Indian retail giant Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited acquired a 51 percent stake in the Sabyasachi brand for Rs 398 crore. Just over two decades old, this label’s life has been full of milestone moments, this investment could position Sabyasachi as India’s first global fashion house.
2020 was an unusually quiet year for fashion label Sabyasachi. It started with a bang, as he unveiled a 65-piece Haute Joaillerie (high jewelry) collection at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, considered one of the finest stores in the world. Hot on the heels of this launch came the news that the designer label had been chosen for collaboration with global fast-fashion brand H&M, for a limited edition collection called “Wanderlust” which was to include a sari, placing the Indian drape on every fashion high street in the world. The collection was expected to drop in April, a huge landmark for Indian fashion, hindered only by the pandemic.
Whether it is bringing a new sense of modesty to Indian fashion, or taking necklines dangerously low, his clothes are what Indian women want to wear. Sabyasachi Mukherjee is the designer who set the Indian fashion agenda for at least a decade — and so the industry wondered what was next for him? We now know the answer to that question, with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited’s acquisition of the Sabyasachi brand.
While other Indian designers spoke to the media about the need to be ”vocal for local”, Sabyasachi kept it low-key low. Although he was the first in fashion to realize the impact of the pandemic, making a generous donation to the Prime Minister Relief Fund as early as March 2020. Successful fashion designers are those who understand cultural shifts, grasp economic realities and navigate the media landscape. Creative talent is not enough to become a fashion label that matters.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee began his label in 1999, one of the first Indian brands to retail at London’s iconic boutique, Browns, and also to show at New York and Milan Fashion Week, making him the darling of fashion editors across the world. But critical acclaim is not enough to build a fashion house — to really make a mark internationally, you must first be a success in your own home country.
There was a high spending audience back in India in need of special attention from an Indian designer — the bride. With the local wedding industry reported to be worth the US $50 billion, the “Big Fat Indian Wedding” was the reason international luxury brands were making a bee-line for India. Sabyasachi knew, while the young bride was a global modern thinking woman when it came to her wedding day, she dreamed of being an “Indian” bride. Sabyasachi has always stood for all things Indian — and his fashion shows were staged with as much pageantry as the biggest and fattest of Indian weddings.
A designer who knew how to stay exclusive yet harness the power of media, today his Instagram page is the most followed page in Indian fashion. Before social media it was television that put one in every Indian’s living room — he teamed up with a leading news channel for the hugely successful reality show ‘Band Baja Bride’ in 2012, while also working on select projects in Bollywood, whether it was dressing Vidya Balan for Cannes Film Festival or taking charge of Sridevi’s costumes in her comeback film, ‘English Vinglish’. Anyone who has interviewed him knows, he has the gift of the gab — soft-spoken, he is always concise but what he does say will be eloquent and impactful.
In the early 2000s, many Indian fashion designers were getting carried away with the glitz of the Indian fashion industry — which was shiny and new, but Sabyasachi kept his eye on the prize. There were rumors that L Capital Asia, the private equity fund belonging to LVMH (luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) was interested in buying into the brand. While that did not materialize, collaborations with Christian Louboutin and Pottery Barn sealed Sabyasachi’s position as India’s most influential designer.
It has been well known in the industry that Sabyasachi has always wanted a flagship store in New York. So far Anita Dongre, whose company received a sizable investment from a large US Private Equity Fund in 2013, is the only Indian designer with a retail presence in this city. She is also considered to have the largest turnover of any Indian fashion company with a range that goes from high street to high fashion.
This investment could not be better timed for Sabyasachi Mukherjee. It is a real game-changer for a label that has done as much groundwork as it could have as an independent. Corporate backing should see his brand diversify in terms of reach and product range. Perhaps we’ll see a beauty line too — and who knows what else. Now more than ever the industry will have its eyes on 46-year-old Kolkata-based Sabyasachi as the future of Indian fashion.