Sabyasachi opens massive new Mumbai store
If the traditional Hindu temple ceremony is intended to clear the five doshas pertaining to sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell, the opening party for Sabyasachi's new 25,000-square- foot-plus store in Mumbai was warp speed on filling them up.
On Saturday, the designer feted the brand's relocated retail mecca to a crowd of 220 that featured local Indian celebrities, clients, international retailers, press, brand partners, and friends of the house, with an event that redefined the sensory experience and provided clear markers of the brands' next initiatives.
The designer is cognizant of being audacious, but assures the size of the store is the result of pragmaticism. "The reason we opened a bigger space in Mumbai is because handbags and jewelry are a growing category, and we didn't have a place to house them. I don't like to do things for indulgence sake, and I don't do things just to flex," said Mukherjee adding, "Retail needs to pull up its socks and get people out of their homes and pajamas to have a store experience."
Housed in a former Italianate revival-style bank, the three-story building is located in the Horniman Circle neighborhood and butts up against tony retail neighbors such as Hermès and Christian Louboutin. As guests ascended marble stairs at the entry and followed a hallway bedecked in chandeliers, mirrors, oversized floor vases, among other décor accents, they entered another world, one that is becoming a hallmark of the Indian-design-meets-Western-haute-couture label. A subtle music background piped in show tunes and jukebox classics and progressed to pop dance hits of the 90s and beyond.
The evening's host greeted guests personally in his usually humble demeanor as guests enjoyed a museum-like setting of previous design collaborations with Christian Louboutin in the foyer, before circling down other passageways flanking each side to lead to two different bridal salons, whose fitting rooms are just as enticing as the main floor.
The designer favors Colonial-era and European-influenced antiques mixed with traditional Indian motifs. (Think Tanjore paintings depicting Hindu gods, traditional textiles, Mughal miniatures, antique traditional garments, Company Painting-style tigers and cats combined with porcelain dishes, gold-trimmed floor vases, and bronze statues as faucets and more, coffee tables and classic books and everything else galore housed in curio cabinets throughout).
The designer's laser-focused aesthetic manages to offer as much visual candy in the décor as the goods, and is part of merchandising and product strategy.
"We are becoming serious players in home and hospitality; we are seeding these things at this store and may do a full launch three or four years later," he explained, confirming the décor will not be on offer, but expect to see dinnerware, ceramics, cutlery, fabrics, paintings, and carpets as categories in the future.
The designer also confirmed that a genderless fragrance is imminent, and his perfume partners were in attendance. He also indicated the seed for a complete beauty line is also being planted.
Guests ascending the second floor devoted to the brand's expanding jewelry categories via the elevator smelled the signature house scent of rose and frankincense. The fine, heritage, and high jewelry offerings feature exquisite statement pieces and dainty daily styles in traditional Indian jewelry and contemporary interpretations featuring the brand's signature Indian tiger featured on jewelry and accessories.
On the third floor devoted to the designers' expanding leather goods offerings, guests such as Christian Louboutin, Linda Fargo, Fern Mallis, Jean-François Lesage, and Bollywood's finest such as Rani Mukerji, Ram and Gautami Kapoor, Simi Garewal, TV actress Roshni Chopra, as well as actress-slash-beauty queen, Sobhita Dhulipala, and Indian mega influencer and cosmetics entrepreneur, Diipa Büller-Khosla, arrived to find a Roman Emperor-worthy feast of international delicacies conceived of by collaborators Lovey and Puja Kapoor of Kookie Jar Kolkata. Guests needing to sit after touring the vast store and indulging in the smorgasbord accompanied by free-flowing Dom Pérignon and aged sipping whiskey sat on custom pattern velvet-covered antique settees and Venetian chairs. It was yet another way Mukherjee drew his guests into his magical emporium.
Fargo, senior vice-president of Bergdorf Goodman's fashion department, was on hand as the first U.S. retailer to carry the brand but also as an admirer of Mukherjee, whom she called a great and wise human.
"It feels like we are at the beginning of riding a wave where East and West are seeing each other for the first time," she said at the event, citing the recent Dior show and the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Center fashion exhibit opening. The retailer attended with good friend jeweler Ranjana Khan on her fourth trip to the design-rich country.
"Once I started understanding India and the talent here, I wanted to introduce the U.S. to it, and in Sabyasachi, I couldn't have found a better person to do that with," she said. "He takes responsibility for his business and his designs but also for the country itself as a son of India," she added, hinting that expanding beyond the current jewelry offerings, she would like to see the retailer carry the other product lines.
Aiding the growth is Mukherjee's partner, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. ABFRL, as it is also known, is a growing billion-dollar Indian luxury conglomerate that purchased 51 percent of Sabyasachi in 2021. The Mumbai store makes four freestanding Sabyasachi locations, with the U.S. store opening just last October.
While licenses are not typical of Sabyasachi's business strategy, a retail partner exists in Hyderabad, resulting from a multiband retailer partnership that dissolved but had helped grow the brand in the region.
"When I moved out of their stores, I didn't want to screw up their business, so I gave them a franchise. I trust these partners to nurture, and they do a great job. Separately, Sabyasachi opened a stand-alone jewelry store adjacent to the store. It's a high-investment business, so you keep that one to yourself," he explained.
With the brand in expansion mode, Mukherjee has considered future locations. "We have a strong business in London. Next would be the Middle East, and we have opportunities in Indonesia and Singapore," he said, hedging on whether it's more doors or categories.
"It's good to balance. It's not difficult, but sometimes, it's not profitable. Often it leads to brand dilution. The simple thing about the luxury business is if you are not widely distributed, you continue to have good gross margins and profitability. Your customer feels happier buying something expensive they know isn't cookie cutter and in every airport duty-free shop," he continued, pointing out the value of scarcity.
Los Angeles is a definite target in the U.S., due to its Hollywood-Bollywood connection. "America and India are large countries that work very similarly in regard to celebrity culture, and the cost of advertising is high. The easiest way to advertise is on celebrities," Mukherjee pointed out.
His critics accuse the designer of controlling women like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Alia Bhatt, and Rani Mukerji, when he dresses them. He chalks this up to a highly defined aesthetic in his advertising campaigns that stars and stylists emulate. Hollywood stars like Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Lawrence are high on his dream dressing list.
His clothes are not just for the red carpet. "We are a maximalist country, so I want to take India to the world to show you can break it apart to create a look with Indian and Western influence," he said.
The men's sherwani or kurta, for example, is a versatile look whose aesthetic can open traditional Indian styles to a new audience, according to the designer.
"Beautiful things don't need a gender," he assured. He hinted that the brand would soon launch two massive collaborations with American brands.
Despite the expanding nature of his brand, Mukherjee also expresses some reservations. "While perhaps we need to be more aggressive with the media, I like that it's a hidden secret people like to discover. For me, the best advertising a brand can do is word-of-mouth publicity from other customers. I'm sure when people discover the brand; they want to share it with the world."
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