Sabyasachi© Sabyasachi

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Sabyasachi

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Bandana Tewari

Why he matters: He’s the ultimate realiser of bridal dreams, with iconoclastic collections. Worn by Oprah Winfrey on her India visit and every conceivable B-Town leading lady, his Bengal tiger logo is a symbol of Indian craftsmanship globally. Fashion journalist Bandana Tewari presents the designer’s deep empathy with his clientele, a side rarely analysed as a key player in his success.

“Sometimes when I see these women so victimised by fashion, I want to say, ‘You don’t need a handbag, darling, you need a hug…’,” said Sabyasachi famously in a 2014 interview I conducted for a fashion magazine. I’ve done dozens of interviews with him over the years, and each has been a masterclass on consumerism, the psychology of fashion, and the historical and socio-economic context of craft and creativity, among other meandering subjects that elucidate the very fabric of our nation. And his searing humour always had me in fits of giggles.

“Trendy is young, it’s boring, frivolous and fragile. Trendy is high-maintenance. You’d want someone trendy as a one-time lover, not a lifetime partner,” said Sabya, as he’s fondly called.

It’s interesting to note that he continues to believe in this, even with the gargantuan success he is right now in the fashion industry.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee is a fashion contrarian. For someone selling some spectacularly beautiful and staggeringly expensive items of fashion, he does so quite reluctantly. Walk into any of his ornate stores, and if you spot him, you could mistake him for a museum historian or a guard. His gaze, ever watchful of how deeply you engage with his creations, how intently and languorously you examine the items on display, and what questions and thoughts you may share with the store manager, as all are as fiercely sacrosanct to him as psychological profiles to a psychoanalyst.

In all the years I’ve known Sabya (my own fashion journalism journey started with his first runway show), I’ve never seen him actively sell anything on the shop floor, like one of those savvy designer salesmen who enthusiastically lead clients to the right dress or shoes.

He once told me that anyone can buy fashion. But for him, true style is a 5ft-tall woman who wears flats to a high-brow party.

“There’s a lot of dignity and grace in accepting who you are,” he had said.

Sabya always referenced Frida Kahlo as his lifetime muse, so courageously dynamic because she embraced everything about herself — her limp, her illness, her unibrow and her inherent unapologetic beauty. By the same token, he loves someone like Rekha, whose fashion, he said, is embedded in consistency and repetition.

“She wears stunning Kanjeevaram sarees all the time. So much so that when you think of Kanjeevarams today, you only think of Rekha. I think that’s iconism.”

For a journalist like me, it’s not only his absolute control over the imagery of his brand that’s fascinating, but also his mastery in storytelling. It makes him one of the most interesting people to have seated across the table. His straight- forward sizing-up of the fashion industry and his witty quips always make for a hearty laugh first, followed by the realisation of how much of what he said is couched in reality.

In a world of transmedia production and proliferation of content across various channels, he has remained consistently intellectual and emotional. No one simply wants to be a Sabyasachi bride; they yearn to be one — he knows how to pull at your heartstrings. Yet, the contrarian in him always comes with a reminder, “When I see a woman too obsessed with fashion, I know she’s a girl in trouble.” Perfect Sabya-ism.

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!