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Couturiers Abu Jani And Sandeep Khosla On Their Design Journey

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Nayare Ali

They are India’s most iconic designers, known for their perpetual innovation. Celebrating nearly three decades of collaboration, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla (AJSK) recently unveiled a new collection commemorating 37 years of their design journey. “The collection is bold and exudes over-the-top glamour,” they disclose, describing the line featuring hallmark AJSK techniques like vasli, zardozi and mirror-work, meticulously reimagined for new Western and Indo-Western silhouettes. In their continued exploration of fashion storytelling, 2023 marked the release of new celluloid projects championing inclusivity and self-expression, alongside a tribute to their original model brigade in “The Return of the Muse.” Reflecting on the latter, the duo notes, “We wanted to celebrate the Originals — the women and men who ruled the ramp and captured our hearts.”

In an era when India was just beginning to embrace designer fashion, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have consistently demonstrated their ability to reinvent themselves, showing no signs of slowing down. HELLO! sits down with the duo to delve into their prolific body of work and what continues to keep them at the forefront of the industry.

HELLO!: Abu and Sandeep, you’ve been together for over three decades. What’s your secret to maintaining such a long-lasting partnership?

Abu Jani: “It will be 40 years soon. A deep respect, deeper love. The secret is patience, humour and forgiveness. We are quite simply happier together, better, and stronger because of each other. We feel incredibly blessed in each other.”

H!: How do you manage to strike a balance between your work and personal life?

Sandeep Khosla: “We don’t believe in borders or boundaries. We are beautifully imbalanced, and all our worlds — work, home, play, imaginary —collide and coexist in complete abandon.”

H!: What does it take to remain at the top of your game after being in the business for so long?

Abu J: “Sheer blood, sweat and tears. There is no letting up or letting go. We are constantly learning, constantly searching, always looking at the old with brand new, starstruck eyes. We live to create. We are greedy for more. It’s endless dreaming.”

abu jani sandeep khosla©HelloIndia

H!: Last year, you created a behind-the-scenes documentary featuring former supermodels discussing their journey in the fashion world. How did you come up with this concept?

Abu J: “Indian fashion owes so much to these eternally relevant and fabulous muses. The Return of The Muse is an ode to their timeless beauty and unparalleled style. It also provides them with an opportunity to take a long and leisurely walk down memory lane, reliving their magical journeys and truly savouring the hard work that brought them to the top.

We cherish their unique contributions to high fashion and want to place them centre stage once again. They rightfully belong there, as this campaign clearly demonstrates. The response has been overwhelming, with an entirely new generation discovering and becoming brand new fans of their fabulosity.”

H!: You have recently created a fashion music video featuring yesterday’s models. Was this a natural progression from the documentary?

Sandeep K: “We love and live for music. It is essential to our bliss. We often work closely with the band Burudu and are impressed by their contemporary take on timeless melodies. They make very special music.

I told Burudu’s Nakul [Sharma] and Sahil [Bhatia] that the music should radiate the spirit of an anthem. I was also keen to do a folk Punjabi song. We explored the options and chose Jogi because its lyrics speak of Heer-Ranjha, the eternally famous lovers of Punjab. Nakul and Sahil worked their quintessential magic and here we have a rendition of Jogi like never before, beautifully sung by Isheeta Chakrvarty!

abu jani sandeep khosla©HelloIndia

A lyrical ode to fashion and music alike, Jogi was shot in tandem with the docu-video The Return of The Muse and blends seamlessly with the soul and spirit of the documentary. Directed by Neha Sharma and starring supermodel extraordinaries Arjun Rampal, Nayanika Chatterjee, Sheetal Mallar, Carol Gracias, Lakshmi Rana Doval, Dino Morea, Dayana Erappa and Rikee Chatterjee, it features a modern rendition of the traditional folk song Ranjha Jogi Ho Gaya.”

H!: From Mera Noor Hai Mashhoor, a fashion film celebrating self-expression, to your Satrangi campaign, you’ve been champions of inclusivity and self-expression. In what ways have these ellorts changed the narratives today?

Sandeep K: “We are firm believers in the power of love to transform hearts, lives and ultimately society. Mera Noor Mai Mashhoor [2023] is a powerlal call tó action. Everything must begin with self-love. We must cherish ourselves as we are. Imperfection is beautiful. Autheticity is beautiful. Difference and diversity are beautiful. Celebrate who you are, and that’s exactly what the film stands for.”

abu jani sandeep khosla©HelloIndia

Abu J: “ We set new standards of creative expression through our work. And we also create news ways of seeing and being through the causes and campaigns we champion. When we chose to work with Uorfi Jawed in Mera Noor Hai Mashhoor, and the entire industry followed. Previously, our Proud to Love Collection by Gulabo by Abu Sandeep featuring Sussanne Khan, Sushant Divgikr, Aishwarya Subramanyam, etc., introduced a limited-edition collection of silhouettes, designed to celebrate Love and its entire spectrum of Being, Feeling and Living.

When we say diversity is beautiful and difference must be celebrated as we create an inclusive world, others are encouraged to become more inclusively courageous. Courage begets courage. Love begets love. The shift in paradigms is very real.”

abu jani sandeep khosla©HelloIndia

H!: You have also started an interior design vertical and have ventured into designing opulent home spaces. Was this a natural evolution for the two of you as designers?

Sandeep K: “We began our work as interior designers in 1994 so this is not a new vertical. What we have done is to formalise our work in interiors and event design by creating a new vertical or business called The Wonder Room.In the last 29 years it has been our mission to bring absolute fantasy to life with our home spaces. We have completed 30 select interiors projects for clients in New Delhi, Mumbai, Rishikesh, Goa, Dubai and London. We work with clients looking for magic.”

H!: Speaking of magical collaborations, you have a strong rapport with the Bachchans. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with them?

Abu J: “We began designing for Jaya Bachchan in 1987. She walked into our Mata Hari store in Juhu and bought off the rack. She then asked us to create custom garments for her.

abu jani sandeep khosla©HelloIndia

We then designed for Mr Bachchan. We are now dressing the third generation of the family, Navya and Agastya. Over the years, the Bachchans have become close friends. Jaya is our rock, our sister. Her faith in us and her love and support are unparalleled. Mr Bachchan is an absolute inspiration and a style chameleon who is always open to the greatest experimentation and creative adventures. Shweta is, of course, our baby and our all-time muse. These are relationships we cherish deeply. They are based on massive mutual respect and affection.”

H!: Who are the other Bollywood stars that you love designing for and why?

Sandeep K: “We love working with actors who have a strong presence. Whose talent and personalities set them apart in any crowd. We love those who possess a strong sense of individuality and punches of personal style. Our favourites include Sonam and Rhea Kapoor, who have redefined fashion in the industry, Shweta and Jaya Bachchan, Amrita Singh, Dimple Kapadia, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Alia Bhatt, Natasha Poonawalla, Deepika Padukone among many others.”

H!: What would you advise upcoming talent on how to make it big in the fashion world?

Abu J: “Be original. Work your hardest. Be prepared to walk your own path. Believe in your work.”

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s March 2024 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!