Sabyasachi Mukherjee opens up about his collaboration with Estée Lauder, the future of luxury lifestyle and more

This March, Sabyasachi joined forces with global beauty giant Estée Lauder for a capsule collection of 10 lipsticks
Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Limited Edition Collection
Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Limited Edition Collection

“We have been in the background playing manufacturer for too long, it’s time for us to lead from the front now,” Sabyasachi Mukherjee tells us. This, coming from India’s finest design connoisseur feels personal, more like a call for action at a time when the world is noticing India as an emerging landmark of luxury lifestyle. And designers like Sabyasachi are riding the crest of this wave with a rising global empire. From what started as an eponymous label in 1999 with a mere borrowing of `20,000 from his family and a workforce of three, now has exponentially diversified into heritage couture, high jewellery, elegant prêt wear and luxury accessories. With each segment, the esteemed designer aims to bring India’s biggest strength — its artisanal crafts and handwoven textiles — that have long been overlooked on the global stage as he once famously said, “the French had claimed couture but India’s reservoir of crafts runs deep in both legacy and skill.”

 Cut to now, the 50-year-old designer is earnestly asserting brand India with every international opportunity. From getting the most quintessential attire from the country, sari, popularised by a Western high-street brand H&M, collaborating with French designer Christian Louboutin for a high-end footwear showcased in India, London, New York and Hong Kong, creating Cinema Suite as a tribute to Bollywood and Hollywood glamour for Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites to crafting masks for majesties, King Charles III and Queen Camilla, for an annual fundraiser and getting his saris strutted at MET Gala and Cannes — the colouristin him sees the world as a front row to flex what India has — a heritage value, timeless aesthetics and ability to produce modern heirlooms.

Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Limited Edition Collection
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Making another addition to this string of collaborations, this March, he joined forces with global beauty giant Estée Lauder for a capsule collection of 10 lipsticks. This limited edition of lipsticks introduces India’s vibrant shade palette to the world that ranges from deep, neutral to popping hues punctuated with Indian names — Rouge Bengal, Udaipur Coral, Calcutta Red, Bombay Berry, Coffee Masala, Muslin Tea, Apricot Silk, Pomelo Rose, Devi Pink and Tropical Tangerine. Further, the lipsticks have warm and inviting notes of cinnamon, clove, buttery brown sugar and vanilla that are familiar at home while also being suitable to the global wearer. The elegant packaging of gilded cases adorned with 24K gold plated accents, emblazoned with Bengal tiger — Sabyasachi’s insignia and a symbol of strength, power and beauty — further speaks volumes on how to ingeniously tell India’s beauty story to the world. Moreover, it’s a mark of an aspirational lifestyle — you’d want to have a piece of luxury in your makeup closet, despite its wallet-buster price.

 So, what does this collaboration have in store? Indulge talks to the country’s top designer on why India needs its own superbrand; why he’s aversive to trends and more.


 What made you join hands with Estée Lauder?

 Estée Lauder was a true visionary. She took risks and worked hard for her success, which is something I truly admire. Like Sabyasachi, Estée Lauder is a brand based on a strong emotional connection with women, which is brought to life through this collection. As two brands that have been built slowly over time with a lot of integrity, I knew that together, we could create beautiful products with tangible value for people.

 Tell us more about the intent behind making these lipsticks.

Beauty is a cluttered industry where people are making more; and more often than not, without a lot of thought. I was clear that this collection had to mean something. My brief was simple, cut through frills and trends, and create what is classic. My own brand is based in culture, heritage and in creating products that stand the test of time. I set out to create 10 classic lip colours that would cover every kind of classic beauty need. I’ve been a colourist for over 20 years now, the city I live in, the various processes of dyeing textiles, the selection of gemstones as a jeweller and the women I’m most influenced by— have played a part in making this collection. For instance, Rekha’s berry pout can be glimpsed in Bombay Berry, Frida Kahlo in Pomelo Rose and the spirit of Calcutta in Calcutta Red. Like that, we have 10 definitive colours, so you can find and interpret your shade for yourself.

 What’s the idea of beauty for you?

In an era of self-expression, reinvention and influence, beauty is complex. I was born a middle-class boy in India, far away from the world of glamour and beauty. I had no money to access a lot of things as a teenager. Very early on, you realise the power of value and that what you buy should mean something, so my appreciation for value remains. It’s why I cannot fall into the pitfalls of hype and trend; it’s the classic and iconic that I strive towards. For me, beauty is really about identity. About knowing who you are and celebrating that.

You often say 10 years of fashion took you nowhere, do elaborate on the same. What made you diversify into accessories, jewellery and now makeup?

My vision has never changed. It’s always bothered me that India does not have a single brand on the global luxury map. And it’s been my mission to change this narrative as I think we owe India a luxury super brand. Creating a luxury super brand rests on a few fundamentals that we have been nurturing for the past 25 years and will continue to do so — the finest of heritage crafts and craftsmanship, superlative quality and a unique design proposition.

And where do you place mindful luxury?

Buy less but buy better. True luxury is beautifully crafted and heirloom quality products that can stand the test of time. It’s the foundation on which I have built Sabyasachi.

What is more significant to you — product or the experience of it and why?

Both. Superlative quality and craftsmanship is a given for Sabyasachi pieces. And it’s not just what you see but what you feel. The linings of our clothing and handbags, the backs of our jewellery are often more elaborate and indulgent than even the front. It’s not just a value proposition but I believe in creating and celebrating memories. To appreciate the history, craft and quality, sometimes you need to be immersed into the world from where this comes from. My stores are living museums and are key to the Sabyasachi experience. They celebrate decades and centuries of craft from across India and the old silk route. Be it the long leaf Darjeeling tea sourced from independent tea-estates from India that we serve or the music that wafts from Rabindra Sangeet or Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen , Madonna , old Bollywood classics or the age-old antique textiles and art that hang from the walls. I have always wanted my visitors to share in this rich legacy that has given rise to my aesthetic and my label. People have never been more discerning than they are today. I know they value the experience as much as they do the product.

 In recent times, what would you consider India’s watershed moment in lifestyle luxury? Is India’s growing economic market the only reason that brands want to come here? Does our cultural capital hold any significance in this context?

It’s India’s moment right now. I think that is undeniable. The growing economic market is definitely a consideration. India’s cultural specificity is what makes it complex and interesting — be it our resources, legacy, history, craftsmanship or culture, it makes us not just a big market but a discerning and unique one. Brands need to spend time in India to understand India. We have been in the background playing manufacturer for too long, it’s time for us to lead from the front now.

What keeps your creativity intact as you swim in the waters of global business? What has kept you relevant despite the rapidly changing times?

Honestly, I’ve never been more excited or jubilant than the last few years as we’ve navigated the global business. We have received such support in New York and everywhere else we’ve gone, that it’s been overwhelming. I never seek relevance. I think that’s what breaks brands. I am vehemently opposed to trends and forecasts. I am obstinate and I truly believe that the only way to survive and thrive for anyone is to know who you are and to celebrate that. There is resilience in authenticity.

What are the lifestyle developments that will shape India in the coming future?

I think the more we move towards AI and the digitisation of everything, the more we will seek the artisanal and human. I genuinely believe that there will be a resurgence of our appreciation for the handmade and crafted. And this will be the main turning point for consumerism in India. We are working on a series of global projects but it’s too early to go into details. But my mission to showcase the best of Indian jewellery and craftsmanship across the globe continues.

Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Limited Edition Collection
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