Photograph Courtesy of Sabyasachi Mukherjee
Sabyasachi Mukherjee started his eponymous label with a workforce of three. Today, he retails out of four flagship stores across India. Mukherjee’s design philosophy is very simple—personalized imperfection of the human hand. He believes that clothes should be an extension of one’s intellect. Deserts, gypsies, antique textiles and cultural traditions of his hometown Kolkata have been a lifelong inspiration for him. Ahead of his brand’s launch at Bergdorf Goodman, a partnership conceived by Fashion Director Linda Fargo after a visit to the Sabyasachi Calcutta studio, we sat down with the designer to talk about craftsmanship, his favorite pieces, and his first BG memory. Read the full interview below and shop the collection now in store at the Jewelry Salon.
Bergdorf Goodman: What inspired you to start your namesake jewelry line, and how has it evolved since its beginnings?
Sabyasachi Mukherjee: I started creating jewelry long before I started designing clothes. I used to make costume jewelry when I was a student. It is only now, 18 years after I started my clothing label, that it has developed into a full-fledged jewelry business. My clothes have a certain vintage Indian aesthetic to them, and there were no jewelers making pieces that matched. As a result, the brand’s image was suffering. For the bridal business, it is the hair, makeup, clothes and jewelry that come together to create the full impact. So I decided to make the jewelry that would complement my clothing.
The business then evolved naturally. I had initially decided I would stick to making only bridal jewelry. But then I started getting more and more adventurous, and in turn started having so much fun that it developed into a secondary line that people can wear to fabulous parties or in everyday life.
BG: Can you talk to us about the craftsmanship that goes into every piece that you design and the process from start to finish?
SM: The most important factor in jewelry is raw material. When I find fabulous stones I work backwards from there, sketching ideas and experimenting with the way the stone can be set or mounted. My jewelry is entirely handmade from start to finish—from illustrations and sketches to the way the piece is molded and crafted. We love playing with a lot of maximalist details like enameling and filigree work, creating beautiful, intimate moments within the jewelry. We take great care to make sure the piece is as beautiful in the back as it is in the front, because luxury has a public as well as a personal face. It is ultimately essentially for the wearer. Quite literally, no stone is left unturned to get the workmanship and effect right. I also like to break away from stereotypes of what people assume about precious jewelry by mixing the high with the low, the precious with the ordinary. I come from Calcutta where the aesthetic of design is chaotic clutter. In middle class homes in Calcutta, finery is displayed alongside everyday objects. I like the whimsy of being able to juxtapose something precious with something absolutely mundane. So in my jewelry, you will probably have VVS1 diamonds mixed with corals and turquoise and even wood. The jewelry is extremely multi-cultural because I keep traveling, taking in nuances from everywhere, and bringing them back into my workshop. But the soul of it is essentially Indian.
BG: What are your favorite pieces available at Bergdorf Goodman right now?
SM: I have done a collection for Bergdorf Goodman called ‘The Sudder’, which features a lot of totems, talismans and multi-cultural references. The amount of detail that goes into every piece is mind-boggling. From hand painting and enameling, to carving and filigree to hand beating and hammering. This particular collection depicts the true essence of Sabyasachi. The pieces look centuries old, like something you might discover in a little unknown corner of a whimsical flea market. One of my favorite pieces in the collection is a yellow sapphire necklace made with Burmese yellow sapphire cabochons, strung together with a mangled mess of natural pearls, corals, turquoise, carved gold, and other luscious elements.
BG: What have been some brand highlights/milestones for you? Can you share a moment that was particularly special?
SM: For a jewelry brand that is only 2 years old, we have had many delightful moments. From Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ wedding jewelry that we customized, to Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry donning our jewelry for the covers of Indian magazines, we’ve had many celebrations. In fact, when Katy Perry was in India, she spent an hour shooting in our jewelry store and trying on our jewelry. But I think one of the biggest endorsements was being able to bring the jewelry to Bergdorf Goodman. It is every designer’s dream to land here because of their beautiful, luxurious edit, and I feel very honored and privileged to have traversed there in such a short time.
BG: What is your favorite Bergdorf Goodman memory?
SM: I do an ongoing global collaboration with Christian Louboutin, and at his request, I had attended a shoe signing at Bergdorf’s with him. That’s when I got to meet Linda Fargo. She was extremely warm, generous and kind. For someone who is so influential and famous to be that nice to everybody is extremely special, and reinstates my belief that nice people do exist in fashion…and that they can be successful!