Bengal tigers and some calico: Sabyasachi’s collaboration with Thomas Goode


With nods to Devonshire pottery and Persian khanjar painting, Sabyasachi Mukherjee looks to heritage and his city for his collaboration with British tableware brand Thomas Goode

Sabyasachi Mukherjee has always enjoyed clichés. To him it is just proof that something has become iconic and identifiable. So, while I’m almost tempted to say that nostalgia is the lens the multi-hyphenate designer uses most, it would be too simplistic a cliché. For Mukherjee, 45, standing with his feet, and imagination, planted firmly in the past and the present is just his state of being. His clothes and jewellery hark back to times of elegance and refinement, as does everything he puts together, including the new home he outfitted in Alipore, Kolkata. For example, as he told Weekend earlier this year, he individually washed the walls with rose pink, turquoise and moss green paint to ensure that, as time passes, they will “achieve a patina of age [which will] give it so much character”.

So, when Thomas Goode approached him to collaborate on a collection recently, it is to the past and his city that he turned. “I wanted the inspiration to be Calcutta first because that’s where I come from. The English have always had a connection with the city; don’t forget, it was once the capital of British India. I wanted to explore the commonalities you’ll find between London and Calcutta,” he says. While he has worked with the local flora and fauna — from green palms to Bengal tigers — he has also borrowed from the rest of India, especially the art and architecture. “I’m also heavily influenced by the khanjar style of painting from Persia. So [the tea sets and dinner plates that were launched on Tuesday] incorporate khanjar and Calcutta with nuances of Devonshire pottery and French calico prints.”

Bengal tigers and some calico: Sabyasachi’s collaboration with Thomas Goode

Traditions matter

The collection, an exclusive wedding trousseau line, includes bespoke dinner service, glassware, table linen and decorative pieces (to be launched soon). All of which have the hallmarks to become heirlooms. As people return to more meaningful ways of living, like slow food, Mukherjee feels it will also be reflected in how food is served, the accoutrements and rituals of dining once again adding to the experience. “It is not only current, but also a tradition that is going to become sustainable.”

Flashback to trains and tea
  • “My mother is a tea snob. I remember, in summer, going to Puri on crowded local trains. The two-tier compartments had no air conditioning, but even in the sweltering heat, with the overwhelming throng of people, she would carry a small wicker basket with her Thermos flask, tea pot, tea cosy, tea strainer and milk pot. She would make a ritual out of serving tea, even if she had to balance the tray on one knee! The way she used to savour it, I realised, was not just about the tea, but her identity. For a lot of middle-class Bengalis, a good tea set was like a family seal. You didn’t have to own a car to feel good about yourself.”

At his home, the avid collector of everything from mirrors to pottery — “it is vividly evident to anybody who steps inside” — owns porcelain and crockery from all over the world, be it British, Portuguese, Dutch or French. “I’ve always been inspired by Devonshire pottery, those pretty landscapes they used to paint on their tea sets. It was a very traditional visual of afternoon tea, which was heightened by my avid reading of Enid Blyton, and accompanying my mother to clubs in Calcutta for high tea,” he reminisces, adding, “What you learn in your childhood, the tastes, cultures and traditions that you develop, keep repeating themselves more and more as you grow older. For me, this collaboration is a re-imagination of all of that.”

Forty three artisans from the Sabyasachi Art Foundation are working on the line. “As a team, we always work together on a collab and I make sure everyone is involved. While some are good at khanjar, others are good at recreating toile de jouy (a type of printed calico) or are just great colourists,” he says.

Bengal tigers and some calico: Sabyasachi’s collaboration with Thomas Goode

Looking to Chanel

Mukherjee admits that he enjoys collaborations — he has previously teamed up with French designer, Christian Louboutin, Hong Kong luxury retail company, Lane Crawford, and American furnishing chain, Pottery Barn. “You come with an outsider’s perspective and become the creative director, which makes collabs that much more potent; it is a learning process for both,” he says. But what made him say yes to this — which was helped along by Malvika Poddar, of luxury fashion boutique Carma, and finalised over dinner at the Thomas Goode store at the Oberoi Trident — was the brand’s legacy and pedigree. “They are the epitome of British craftsmanship and they also believe in stocking the best of brands, from Hermès to Hungarian porcelain company, Herend. For me, this was a great marketplace to be in.”

It also takes forward the designer’s ambition to become the ‘Chanel of India’. As he pointed out to Fortune India a few months ago, Indian designers haven’t been able to build brands in the same fashion as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford or Tommy Hilfiger. And this is something he aspires to do with the Sabyasachi brand — bringing jewellery, perfumes, cosmetics and shoes under its umbrella, with clothes at the centre. “I’ve been seeding the idea of home for a very long time. So, next up, will be my own home décor line, beauty and perfumes.”

The collection is available at the Thomas Goode stores in Mumbai (The Oberoi, Nariman Point) and London.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 6:11:41 PM |

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