When Sabyasachi Mukherjee sold his first jewellery designs for Rs 45, and stole his mom’s satin slip
Since the government-mandated lockdown on account of the coronavirus pandemic has been imposed, Sabyasachi has taken to his Instagram to share anecdotes and insights into the making of the most coveted designer in India.Updated: May 01, 2020 07:08 IST
Ace couturier and the dream designer to most Bollywood brides, including Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Priyanka Chopra, Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s origin story is straight out of Bollywood too. Since the government-mandated lockdown on account of the coronavirus pandemic has been imposed, Sabyasachi has taken to his Instagram to share anecdotes and insights into the making of the most coveted designer in India. Sabyasachi has touched topics including how coming from a family of doctors and educators, he received a lot of opposition from his family for choosing design. He has also written about his grandmothers, paternal and maternal, and how they shaped him, his travels, his childhood and his favourite books and authors, and now, most recently his first few trysts with design and production.
In a series of posts earlier on Thursday, Sabyasachi wrote about tales from his childhood and how they shaped his life. One of the posts with “Where do I begin? Tales from my childhood,” were captioned, “Very early in our lives, signs appear of what our future may behold. Sometimes we take cognisance of those signs and work towards our destiny, sometimes someone else recognises our potential and pushes us towards our future.” The designer asked readers to share their childhood stories that possibly shaped their adulthood with him.
Talking about the first-ever play he wrote and directed as a nine-year-old, “I was nine years old when I wrote my first script for a play — an improvised version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I nervously showed it to my drama teacher and my life changed forever.”
In a first, Sabyasachi was allowed to direct the play, “The teachers association announced, as a first, I would be allowed to direct the annual play. As the days went by, I assumed the role of the producer as well. From casting (we were an all-boys school), to costumes, makeup and set design, I was given free rein. Magical collaborations with local dresswallas and makeup artists followed. Massive tin trunks of shiny, over-the-top, woebegone costumes, fake pearls, cardboard and rhinestone jewellery, wigs made from dyed jute, and war paint makeup that smelt of stale coconut oil helped bring the play to life.”
Talking about how he wanted to improve the costumes and ended up stealing a satin slip from his mother, Sabyasachi continued, “But I wanted more. I wanted the clothes to be slightly frugal, more relatable. Dare I say… fashionable? So we started sourcing from sisters and cousins. Our teachers chipped in too. My mother had a bias cut mid-length satin slip. I desperately wanted Snow White to wear it. So I ended up stealing it from her cupboard, praying that she would not miss it for some time. The week that followed probably sowed the seeds of my future profession. Purely driven by instinct, I layered, draped and improvised. It didn’t matter that silhouettes were held together with multiple safety pins. Plaid shirts became aprons, socks became gloves. Everyone had shiny pink lipstick and vivid blue eyeshadow, and straw-coloured wigs that would put RuPaul to shame. Exactly like those English ladies painted on the talcum powder tins that adorned my mother’s humble dressing table.”
Expressing how he was worried his mother may discover his secret, he went on, “The play went off seamlessly and was much lauded. But I was too nervous as I was sure my mother would have recognised her slip dress on stage. There was no mention of it however as my parents took me back home. I have vivid memories of me running up the stairs before my parents could enter the apartment just to shove the outfit back into her cupboard. Next morning I felt like a star. But only for a little while. As I was leaving home for school, my mother looked me in the eye and said, ‘Next time, just ask!’”
A later post title second innings spoke about Sabyasachi’s first-ever business venture, “I was 19 when I started my first business. This was long before design school. My mother is a graduate from the Government Art College in Calcutta. So, on one of her trips to buy art supplies, I stumbled upon a store that sold beads and shells. I remember staring at that wonderful bric-a-brac, imagining how beautiful it would look assembled into a necklace. I had made a meagre amount of money working as a stylist to local photographers, and used that to buy some assorted material — beads, shells, carved wood, tinsel, paint, and adhesive. The artsy intellectual Bengalis at the time would wear a lot of hand-painted wooden jewellery (the Ganesha motif was a favourite).”
Talking about how music shaped his aesthetic sense, he wrote, “In those days, I was listening to Madonna, Wham, Boy George, and Queen. Music shaped my aesthetic. So I wanted to make jewellery that was rock-and-roll with a flavour of Bengal. I will let you imagine what that would have looked like. Gothic colours, chains, distressed mirrors, and feathers were added to that subversive dream. Now I had to sell it somewhere! I remember carrying them in my plastic tiffin box to sell it to the street-side hawkers in Gariahat Market. Everybody rejected the jewellery. Except for one vendor. He wouldn’t buy the pieces; he would only do consignment. I agreed.”
Sabyasachi waited hoping someone would buy his jewellery, “I walked to his store three times a day to ask if my jewellery had sold, and he would shake his head. One day I saw him standing at my doorstep and my heart raced. A lady had bought all three necklaces. I got 45 rupees for it. My first bonafide return on investment. That little taste of success pushed me to create a business that would eventually make 12,000 rupees a month. My mother joined me in production. She even made me small cloth bags on her Singer sewing machine.”
But the designer’s ambitions came to an abrupt halt, “And then came Operation Sunshine. A political move to clear hawkers from pavements. I had been loyal to the man who grew my business, so I never built a direct customer base except for the odd neighbour. His store was razed and my business ended. Rather abruptly, too.”
However, Sabyasachi decided to keep trying, “But I got a taste of entrepreneurship. I told myself I would start again: bigger, better, and stronger, on my own terms, and when the time was right.”