Carpets go luxe: couturiers, carpet makers and curators weigh in on the trend

As luxury carpets and bespoke rugs fly off the shelves this season: is it a surge in artistic sensibilities or the lure of exclusivity that is driving this demand? Read on to find out more.

author_img Sabrina Rajan Published :  17th September 2021 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  17th September 2021 06:00 AM

Designer carpets by Obeetee

The purpose of carpet, rug or a durry did start off as a commodity some hundred years ago. So did the desire to make it exquisite and covetous. After all, the famous handmade pearl studded carpet for the Prince of Baroda was commissioned way back in 1860! Though, over the years, rugs and carpets have found their way into FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) outlets, the past couple of years has seen a perceptible shift in the market, with luxury carpets and bespoke rugs flying off the shelves. Is it a surge in artistic sensibilities or the lure of exclusivity that is driving this demand? We explore the nuances of the trend with designers, carpet makers and experts to weigh in.

Artisanal carpet by Rug Weave, Chennai

A chat with the charming and well-informed carpet collector, Danny Mehra from Bengaluru, takes us on a wild carpet ride across fascinating stories from ancient Iran to corporate Mumbai. Known for his gorgeous vintage collection of 19th Century nomadic carpets, Danny concedes that there is a niche market for carpets as a luxury décor addition to homes. Having visited Chennai a number of times in the past, we discover that nearly 50 carpets from Danny’s collection are ensconced in homes across the city. “There are many ways to understand the value of a carpet. Sometimes, it is knots per square inch and sometimes it is the creativity of the weaver and the design that is valuable,” said the expert.  In view of designer collaborations with carpet makers — Danny gave us his candid take: “The carpet is valuable for the label it is associated with. Just like any other designer product. The focus is the designer and the promise of quality and design sensibility that is associated with the design house.”

Curator and collector Danny Mehra, Bengaluru

Design discourse

Indeed, for Delhi-based couturiers Shantanu Mehra and Nikhil Mehra, designing carpets in collaboration with the iconic carpet makers, Obeetee, was an extension of their eponymous label Shantanu & Nikhil’s design sensibilities. In the past, the carpet brand known for their hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs, had roped in designer Tarun Tahiliani to start this series of collabs, called the ‘Proud to be Indian’ (PTBI) series. Rudra Chatterjee, a visiting faculty at IIM Calcutta and chairman, Obeetee,  said, “We launched this unique concept to introduce the incredible Indian craft to the rest of the world. This exquisite collaboration with leading designers has helped us bring forth a collection that talks about our country, heritage, craft, material and people as a whole, in its way.”

Couture connect

Curiously, we ask the designer duo what they think is the bond between couture and home décor? In a way,  Nikhil reiterates Rudra’s explanation, and said, “With Obeetee, we wanted to celebrate Indian heritage and the legacy born out of it. The concept highlights some memories of Indian history, triggering a feeling of nostalgia, pride, and valor. This was also an overarching narrative for us to come together and portray the juxtaposition that India is, where the roots are indeed modern yet cultural, exotic yet familiar, and unassertive yet proud. A natural extension to our couture collection — the carpets derive their elements from brick textures, maps, battleground stains signifying struggle, insignias of victory and were carefully picked to represent the core concept behind this collection.” The designer further elaborated that they had to work within certain limitations in terms of material, technology and geometrics. “Sometimes, we need to be reined in. The restrictions brought to the fore our creativity and also the need for discipline — which is good! Otherwise, with no limitations — I am like a kid in a candy store of possibilities!” said the couturier with a laugh. He explained how they had to go back to the drawing board and make careful considerations during the designing of each carpet, as it takes up to one year to be created; and changes on a carpet can’t be done as easily as on their garments. Shantanu added, “Initially, we stumbled upon certain challenges while understanding the design aesthetics of each piece. Like I said, from a three dimensional to a two dimensional scale perspective, it was a different challenge.” The designer shared how they felt that the beauty of a handwoven carpet lies in the intricate patterns and details that go into making it. “We invested a significant amount of time to analyse how many knots, which material, and what patterns will do justice to the designs we wanted to create. After several trials and swatches and closely understanding material requirements, we arrived at the perfect solution.”  

Couturiers Nikhil Mehra & Shantanu Mehra, New Delhi

Bespoke banter

Even as this limited edition collection of Obeetee creations (that is priced at `1,00,000 onward) hits the market, we reach out to carpet makers who tell us that their exclusive clientele has just upped their desires and demands when it comes to bespoke creations too. Danny agreed that commissioned work is getting more detailed and possibly a tad bizarre. The collector shared how he recently came across a carpet that was commissioned by a couple in Hong Kong that dramatically replicated the froth of a wave pattern left behind by a passing ship. Meanwhile, we caught up with carpet maker Ali Akmal Jan, partner — Carpet Kingdom, which has stores in Chennai and Bengaluru, and we were quickly smitten by the latest carpet they had conjured up — an exotic replica of the client’s stone floor and  cost about `50,000.  Working with fabric like cotton to luxurious wool from Australia and silk fibres, he agreed that his customers were becoming more specific on their requirements in terms of design, colour and even texture and the end product always came out as an extension of their personality. “They don’t mind paying a premium as they understand the value of a good carpet and how it instantly transforms a space,” said the carpet maker.

Bespoke carpet by Carpet Kingdom, Benagulru & Chennai

Precious point

“A very interesting project of ours or one that was really out of the box was a stone replica carpet that we made for a client in the UK.  This was one unique piece which we had customised for him and he loved it so much that he ordered two more pieces from us,” said Ali. So, has the carpet finally shrugged away its identity as a commodity and is now a luxe item? “I believe, luxury depends on the individual. It is something that is specific to each and every individual depending on their requirement.  For example, some may find a thick woven carpet luxurious because of its soft feel and underfoot comfort. Others may find an intricate handmade carpet luxurious, solely based on visual appeal,” answered Ali.
 As we whirl around the world of carpets and mull over knots and whatnots, Chennai-based Zeeshan Tariq, co-founder of Rug Weave told us that judging carpets is all in a day’s work for him, as he is a carpet appraiser. Zeeshan, who agreed that there is renewed interest for luxury carpets in the market, walked us through the questionnaire that we should be asking ourselves when shopping for one. Once you have confirmed provenance, find out if the carpet is tribal-based (design and natural material is the criteria) or city-based (number of knots is the focus) like a kashan, Kashmiri or kirmaan. The latter translates to a valuable piece too, made in an organised sector. Here, it is the number of knots and the designer that adds value, we are told. Zeeshan also suggested you check the material — while a woolen carpet is tough, a burn test will confirm if a carpet is made of silk. If the yarn stops burning and curls up once you remove it from a flame then it is real silk; while if it is viscose it will continue burning and melt. Zeeshan told us that in Iran, designer collaborations were common, even as India catches up with the trend. Meanwhile, an antique carpet can start at `3 lakh and can go up to `40 lakh. Zeeshan let on that the most expensive vintage carpet in his store is priced at more than `50 lakh, is more than 200 years old and was commissioned for a royal in India, but made in Iran.