* Femininity was the mantra for his debut show in 2002. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, now 41, remembers being stressed out just before "Kashgar Bazaar" (a riot of prints, colours and patchwork) he showed then.
At a time when everyone was looking West, he celebrated India, and when women’s wear was getting androgynous, he brought femininity back. And after that, he promptly panicked. "I was overwhelmed by the number of orders I had bagged and now I had to deliver them."
* Copies of his designs flooded the market after the show! "Women’s Wear Daily applauded the collection – it was a big moment for Indian fashion," he recalls. Mukherjee sees the bright side of being plagiarised: "Somewhere down the line, some labourer or artisan is getting empowered. Otherwise, it is disquieting."
* He’s learned to listen to India, tailoring, quite literally, his designs to what made customers happy. "It does not work if, just by virtue of being a brand, you bully them into accepting something that they naturally cannot."
* And yet there’s a distinctive Sabya look. The Sabya woman, nerdy yet gorgeous, is now an aspiration for stylish women. "A lot of Indian women like wearing clothes that define them as Indian," he says.
"For me, with Western clothing or Indian, there is always a common denominator, and that is India. This is the DNA of my brand." Women across the country dream of wrapping themselves in Sabya for their wedding day. Critics applaud his reinvention of traditional crafts and weaves.
* Business still needs work. Mukherjee’s popularity and reach is wide, but India’s fashion industry is yet to catch up on the revenue end. "The organised retail sector is still very poor and corporate investments are not as strong. Hence, for a designer in India to grow big in both stature and turnover, is always a challenge," he says.
* Standing apart has paid off in an industry and culture that thrives on cashing in on a trend. "I think fashion’s initial quest was to create individualism, but right now what it is actually doing is only homogenising," he says.
From HT Brunch, March 15
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