Sharma’s Swedish story

The day I call Akanksha Sharma is her birthday. It’s also a day before she sets out on a work trip to Shanghai, so I can picture the freshly-minted 26-year-old in her Delhi apartment — which she shares with her partner, poet-novelist Jeet Thayil, and her ginger tabby, Marjory Stewart-Baxter — packing, and, no doubt, looking forward to a party later in the day. The vibrant voice on the phone validates Sharma’s statement, that it was her personality that landed her a job at Ikea, as the multinational furniture and home accessories company’s youngest and only Indian designer.

“I was doing my third year at NIFT, when Swedish designer Martin Bergström and Ikea’s Creative Leader, Karin Gustavsson, came down for a workshop. We were talking about (Icelandic singer) Björk, and Norwegian literature and plays, when Karin said ‘Come work for us. We live in the middle of nowhere, but I think you’ll enjoy Sweden’,” Sharma recalls with a laugh. In fact, they were keen enough to wait till she graduated; after a seven-month internship, she joined them earlier this year, in February.

Tale of two worlds

Her time in Sweden (during her internship) was an “explosive experience in the middle of a tiny village”, not least because she could leave the rigidity of college behind and enjoy the freedom Ikea gives its designers. “It’s a pool of madness and an ocean of talent, where you can easily get lost if you don’t know where to start. Nobody tells you what to do, so I hustled a lot, talked to people, and managed to get really exciting work,” shares Sharma, now an ardent fan of fika, the Swedish coffee break “that the Scandinavians take very seriously”.

Ikea plans local
  • With plans to open 25 stores in India by 2025, Ikea will reach our shores early next year. Readying for the launch of their flagship near Hitec City, Hyderabad, the team visited over 1,000 families, to gauge the need of the people. They will be playing up their furniture designs for small spaces — with pieces like British designer Tom Dixon’s Delaktig sofa, a modular design that can go from daybed to chaise lounge to a conventional sofa.

One of these projects was the Brönden, a non-linear rug that explored the interplay of eight yarns and colours, which was launched last month. “It’s one of a series of four rugs (handcrafted in India, the other three were designed by her friend and colleague, Paulin Machado) that were designed keeping handmade value in mind,” she says. A student and an enthusiast of Indian textiles, Sharma says she is always trying to “merge the minimalism of Swedish design with the rich intricacies of the Indian”. We will see much more of this in Ikea’s début India line (expected to launch early next year at their flagship in Hyderabad) on which Shrama is collaborating. “The collection is a tribute to India, and my all-textile line (which she is working on with Machado) will be modern, raw and natural,” she says, adding that we can expect a lot of texture and notes of indigo, one of her favourite colours.

Graphic and monochrome

By now you’d be forgiven to think Sharma has always known where her passion lay. As it turns out, she once studied commerce at Gargi College! “My parents wanted me to get into science, but I was scared of physics, so commerce was the next best thing,” she sheepishly admits, before exclaiming how college opened her eyes to a “new world that existed outside of me”. “I was part of the art, dramatic and photography societies... This gave me a lot of exposure in cinema, arts, music and design,” she says.

So Sharma sneaked out of home to take the NIFT entrance exams. Her rebellious streak did not die down at design school, where she confesses she often questioned its rigidity of curriculum. But those years also brought her stints at 11:11 and modelling assignments with Raw Mango — she has a penchant for saris and she ombre dyes them herself. A graduation project, of natural indigo block-printed knitwear, with Arvind Mills, is something else she is proud of. “Ikea’s workshop was another highlight, where 25 of us created over 2,000 prints over three days. We went out on to the streets to explore pre-existing textures and surfaces, and made impressions using everything around us — from Hauz Khas Fort’s pillars and brick walls to rocks, railings and even grass,” she reminisces. Fifteen of these were finally shortlisted, to evolve into the 2016 India-inspired collection, Svärtan, and were used in its limited-edition fabrics, prints, sketch books, small furniture and homeware.

Click, make, share

Sharma, whose first ever Ikea purchase was a cork stool, from the Sinnerlig collection — the brand’s collaboration with British designer Ilse Crawford — says she is looking forward to the company’s upcoming work with Danish studio Hay (a full range of furniture and homeware called the Ypperlig collection) and Stockholm-based Teenage Engineering (on a range of analogue-based musical products). “Working at Ikea has taught me a lot about what goes behind the design. Here, you are on the factory floor a lot or meeting the craftsmen,” she says, insisting she is still finding her “own voice”. And while she isn’t ideating or travelling, her alter ego is exploring mixed media like photography, illustration, collage and video, and reading up on artists. “I am working on a few photo essays and working towards an exhibition in Norway,” she signs off.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 6:33:03 AM |

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