August 1, 2013 Asmita Aggarwal

The Constant Gardener

Sabya talks about why he admires women like Devika Rani, Zubeida and Amrita Sher-Gil…what makes the 20s so glamorous, his love for Chintz, quilting and jaal….

It was 2001, John Le Carre wrote a gripping book on a diplomat looking for clues to solve his activist wife’s murderer, The Constant Gardener. And it was after reading this book that the roots of ‘Opium’ Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s couture line were sown.

A lot of expats, will pick up something uniquely exotic from the Orient. So, Sabyasachi delved into his 12-year research and dug out aari taari ka kaam, which looked antique, but had this luxe quality to it. All the work was done in gold and silver. “It was like those shawls your grandmom wore from Rajasthan, it was reinventing just that,” he confesses.

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It was aptly titled “Opium” as it did make Sabyasachi’s head spin, quite literally! All the garments were dyed after they were made. He created his own threads, and sequins, which were hand cut. “Opium stands for heady India, that used to exist in the 20s, with bars and nightclubs even in a then progressive Kolkata, which slowly faded away,” he adds.

In a play of beige and gold, a somber palette, there were omnipresent shades of our country with an extensive use of khadi sourced from villages in Andhra Pradesh, hand block printing, Sanganer prints combined with lace, zardosi and mirror work. It was effectively accessorized by voluminous naaths, stone encrusted haath phools and sequinned block heels. And yes, there was a garden too, complete with potted plants which after the show will go to the luxury boutique Carma.

There were 23 assistants to help Sabya, put this together, after a battle with a nasty slip disc that left him reeling in pain for days. So what emerged, in his own words was “I don’t know if it is correct to say this, but maybe it is unfinished luxury or just unkempt decadence”.

Sharing the archlights in this exotic journey with his ‘soulmate’ and eight year younger sister Payal, Sabya says he would be incomplete without her. “She is the wind beneath my wings; she is my inspiration, my trust, my family is all I’ve got,” he confesses.

Along with Anuradha Vakil, Sabya is probably one of the few designers who manufacture sequins themselves. “The plastic ones are shiny and they lose shape so quickly; I wanted something substantial that was done by hand, so that it was truly couture. The mood was of the swingin’, opulent 20s, and for me this is a chance to probably explore a different dimension, take the road less travelled. The thread we used was spun on charkhas; the goal was to be a purist,” he admits.

In the end, it was a game of craftsmanship, he attempted to recreate the jazz era, a time when workmen used to embroider in a unique way and you could tell the quality of the garment by the raw material used. “There were lighter colours, as I wanted to break my own set barriers in couture, and the focus was aari taari ka kaam, so we kept the threadwork matt,” he says.

Crewel embroidered hem panels, were a crude version of this ancient art that was popularized in The Great Gatsby era. “Isn’t it great that you have a Baz Luhrmann film where the lead actress wears a haath-phool, it is finally a big moment for the country?” he asks.

Sabya took this theme and reinterpreted the glamour of those times through his T-shirt, flapper dresses and quilted skirts. It was an attempt to present the Gatsby look in a theatrical way, so one could see the dis-tressed, liquid loungey, semi-finished approach to the look. “I was so taken in by the music of the Brad Pitt film Babel, written by Guillermo Arriaga. The music in this death trilogy is by this fabulous El Palomar-born Argentinean composer Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla, its haunting melodies went with my whole look and lifted my spirits,” he concludes.

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