Recently, Sabyasachi, the country’s leading couture house, unveiled its new collection to its impressive 5.4 million-strong Instagram following.
What followed was the expected and truly well-deserved praise for the premier designer's clothes. But amidst the slew of promotional photos released on the social networking site, were these two.
There is no denying that the model in these pictures is strikingly beautiful but I, like the comment section can’t help but feel a little disconcerted.
There seems to be an air of gloominess in the picture, almost as if the woman has a perpetual grey cloud hanging over her head. These rather blank expressionless stares—what are they meant to convey? Regality? Strength? Grace?
Perhaps the model was tired and hungry or was simply caught off-guard when the camera went click. While I may never know the true intent behind those vague gazes, I can understand the reaction it has evoked from people.
Now, it is a well-established phenomenon in haute couture to have models brandish sharp glares as they walk fiercely down a ramp. It fits quite well there, in those dimly lit, glamorous fashion shows.
The problem in this instance is the context in which the world of Sabyasachi seems to operate.
The man is a marketing maven, but it would be wrong to attribute all his success to just genius selling. He is a true artist. He has a distinctive way of capturing the Indian ethos and his aesthetic sense, be it in clothes, jewellery or interiors is unrivalled (a mere glance at the cinema suite at the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate or any one of his gorgeous stores will be a testament enough).
His hold over the Indian wedding market is so strong that every new-age Indian woman dreams of attaining the moniker of a 'Sabyasachi bride'.
I must confess I myself am an ardent fan, nay devotee of Sabyasachi Mukherjee and have thus kept myself abreast with the evolution the brand has undergone in recent years.
Mukherjee went from designing the costumes of renowned actresses on the sets of movies such as Black, Guzaarish, Baabul and English Vinglish to designing the beautiful wedding lehengas of the leading stars of today- Anushka Shama, Deepika Padukone, Bipasha Basu (after whom his infamous Bipasha Blouse is named), Katrina Kaif… the list is endless.
I like the millions of Gen-Z Indian women, first witnessed the magic of Sabyasachi through the show Band Baajaa Bride, where an ordinary bride would be treated to a makeover days ahead of her wedding with the highlight being a chance to meet the couturier himself and wear a custom-designed Sabyasachi Lehenga.
What always struck me was Mukherjee's genuine interactions with the to-be brides, the time he took to listen to their stories and the effort he would put thereafter to design a custom piece for them.
Each episode of the show generally concluded with a shot of the delight on the bride’s face when the final product was unveiled (often delivered with a touching message from Mukherjeee), the joy that made her smile touch her eyes, the sheer happiness she felt in that moment; happiness over the fact that she was wearing a Sabyasachi, happiness of being able to celebrate this very significant moment in life.
The same cocktail of emotions also adorned the wedding glimpses of the aforementioned celebrities. So you see, the brand Sabyasachi (especially when seen through the lens of weddings) has evolved to be associated with a mixture of joy, auspicious celebration, excitement and at times even the serene calm of spirituality, all captured within a simple upward curve of the bride’s lips: the smile.
And it is a smile precisely that is missing in these two photographs. The faces look sad, strained even.
If the intention was to use gravitas to convey regality, I am afraid that grace is lost when people perceive the expression as rude. Even a hint of a smile like that on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Salvator Mundi would have drawn the viewers in.
Sabyasachi had this quote accompanying his new collection: "I prefer traditional clothing to through the lens of maximalism or minimalism. The in-between leaves me cold".
While he has hit the nail on the head with the couture, in this particular instance the blank expressions on the models feel cold.
However, it would be unfair to declare the expressions as characteristic of the Sabyasachi campaigns.
Mukherjee was a pioneer in transforming Instagram into a social catwalk. He did so first in 2016 with 'Firduas' (an Instagram show) and has ever since taken to the social media platform to launch his new collections via a carefully curated combination of gorgeous clothes, handcrafted jewellery and soulful music.
In the past decade, he has many a time captured that now-elusive smile. Here is an example.
The designer has done this country proud by being uncompromisingly Indian even in his international collaborations. He has accomplished seemingly contradictory things by democratising fashion by collaborating with H&M while at the same time alleviating luxury with his collaborations with Christain Louboutin and Bergdorf Goodman.
The reactions on his recent posts are perhaps his patrons wanting more of that old Sabyasachi magic or (most likely) the photographs were simply unfortunate shots, an oversight by his team.
Either way here’s to Sabyasachi - May his tribe increase.
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