and convince me about good food, whether it’s Basmati or a samosa, there is no middle-path, food is right or wrong. Confused food doesn’t work.” We like! Watch this space.