My mom slapped me: Sabyasachi Mukherjee opens up about his battle with depression, failed suicide attempt and how Madonna inspired him
Sabyasachi Mukherjee is one of the most celebrated designers in India, he has dressed the likes of Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli and even Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas for their weddings! It is safe to say, that Sabyasachi has been having quite a moment of late.
And the 45-year-old designer, whose designs are always in the spotlight, somehow doesn’t wish to be in it at all. The designer is furiously personal, and his quiet and demure personality comes through the few times he does interact with the media, and in a recent interview the ace couturier opened up about his demons, self-doubt and frustrations.
Earlier this year, Sabyasachi put up a post on his Instagram that a lot of people deemed sexist, misogynistic, filthy and outright ignorant. The post quoted Ms Havisham from Great Expectations and below Sabyasachi had written, “If you see a woman ‘overdressed’, caked with makeup, armoured with jewellery, it is most likely that she is wounded. Bleeding inside, silently. Holding on to her pride and dignity, shining for the world, though within her innermost being there is a dark blinding pain. Take some time to give her your precious company, heal her with your empathy, because nothing can replace human warmth. Not even the most precious of jewellery.”
After facing severe backlash for the post, Sabyasachi issued an apology where he clarified what he meant, saying that he had worked in the industry for over twenty years, and that’s where he had experienced much of what he had written about. His apology post read, “I thought a lot about whether to post this, but sometimes it is important to set the record straight and get the right message across. Having been in the fashion industry for over 20 years, I have encountered it firsthand and commented about it in many of my interviews - how, while many women use fashion and beauty for joy and self-expression, others use it as ‘retail therapy’ to fill in the gaps and voids in their lives.”
He went on to write, “We, as a society, often get extremely judgemental about peoples’ clothing choices, calling them ‘overdressed’ or ‘tacky’ or ‘inappropriate’. We fail to understand that maybe some are using these as coping mechanisms to put on a brave front to make up for the lack of a support system. The true essence of the post was to ask people to be aware, empathetic, and not judgemental of peoples’ personal clothing choices, which could be a manifestation of their internal anguish.”
Talking about his own battle with mental health issues and depression, Sabyasachi wrote, “One of the bigger issues in society today, that very few people address, is mental health, and a little bit of awareness, empathy and kindness go a long way in acknowledging it. I have coped with crippling depression as a teenager for 7 years. I found my coping mechanism through radical clothing choices.I was sneered at and bullied, but it helped me find my way again.”
He further clarified that when one is in a position to influence, one must do so in the right direction, and that although his original post may have many flaws, it was to invite introspection and debate. And although the designer did apologise, he said that it was only because he made a ‘blanket statement’ and not for the message he was trying to put across. He signed off writing, “And I, for one, have never shied away from speaking about uncomfortable truths, no matter how disruptive it might be for my personal gain. Because when power is given, social responsibility should not be shunned. The mistake, however, was to use the reference as a blanket statement, as sometimes when we are passionate about an issue, we end up becoming overzealous and hence, tone deaf. My sincere apologies for that.”
In the past too, at an event in 2017, Mukherjee told India Today that depression is a natural occurrence, as common as the common cold. He said, “I was depressed, and I tried to kill myself. I was unconscious, and my mom gave me a slap. I was sad at moving to a new place. Moving from Chandannagar to Kolkata was like moving from suburbs to Paris. Depression is as common as common cold. If you’re not depressed, you’re not normal. My depression gave me a lot of clarity. Had I not been depressed, India would’ve lost me to some company called Google, in San Francisco.”
In a recent interview with ETPanache, the designer spoke at length about mental health, an issue clearly close to his heart, talking about his failed attempt at suicide. “I got into severe depression when I was 17. I tried committing suicide. It was a failed attempt. Mental health in today’s day and time, with this quick pace of life, is becoming more pronounced. And people need to understand that it is not something that one needs to be ashamed of or fear because it’s quite normal. And we need to just address it as normally as possible.”
He even attributed his lack of self-expression in his formative years to his creative outburst, “I think a lot of us creative people suffer from a lack of self-expression. [At the time] I was a creative person in the wrong education stream. I was studying medicine, then economics, wasn’t very sure what I would do.”
All those issues caused Sabyasachi to resort to radical dressing, he said to ETPanache, “Self-expression helped me cope with the frustrations of not being able to find a creative outlet, I started expressing myself by dyeing my hair orange and wearing ripped jeans with safety pins on them, inspired by Madonna.”
Talking about body shaming, insecurities and fashion, he said at the 2017 conclave, “Before the internet, you saw your sorrows to be just yours. Now you come across women like you, and that gives confidence, and influences consume behaviour. Earlier it was about fashionable women, now it’s stylish women. Style is more about you rather than the world.”
The designer added that it is when one believes that they don’t have a support system that they resort to extreme measures like suicide. “I think the big stigma that happens to most people comes from isolation where people think I’m probably the only one who’s going through it,” he said, adding, “But when you reach out to a community you realise you’re not.I think right now there is a lot of conversation happening on mental health and everybody can find their community, sometimes if not offline, then definitely online.”
Talking about whether he has relapses every now and then, and Sabyasachi admitted that his issues aren’t as severe as they used to be, “It [depressive episodes] doesn’t happen to me anymore. I have too creative and too fulfilling a job.”
And when asked how he copes with those, even rare, moments of doubt, he exclaimed, “Food! I’m Bengali, we love eating. And a little bit of extra sleep just picks me up.”