This Sunday, when Kolkata-based couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee opens his first US store in Manhattan, the city’s cognoscenti will be dropping by not just for his fashion but also for his impeccable taste in art. The 5,800 sq ft store on Christopher Street, like his addresses in India, has priceless kilims and rugs, old Indian pichwais, antique Dutch pottery, a towering antique wedding chest from Syria and paintings by Sabyasachi Art Foundation that have been inspired by Qajar art.
Heritage and craftsmanship are terms we associate with the 48-year-old designer and much of it is on display here, alongside his ‘New York Edit’, a collection of trenches, shirts, lounge suits, column gowns and saris predominantly in mustard and black, as well as accessories and jewellery that will only be available at the New York store. This edit is not about seasonal style or topical inspirations but a commitment to creating modern heirlooms, his press note says. Sabyasachi’s US expansion is key to creating a global luxury brand, which explains why he has signed a 15-year lease for this space and, according to media reports, made a $9 million investment.
The designer, who has been running on just a couple of hours of sleep as he tackles store previews and questions about another big launch - a new Mumbai flagship coming up at Horniman Circle next year - says that right now he is just “taking it all in as the response received from New York has been overwhelming”. Edited excerpts from an interview with the Weekend:
What caught your eye about this red brick Romanesque Revival building in the West Village back in 2020?
I knew I wanted to create the undiluted Sabyasachi experience for New York that India has known for decades. A major part of that is in the location itself. I wanted a space that could be transformative but also stood its ground in its own history and legacy. I believe if you build something of consequence and beauty, people find you.
Be it Stonewall or Christopher Street or West Village itself, I felt like I knew the neighbourhood through headlines and history, but it was a connection that’s hard to define. And when I walked into The Archive in this magnificent Romanesque Revival building, so strong in its own legacy, I just knew this was it.
Multiple chandeliers, precious objets d’art, muted lighting – your stores follow the same design language but each is distinct. What is your favourite piece here, the wedding chest from Syria?
So many elements come together to make up my stores. But with the New York store, it began with the restroom of all places. It was an early find, a pair of beautifully sculpted faucets shaped like parakeets at a nearby legacy architectural hardware store in New York called P.E. Guerin. It’s always the finest details for me.
You painstakingly layered the paint at your Kolkata home for the ‘right’ shade, and have been known to spray-paint your chandeliers yourself. What went in here, personally?
It is my process of curation, I build my store piece by piece. From the art on the walls to which leather bound edition will sit on which shelf, each element comes together to make the whole experience. I’ve often said I see myself as a ferryman between the past and the future. India is such a reservoir of history, art and culture—and I believe that for culture to be relevant it needs to be dynamic. My job is to make it dynamic for today’s consumer. As a designer I have the privilege to conserve, edit and tweak what I have known into a living legacy. I think the aesthetic behind all my stores, including New York, comes from the spirit of Calcutta, that is so beautifully embodied in the old homes and palaces of the city. Each space and location renders a certain je ne sais quoi that is its own. The store in New York became almost a metaphor for the journey from Calcutta to New York.
For the New York Edit, you who are known for your unusual colour palette have opted for sombre mustards and blacks. Because New York?
The New York collection in its own way pays homage to the codes that have made the brand for the last two decades. The various crafts and textiles you find across the collection carry this narrative on. The tans, mustards and blacks became a tribute to the colours of the Bengal tiger. Alongside which, you have the tropical flora and fauna of Bengal’s Sundarbans that are hand painted by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation and digitally rendered into now classic house prints, in bright greens, reds and pinks.
What lessons have you incorporated for the NYC launch from your jewellery pop-ups at Bergdorf Goodman?
I think it’s more the motivation that drove me to exhibiting at Bergdorf that drove my impetus for New York. I knew with Bergdorf that it was time for Indian jewellery to get back into the global spotlight. Not just as museum pieces but as a rich thriving living legacy. Our annual presentation at Bergdorf and Linda Fargo’s constant support became a great platform to bring Indian craftsmanship and design to a global audience. And that was the greatest learning in a way, that it was time for an Indian brand to take the stage.
Global silhouettes for NYC
You observed to WWD magazine that your stores break even by the seventh or eighth month in operation. Will bridal play the biggest role here as expected?
I don’t believe in speculating. But I do believe that if you build something beautiful people will find you!