Fashion

Sabyasachi brings the sari to H&M

Designs from the Wanderlust collection  

April 16, 2020, was a day every Indian fashion girl around the world had circled on the calendar. It was when Sabyasachi x H&M — one of India’s most celebrated couturiers collaborating with the world’s best-loved high street brand — was to go live. But then the world went on pause.

Magazine covers had been shot, fashion editors had been given first looks. If there is one thing Sabyasachi Mukherjee never gets wrong, it’s how to build a story around his work. He has previously done collabs with Asian Paints, French luxury shoemaker Christian Louboutin and American home furnishings chain Pottery Barn. H&M, which has brought out sell-out capsules with global fashion greats such as Karl Lagerfeld, Comme des Garçons, and Versace, had approached him just after he presented his 20th anniversary show in 2019. “The delay was disappointing because I had told myself when the brand turns 20, I will do a collaboration and take it to a large audience,” he tells The Hindu Weekend.

Couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee  

Called ‘Wanderlust’, the collection went live* on August 12, across 11 H&M stores in India and in select stores in 17 countries, including the US, Britain and Japan. It is also e-tailing on Myntra and 48 international markets on hm.com.

Read | Sabyasachi is back at Bergdorf Goodman

Prints and pleats

Mukherjee, 47, had three conditions for H&M: it had to be an India proud collection, a sari had to be a part of the capsule, and a large part of the production had to be done in India (90% has been made here). “Our collaboration with Sabyasachi is the latest in the list of blockbuster global partnerships. We look at renowned designers in order to bring habitually inaccessible, made-to-measure, rare and costly creations to the masses,” says Maria Gemzell, Head of New Development, H&M. The Swedish multinational clothing-retail has been going more diverse in their approach to collabs. Last year, it did a capsule with Beirut-based designer Sandra Mansour and, just before the pandemic hit, their capsule with Columbian designer Joanna Ortiz debuted at their stores.

An outfit from the Sabyasachi x H&M collab, Wanderlust

An outfit from the Sabyasachi x H&M collab, Wanderlust   | Photo Credit: Frida Marklund

“I was completely sure what I wanted to do with H&M,” says Mukherjee. It had to be something evergreen, something that was easy on the pocket and yet did not fall into the disposal trap of fast fashion. So the pandemic, with its conversations on sustainability, has, in fact, made the collection more relevant. Sabyasachi x H&M comprises 22 womenswear styles, 13 menswear and 32 accessories. The viscose georgette sari, with a print inspired by his hometown Kolkata, is available in H&M’s India stores only. “It was created for the Indian consumer who loves the Sabyasachi sari, but finds it unaffordable.” He suggests teaming it with pyjamas and a T-shirt from the collection.

Read | Sabyasachi on your sofa

Playing to his strengths

If you have read any of Mukherjee’s interviews, you will know that he likes to bring in his humble beginnings, and often refers to his muse Madonna, who is yet to wear one of his outfits. (Others like Kim Kardashian and Naomi Campbell have rocked his designs.) The Queen of Pop, who follows him on Instagram — “she only follows 368 people, so this is a big deal,” says the designer — is the one celebrity he would most like to see in Wanderlust. He has, in fact, sent her the collection.

Sabyasachi x H&M

Sabyasachi x H&M   | Photo Credit: Frida Marklund

Mukherjee is clear that his definition of sustainability draws from his middle-class upbringing. “With sustainability, there is an onus on production and on consumers. This collection is about wearable clothing that is classic and affordable,” he says. This is also how the slow fashion advocate justifies working with fast fashion giant, H&M.

The line has references to all his couture trademarks, such as the royal Bengal tiger. He It was his distinct style that made H&M select him. “We chose Sabyasachi for a designer collaboration because he is the undisputed master of Indian couture,” says Gemzell. But if you think classic means staid, think again. Wanderlust is a riot of colour and prints that has an Indian soul yet an international appeal. Each print was hand-painted to scale (and later digitally recreated by H&M), and he took inspiration from French toiles, kalamkari and the like. Made for the world citizen, it’s also aptly timed, as Sabyasachi has his eyes on the global market and the site for his flagship store in New York has already been found.

Resort meets street meets travel chic

It is the bridal couturier’s most street style collection to date. “If you recall my 2004 debut collection, Frog Princess, it was always Bohemian,” he says. So, in many ways Wanderlust is a return to his roots. The fact that it was delayed may have actually worked to the designer’s advantage.

Sabyasachi x H&M

Sabyasachi x H&M   | Photo Credit: Frida Marklund

A joyous jet-set capsule that is easy, timeless and can be dressed up and down, as travel restrictions start to ease — this collection is on point. The designer admits to having had many conversations with the young members of his design studio while creating it. But it is also a collection made with his own approach to dressing in mind. “I like to buy clothes that are very versatile, that can travel well,” he says.

Read | Sabyasachi Mukherjee: Finding beauty in decay

Wanderlust was conceived to be gender and size agnostic. So he expects men to wear the women’s pyjamas and women to wear the men’s tunic. It also includes fashion jewellery bags and belts. Chintz is a strong inspiration for his prints, which may seem a bit obvious when designing an India proud collection. But Mukherjee says, “I like to celebrate cliches, which is one of the reasons I use the Taj Mahal as a motif on my handbags. Clichés are cliches because they are universally loved.”

A selection of accessories

A selection of accessories  

For the first time he has worked with denim and has given a responsible twist by making them into pyjamas, ensuring they will fit you no matter how your waist size increases and decreases. The craft-conscious designer himself is known to live in his jeans. “There is something very beautiful about relaxed clothing because then your mind can focus on things other than hemlines.” He believes comfort clothing is here to stay, yet there will be a return to glamour in the way we dress.

The salwar kameez is his must-have from the collection, sold as a tunic and pyjama bottoms. “Everyone looks great in a salwar kameez. You can be hippy, you can be elegant, you can be Studio 54, you can be Halston in it.” Jemima Goldsmith in her days as Mrs Imran Khan was a definite influence for this piece.

Meanwhile, Wanderlust has attracted mixed reactions in India. Many on social media have called out the use of cotton viscose by a designer who has always spoken about the heritage of handlooms. (It released a few days after National Handloom Day, and could have given Indian textiles a global stage.) A wiser move would have been to make it a part of H&M’s Conscious Collection, where eco-conscious fabrics such as Agraloop BioFibre — a natural fiber derived from food-crop waste — are showcased. But despite the debates, the collection virtually sold out within minutes, confirming that when it comes to understanding what the consumer wants there is no Indian designer like Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

Wanderlust is priced between ₹799 and ₹9,999.

*Story updated after the collection was launched.

“I like to celebrate cliches, which is one of the reasons I use the Taj Mahal as a motif on my handbags. Clichés are cliches because they are universally loved,” says Sabyasachi Mukherjee

“Collaborating with an international brand is always a beautiful experience as it helps regional brands and designers gain more exposure and sheds light on emerging talent. It is a great way of promoting culturally-rich fashion narratives that amplify and nurture diversity and innovation,” says Sandra Mansour, the first Arab designer to collab with H&M


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:42:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/sabyasachi-brings-the-sari-to-hm/article35810008.ece

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