NEW DELHI — It’s time to hear the Bengal tiger roar: Indian designer Sabyasachi is collaborating with Swedish retailer H&M on the global launch of a collection that will be released Thursday.
“Both sides knew how momentous this project would be. We had a great sense of chemistry. When a designer and production house understand each other, magic can happen. I am at least happy that I have been able to bridge the gap between aspiration and fulfillment,” said the designer of the collection, which also marks his first move from couture to ready-to-wear.
Wearing the Bengal tiger T-shirt that he hopes will become both emblematic of India and a youth icon, the Bengal-based designer (he lives in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal in Eastern India) spoke about the collection, which has been delayed for more than a year due to COVID-19. Originally scheduled for release in April 2020, the 70-piece collection includes women’s and men’s wear and accessories.
The collection is gender fluid, it is resort meets streetwear, it is travel chic, with a key highlight being the Indian textile and print traditions brought to life by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation.
H&M designer collaborations have become legendary since the first one with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, and have also included Roberto Cavalli, Balmain, Comme des Garçons, Versace, Moschino, Giambattista Valli and more. Maria Gemzell, head of new development at H&M, said shoppers now value the use of homegrown crafts and textiles more than ever.
“Karl Lagerfeld said he hated the word chic, but he loved the word affordable,” she said. “This is what it’s all about. H&M is about democratizing fashion and our collaborations are about taking dreams from talented people to our customers. That is really the key when we go into the world of this talent. It is not just about making another dress for less.”
The tie-up between Sabyasachi and H&M is likely to generate strong sales in India, but the challenges are significant: how does his signature embroidery translate? Can Indian textiles easily go global, given that many of his pieces are made of cotton? Can handmade prints fit global street silhouettes?
The answer from Sabyasachi to all of those is an easy “yes.”
“We took the couture elements of Sabyasachi, like handmade prints and embroidery, and replicated them, etc.,” he said during a press event Monday. “A very big part of my design sensibility is Indian textiles and handicrafts. I incorporated all of this into contemporary, ready-to-wear silhouettes that would essentially have a global appeal but at the same time possess a regional and an Indian soul.”
Ironically, in a time where travel has become restricted by the pandemic, the collection is called Wanderlust.
Sabyasachi explained that the urge to travel has not been stymied — even though young people may earn well, their priorities are not so much to buy homes, or make big investments, but to travel, eat out and feel a sense of community. “Because that’s what human beings are supposed to do and I think this collection celebrates love, easiness, comfort and a great sense of outdoors and travel,” he said.
To that end, he said his collection was about the “basics punctuated with a few luxury essentials so that whichever part of the world you are in, you’ll always look well dressed and you’ll always fit in.”
Then there is the signature Sabya sari.
“When H&M asked me if there is anything more I would like to put in the collection, I said, ‘Yes, I want to put a sari in the collection.’ When they asked why a sari, I said this is an Indian collaboration, there is nothing more globally accepted and revered and known as the Indian sari, and for many Indian consumers they want to have a Sabyasachi. I thought they would say no — but they said we don’t know how to do a blouse and petticoat.
“I said don’t need to do that, it can be draped over a pant and with a Sabyasachi T-shirt, put some retro sunglasses, some jewelry, a fanny pack or even a tote bag, and there you have a very cool, modern sari,” he said.
The collection, which ranges from 799 rupees, or $10.73, to 9,999 rupees, or $134.29, will be available at select H&M flagship stores worldwide and on the retailer’s global website. The sari will retail only in India.
As the process of international growth begins, Sabyasachi has a slew of plans for his brand. The strategic partnership in which Indian retailer Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail acquired a 51 percent stake in Sabyasachi for 3.98 billion rupees, or $53.45 million, in January and the launch of his handbags with Bergdorf Goodman in New York in February appear to be the beginnings of a new and increasingly global path for the designer.