Luxe

An eye for finery

Riaan George | Updated on January 09, 2018
Take root: “I got my taste of luxury from my grandparents.”

Take root: “I got my taste of luxury from my grandparents.”

Bedazzled: Mukherjee started out as a jewellery designer before switching to clothes

Bedazzled: Mukherjee started out as a jewellery designer before switching to clothes

Transition phase: While he is mostly associated with jadau and gold, this collection marks a departure. It concentrates on diamonds in filigree work. PHoto courtesy: Instagram

Transition phase: While he is mostly associated with jadau and gold, this collection marks a departure. It concentrates on diamonds in filigree work. PHoto courtesy: Instagram

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Bridge between two worlds: The filigree work in the Zanyah Collection with Forevermark is inspired by Italy and Kolkata, his city of birth

Bridge between two worlds: The filigree work in the Zanyah Collection with Forevermark is inspired by Italy and Kolkata, his city of birth

The irrepressible Sabyasachi Mukherjee on how fashion weeks are like military school, diamonds are his new best friend, and how he found a bit of Kolkata in Italy

He’s right on schedule at a luxury hotel in Kolkata, clad in his usual understated best — white shirt, blue jeans and simple loafers. His casual elegance is in stark contrast with the exquisite, highly intricate couture creations that have now become part of homegrown designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s identity.

However, it looks like Sabyasachi Mukherjee is agonising over the current state of affairs in fashion. “I was done with fashion 10 years ago. I’ve been unhappy about the pace of fashion, where I am required to show a new collection at a specified time. It’s like military school. This year, I quit Couture Week because I didn’t want to show when I had nothing to say. I will show when I want to. When you have a good collection, there is no need to constantly reinvent yourself.”

My meeting with Mukherjee takes place under rather interesting circumstances — a place where the Mukherjee of the past wouldn’t be expected — at a diamond jewellery fair. The designer, popular among celebrities and the Indian diaspora alike, is in Kolkata for the annual Forevermark Forum, to present his new collection of diamond jewellery. The venture marks a new direction in his career. Much has been said in the past about the clothes that he has designed, but little is known about his new-found interest in jewellery. “The idea of designing diamond jewellery excited me. When people think of my brand, they associate it with jadau (traditional engraved jewellery) or gold. Nobody thinks of diamonds and me. This represented a challenge, and I’m always up for one. As a designer, I have explored the themes of travel, history and heritage. I have managed to incorporate and translate these elements into the collection. It is an expression of myself.”

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On jewellery

Those familiar with Mukherjee’s work know that he is no stranger to the world of gemstones. Before he started out as a fashion designer, he began his career designing small pieces of jewellery. His current passion also has roots in one of his trips to Florence, Italy. “I walked into an antique store where I saw these gorgeous Sicilian earrings, which were very similar to Bengali filigree ones with pearls — the designs were different but the technique similar. Meanwhile, the guy in the store came up to me and asked if I came from India. When I said yes, he replied, ‘There is a city in the eastern part of India called Calcutta — these are from there.’ I had my answer and it was a sign. I started to research on my collection that would be inspired by Italy and Kolkata.

“There’s a bit of the ’20s art deco influence in some of the pieces, like a pair of earrings — that reminds me of the Chrysler Building or the Eiffel Tower. I have to admit, that I made the manufacturing process as complicated as possible — I started putting in all my demands. I wanted filigree, enamelling, all done by hand. I have to admit that diamonds don’t always look good, so I’ve made an alloy of gold to give it this warm look.”

This collection, christened Zanyah™ stems from his personal interest in fine craftsmanship. “I keep myself updated on jewellery. I perhaps know more about it than clothing. I really worked hard to understand latest developments. I went as far as taking a round of workshops with B2B diamond companies to hone my craft. Then, I went to Milan and did an internship with the Forevermark design team there. I even did a round of internships in India. That’s how seriously I took it.” Sabyasachi’s concern about the details reflects in the importance given to craftsmanship over size in the collection.

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Long-standing passion

The man whose brand is in the forefront of home-grown luxury, credits his family for his taste in the finer things of life. “I got my taste of luxury from my grandparents. My grandfather used to go to Italy and Paris, back in the day, and buy things that were foreign here then — such as swimsuits. My grandmother would wear them, even though we had no swimming pool. I still remember her wearing a French swimsuit, sitting by our water tank, with a bucket, pouring water all over herself. My grandfather often bought expensive things that one never needed, and he would always show them to me first,” Mukherjee quips in his signature tongue-in-cheek tone.

For a designer, is jewellery a logical progression after clothes? According to Mukherjee, “It makes a lot of sense from a business point of view. It is indeed a logical progression. But jewellery has always enchanted me. I got my first education in jewellery from my family, from my mother who always had great taste in it. It was something I always wanted to do. I got into fashion because there was no alternative. I’m glad I’ve come back to jewellery.”

Part of Mukherjee’s diamond jewellery collection for Forevermark also includes key pieces for men, a whole new emerging client base for the Kolkata-born designer. “Designing jewellery for men was pretty easy because all I could think of was rings. Getting Indian men to buy diamond rings will certainly be a challenge but, you know, things are changing, and the new millennial does not have the same sensibilities as his parents. For the longest time, jewellery worked on the concept of parampara, where you bought only from the family jeweller across generations. Now, they will buy pieces when they want and from places they trust.”

He doesn’t fret about inspiration to come to him. “They say a writer can write only one beautiful book in his lifetime. The rest is a rehash or in the spirit of his most important book, which is largely true. Why shouldn’t it be so for designers as well? Why do they constantly have to reinvent to suit the press? At the end of the day, if you have found a haircut that suits you, you keep it.”

He feels the love for fashion for its own sake isn’t there among the current subculture in the industry. “Fashion today does not have a design agenda, it has a social agenda. If you cut the social agenda out of it, I am very happy with the remaining design aspect. I have a problem when fashion plays a divisive role, or is mindless. We all want to make money but we don’t have to do it by fighting amongst ourselves. Another question I grapple with — do we really need the next product, is it useful once bought? When I shop — I buy my staples from GAP, Calvin Klein or Uniqlo, because these are things that I need. I don’t go to them because they have released great collections.”

One would wonder if all his customers perceive his label in the same way, then? “There are a lot of people who buy my clothing because it is a brand. I have made my peace with that. But I certainly don’t want to change the way I work to attract customers who don’t belong to me. Five years ago, I would have said yes, but now I won’t. At the end of the day, the fashion industry boils down to clothing, and I need to concentrate on making good ones. I must admit however, that I sometimes like the challenge of running a business more than creating the clothes themselves,” Mukherjee ends on a wise note.

Riaan Jacob George is a Mumbai-based luxury journalist specialising in men’s fashion

Published on August 23, 2017

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