We are like chalk and cheese”, is how Sandeep Khosla defines his association with Abu Jani, who has been his partner in fashion designing for the past 25 years. The duo, who call themselves “unabashedly Indian” in their aesthetics, have successfully combined India’s rich heritage with contemporary styling since they started their fashion journey and continue to consider India as their muse. We meet the talented duo at their factory in Andheri — a nearly-dilapidated building from the outside, but a set straight out of a periodic film from the inside. Huge throne-like chairs, a beautiful black glass centre table along with velvet covered chairs and tables and a huge vintage chandelier greet us when we entered. The interiors of the room are reminiscent of their works — beautiful, regal, grand and very Indian. In a tête-à-tête with Abu-Sandeep, the designers discuss their new book, their journey and the bond they share.
Why did you decide to release a book now?
Sandeep: We wanted to do something that talks about our work over 25 years.
Abu: Internationally, we wanted people to know that there are two Indian designers, who are doing work that has embroidery, art and detailing. At the same time, we wanted to inspire the younger generation so they could help revive India heritage and textiles instead of making jackets and skirts. The West is good with it, let them make it. Let’s do what we know.
How did you two get together in the first place?
Sandeep: I started working with a film designer, who happened to be someone Abu had worked with earlier. On August 15, 25 years ago, Abu stepped into his office and we met. We discussed our goals, ambitions and thoughts on design, and realised that we were pretty much in tune. That’s how our journey started.
Do you have creative clashes?
Abu: We are very different people so there are differences, but there is a lot of mutual respect. There is no sulking or temper tantrums, there is an adjustment.
When you look back, how would you describe your journey?
Sandeep: It’s been a whirlwind journey — with lots of downs and an equal number of highs. But highs have been so fabulous that the downs were forgotten.
Abu: When we started out, we had a dream, and an ambition to achieve something unattainable. We started off with that dream 25 years ago. We had talent and we were blessed. At the same time, there were lots of ups and downs. There was a fire which destroyed everything — there were difficulties and financial problems, so it was a bundle of emotions.
The industry has seen a sea change since you started. What is that one change that you like and one that is disappointing?
Sandeep: Starting a fashion council and a fashion week was great because it brought an industry together. But the multiple fashion weeks are crazy. There are too many of them and we have lost the plot. What was meant to focus on building the prestige of the fashion industry has created more confusion.
Abu: Younger designers have many opportunities to get trained now, which is good. Sandeep and I are not trained. We did not go to an institution because, in our times, there weren’t any. What is, however, disturbing is that students who go to an institute today, go with the tunnel vision of becoming a designer. They don’t explore what they are good at. In designing there are various facets — journalism, photography, pattern making and so on
Was it a conscious decision to stick to Indian silhouettes?
Sandeep: Abu and I firmly believe that we are Indian first. There is so much to explore in our country. So it was a conscious effort. We are not going to start making jackets that we can’t do really well and compete with the western market.
You have never really spoken about your interior designing projects. How did you get into that?
Sandeep: Although fashion will always be our priority, interior designing is a stress reliever because in fashion you are constantly innovating. In interiors, you are innovating but you are also looking at beautiful things that you can source, which is a great journey. You go to various markets and see things, which inspires you further.
Abu: Twenty years ago, we realised clothes were in and happening, but we wanted to try something else. We did a collection of furniture, and it was a great success.
Do you think for the West, Indian fashion is still about what Bollywood sports?
Sandeep: For people who are ill-informed, Bollywood is Indian fashion, but people who are aware, know that that’s not all. You do see Karl Lagerfeld’s India-inspired collection. You see our silhouettes there. So, obviously, we are making a mark somewhere, acknowledged or not, directly or indirectly, but it’s all there.