Season after season, Sabyasachi Mukherjee has wowed fashionistas. The designer, who is in the city, speaks to T. Krithika Reddy about his ‘Save the Sari’ campaign, globalised Indian-ness and his boy-next-door existence

Sabyasachi Mukherjee is fashion’s quintessential good boy. Despite a decade under the flashbulbs and superlative reviews, he’s untouched by fame. “I still go to dhabas where four people can have meals for Rs. 200,” he says.

Coming from someone who loves contrasts, this isn’t surprising. The only Indian designer with the rare honour of being invited to the New York Fashion Week for three consecutive years, Sabya believes in simple living and magnificent styling.

“There is no need for us to move away from our identity. There’s so much in our culture to draw inspiration from. The trick lies in creating cutting edge, yet classic designs that can survive fashion seasons,” says the Kolkata-born Sabya, who is famous for giving Indian-ness a global spin.

In Chennai, at Evoluzione, with an all-new affordable line, the designer says: “I’m following up on my ‘Save the Sari’ campaign more aggressively. It’s a meltdown version of my bridal line. We need to preserve our identity and textiles. And the only way to make youngsters choose saris for evenings is to make them stylish and affordable. That’s what I’ve done — experimented with weaves and textures and created a line that’s a refreshing contrast to the black-or-white-washed homogeneity of today’s cocktail circuit.”

Sabya the creator is as unflinchingly rooted as Sabya the man. His Patola line at Lakme Fashion Week early this year, recreated the magic of the centuries-old Patola saris that are famous for their complicated weaves. His Kora line in 2003 pushed the boundaries of creativity in a challenging palette of white and cream. The unbleached fabrics even had traces of tea stains for that quirky, yet individualistic look. “I think my strength lies in fusing different colours, textures, patterns, embellishment and looks.” But he doesn’t let chaos take over. Everything falls in place. “There’s unity in diversity.”

Kashgar Bazaar, Nair Sisters or Chand Bibi, Sabya’s despatches have given his clients a whistle-stop tour of our ethnic culture. “I think, when you draw from culture, creativity comes straight from the heart. And, the mind naturally follows the heart. As a designer, I help people connect with their roots. It’s about their DNA. Every Indian is comfortable with his / her Indian-ness. There’s an emotional comfort factor that comes with clothes. Good design to me is about looking back and looking ahead — at the same time.”

Takes a de tour

But Sabya does take an occasional detour. His “Frog Princess” (2005) that helped him leap on to the world fashion stage, amplified Victorian romanticism like never before. His recent “Sanctuary” is an eclectic line inspired by the paintings of Emil Nolde and Paul Gauguin. Very French in aesthetic, it reflects the designer’s mastery of the global fashion vocabulary. “These lines mirror the dreamer in me. I’ll be a dreamer all my life.”

Talk about his filmi pursuits, and the designer whose work for “Black” won him a National Award, says: “Films are about following someone else’s vision. It helps high-horse dreamers such as me to remain grounded.”

He is currently working on Mani Ratnam’s “Ravan” and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film. Business-wise, his hands are full. He’s opening three standalone stores in the country, and also diversifying into furniture, interiors and an exclusive line of jewellery.

A NIFT product, Sabya’s winning streak started even as a student, when he won three awards. “You can’t really be taught style. It’s intuitive. But a NIFT background helps a lot in juggling many roles as a designer. You are everything — from pattern-maker and craftsman to salesman and designer. It’s an uphill task,” says Sabya, whose design instincts date back to his childhood when he used to cut his dad’s socks to make dresses for his sister’s dolls.

“I hail from a well-educated middle-class family. It was tough to convince my parents about my designs on my career! They felt fashion was a rich man’s domain. Today, my parents are happy. But somewhere, my dad still feels I should have been a doctor or an engineer!”