Sabyasachi Opens Largest Flagship in Mumbai

MUMBAI — Indian designer Sabyasachi has again raised the bar on the scale of his stores, opening a 25,862-square-foot flagship just off Mumbai’s Horniman circle area.

In the neighborhood is an Hermès stand-alone store, also housed in a heritage building, and a Christian Louboutin shop, among others.

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The Mumbai store is Sabyasachi’s largest so far and comes as the designer’s team is also growing quickly, with Sumati Mattu this month being appointed chief executive officer. Mattu was earlier with consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of Unilever Ltd.

Sabyasachi’s stores have slowly been generating buzz given their size, extravagant interiors and equally over-the-top products.

A product display in the new store. Courtesy photo by Björn Wallander
A product display in the new store. Courtesy photo by Björn Wallander

Keeping his retail plan deliberate, consistent and clearly defined, the designer oversees every detail of the design on a global scale, as in the Sabyasachi flagship that opened last October on Christopher Street in New York, and now in the sprawling store in Mumbai.

“It’s very simple,” he said, in an exclusive interview. “When I started retail even for my first store, it was 60 percent experience and 40 percent retail. I have kept the same formula, only the scales of the stores have become bigger and bigger. It doesn’t matter where we are, how expensive the range is, how big or small it is, but we try to be close around that.”

The point of such a maximalist setting is clearly a contrast with his own personality.

“I use maximalism as an expression of art, but I am a minimalist myself. It doesn’t have to be a reflection of who I am, but much more of what I am trying to do; India is a maximalist country, people like maximalism, people like decoration, color, opulence, depth and layering,” the designer said. “This is the privilege of being in India because no other country celebrates it like India does and there is no reason to shy away from it.

“I used to always tell myself that luxury cannot really be sold from a cramped atmosphere, because you need to pay as much attention to the atmosphere as to the product,” he observed, emphasizing the importance of “experiential.”

If anything, the store is only cramped by how much it displays.

The store has opulent chandaliers and carpets. Courtesy photo by Björn Wallander
The store has opulent chandaliers and carpets. Courtesy photo by Björn Wallander

“It’s like a museum,” said fashion and design consultant Fern Mallis about the new store. “I think going forward you should be able to buy all of those things that are displayed there, and hopefully in the future you will be able to.”

The store’s 100 chandeliers add to the sense of awe created by the 150 works of art, 275 carpets, large pottery, vases, vintage chairs, and private tea area. It is an invitation to step into another world.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president of the fashion office and the director of women’s fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, described it best when she told WWD “I have lived in the sphere of stores my entire career, and Sabyasachi’s new emporium is truly beyond any store ever created.

“He has transcended the idea of a store and has instead invited us into a ‘world’ — his world — layered, unprecedented, collected and sensual. It’s a new idea of luxury, one which indulges all the senses and transforms ideas around how selling is embedded in something loftier.

“That alone speaks to Sabyasachi’s fresh way of approaching the art of selling, by making it secondary,” she continued. “He has shown a respect for the client and how they should feel first and foremost. The industry has talked for years about the importance of ‘experience’ in retail, but few deliver on that conversation. Sabyasachi has gone above and beyond on this ideal, and has created an experience which is unforgettable. India, nor anywhere else in the world, has seen anything like it.”

Spending time to create, curate and visualize his stores to keep them consistent, Sabyasachi is clear that it’s not just merchandise that needs to fill the space.

It is also music, which he uses as a powerful retail tool, one unique to his own personality, and sensibility.

“You know, when people talk about Sabyasachi the first thing people say is that we are culture shifters,” he said. “I think the best way to celebrate culture sometimes is through music. I take a lot of inspiration from music when I am designing my clothes — music is a very important expression of culture and music for me, and very often manages to breach the elusive boundaries of nostalgia, and somehow manages to capture zeitgeist.

“When we create our playlists for the music, which is quite eclectic, it is about yesterday, today and tomorrow, about nostalgia, the power of the youth and the promise of the future,” he said.

While music ties the different elements in many ways, the store itself captures the essence of Sabyasachi’s own journey: there is a micro-exhibit from the Sabyasachi archive showcasing couture from the inaugural Sabyasachi x Christian Louboutin collaboration, Bater, in 2015 and its sequel, Firdaus, in 2016. There is the Bengal tiger; his wedding wear; the intricate and resplendent jewelry selection, and, for the first time, his collection from the New York store is available in India.

Designs for the New York collection are different. “The store is severely and ferociously India proud but at the same time there is a homage to the New Yorker, to their love for pragmatic sensibilities,” he said. “So, while we have embroidery, while we have opulence, while we have Indian craft, the silhouettes, the expressions are also inherently very modern. That makes the garments more relatable, not costume.”

As for how the collections will work in different countries, he said quickly that it won’t be a cookie-cutter model. “I think the beauty of having different merchandise in different stores is opening up the possibility of travel for the shopper. I think whether you’re a small brand or a big brand, you should always keep the customer engaged with the art of discovery,” he said.

Launching new retail is part of the plan. “The idea and the reason why I took investment is to have the ability to multiply myself and grow the business because I didn’t want to lead a selfish existence in which the business grew and died with me. I think I will spend the next 15 years transitioning the business so that its stays strong after I’ve gone,” he said.

The investment in 2019 by Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. has given him the backing for faster retail growth, but still, as he explained, it means putting in 49 percent for every 51 percent the group invests, and both sides believe in “slow, evolved growth and are not in a tearing hurry.”

However, Sabyasachi is clear that it’s time to grow some segments before going further with more stores.

“I don’t consider Sabyasachi to be a fashion brand, it’s a lifestyle brand — but it is a lifestyle brand that works more with craft and luxury craft,” he said. “At some point there will be restaurants, hotels, real estate, who knows?”

While there are clearly some big collaborations coming up, beauty is also in the offing and will be unveiled soon, he said.

Despite being surrounded by a rush of admirers, which include Bollywood stars and global celebrities, Sabyasachi has often said that he needs to spend time alone to find the answers. What are the biggest questions facing him?

“The question that I’m asking myself now is how important is India going to be in global fashion,” he said. “Because I see the shift happening and I want to know what that really means for Indian designers. This is a time when a lot of waters are going to churn but I hope that Indian designers can stay on track, maintain their identity.

“I have always said that if you believe in yourself, it is only going to be a matter of time till the world believes in you. And at this time it is even more important for Indian designers to stay on track with an Indian identity,” he said, adding, “Because India is just getting ready for global domination.”

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