The 7,250-square-foot home of this iconic designer is layered with art, antiques, textiles, furniture, and “kooky curios”
There is a certain league of fashion designers who are defined as much by the way they live, as they are by their air for designing clothes. I’m thinking of the late Gianni Versace and his villa on Lake Como, as well as his iconic Miami mansion, Casa Casuarina, where he would host decadent pool parties and where, also, sadly, he would one day be shot dead on the doorstep. I’m thinking of the minimalism of Giorgio Armani’s multiple landmark residences, and most notably his stealth green superyacht Maìn—its sculptural lines perhaps being the best expression of his brand of chic simplicity. Tom Ford, of course, had that Tadao Ando-designed ranch in Santa Fe (which recently sold for a reported $75 million), his main residence being a Richard Neutra masterpiece in Los Angeles. But perhaps the most famous of all for living large is Valentino. Who can forget the glimpse into his chocolate box Gstaad chalet, as well as his royally run—and extravagantly decorated—Château de Wideville, just outside of Paris, as seen in the 2008 documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor.
Inside Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Calcutta Home: Swing from the Chandeliers
Sabyasachi may just be The Last Maharaja. He’s the Valentino of India, not only because of his richly embroidered lehngas that make Paris couture week look like Topshop, but because of his palatial new Calcutta mansion. Walking into the entrance hall feels like walking into a room full of highlights from TEFAF, Masterpiece and PAD all put together. It’s not the grand sweeping staircase that you notice first but the artful collection of Dutch pottery that surrounds a giant — eight-foot-tall at least — Chinese vase from the Schiraaz M Tanksalwalla antique store in Calcutta. A mad candelabra is even taller, and sits on the head of a handsome chap in porcelain. All this treasure glowing underneath a spectacular hand-cut crystal F&C Osler chandelier that goes up and up and up, the staircase wrapping itself around it. Easily the tallest chandelier I have seen anywhere, and you know, I’ve seen a few fancy chandeliers in my time as editor of AD.
This is a grand house for a humble man. “I’ve been living in a shoebox of a studio apartment for the last few years,” he tells me on the day he moves into the 7,250-square-foot mansion that has been configured for just A Single Man, the guest bedrooms having been converted into a series of walk-in closets, a shoe room and a jaw-dropping bathroom with a chandelier as large as the tub beneath it. “This house is going to change the way I live and, more importantly, change the way I work.” Work, work, work. On the two weekends I’ve spent at Sabya’s house, all I’ve seen him do is work. And on both occasions, when I left, he was making his way to his atelier. For Sabya, fashion is a business, if not a passion. “Maybe I’ll become an interior designer,” he says to me more than once. “Or maybe I’ll extend into homeware, furniture, antiques, maybe even a hotel.”
Inside Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Calcutta Home: Maximalist Manifestation
Indeed, he gets much more excited when talking about interiors than he does about fashion. “Though I am a minimalist at heart, my outward physical manifestation is that of a maximalist. One has seen proof enough in all my retail stores. The trick to doing beautiful cluttered homes lies in the art of clever layering—and also stocking up on art, antiques, bric-a-brac, textiles, furniture, and kooky curios that can be gloriously assembled.” We’re sitting in the drawing room, a room so pretty and so accomplished in its lifetime worth of layering that I find it shocking to remember I had been here just six weeks earlier—when the only things here were a couple of chairs and a sofa.
“Being an antique and textile enthusiast, I wanted a crammed living room. The process started with choosing the right colour for the walls. The living room opens out to a lush tropical garden and it was important for me to get the outdoors inside. So the colour of choice was a vintage jade green.” Sabya is a perfectionist, I quickly realize. “The walls were first washed in rose-pink, then layered with turquoise, washed out and layered once again with a moss green to give an old fresco feeling.” Phew! Having worked with Asian Paints for three years, Sabya knows exactly how to achieve the right shade. I feel a bit stupid, having recently painted my own home in just one reference of grey from Farrow & Ball, the name of which I can’t even remember.
Inside Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Calcutta Home: Heart of the Mansion
Normally, it’s the kitchen that’s the heart of any home, and at first that seems to be the case here as well. A breakfast room-cum-conservatory, attached to a kitchen full of staff, it teems with indoor plants, and is flanked by a wall, which, he says, “43 artists from the Sabyasachi Art Foundation hand-painted with tropical vegetation inspired by the paintings of Henri Rousseau”. Even the pipes are painted to look like the trunks of palm trees. It’s easily the most welcoming room in the house and this is where I’m introduced to Sabya’s friends, who are waiting for lunch. Meeta Ghose is clearly in charge, ordering more gravy for the roast chicken, making sure everyone has a portion of sea bass steamed in banana leaves and, in general, ensuring that everyone at the table is having a fabulous time. Naively, I assume that she must be one of those uber-efficient household managers—the type the likes of Sabya probably nab from Taj hotels to make sure their houses are run well, like Valentino’s chateau.
It’s only later, after complimenting Ghose on the sari she is wearing for dinner, and she sits next to me with a gin-and-tonic, that I discover she is Sabya’s muse, best friend and manager of his Calcutta shop. “She’s much more than that,” disagrees Sabya. “She was the one who told me to start my own label. Without her, there would be no Sabyasachi.” It’s endearing to learn that the handful of people Sabya surrounds himself with—his inner circle—have all been there from the beginning. And they’re all a pleasure to get to know. Sitting at that breakfast table serving yourself, you feel a million miles away from the table-hopping, air-kissing fashion scene of New Delhi.
Inside Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Calcutta Home: Genius at Work
There’s something else that reminds you we’re not in la-la land. In a corner of the garden where Sabya had flirted with the idea of building a pool, he instead constructed an outhouse. “This is what I really wanted,” he says with a wry smile. To call it an office would be a gross understatement. Because this, I discover, is the nerve centre of brand Sabyasachi—and the real heart of the home. “It’s my Instagram studio!” he says as he introduces me to his head of social media plus two art directors, surrounding not just a giant iMac, but a table with a full printout of the @sabyasachiofficial Instagram grid that they are planning for the month ahead. Never have I seen anyone take Instagram so seriously. I doubt even the Kardashians operate like this.
On the day we shoot the house, Sabya spends most of his time in the Insta-studio, dictating long, detailed captions and working on the image crops of the new campaign that he’s preparing to “drop” on Instagram in a few days. If in the drawing room I had met Sabya the aesthete, and in the breakfast room got to know Sabya the charming boy from Calcutta, in the small outhouse I got a glimpse of Sabya the fashion genius. “I don’t believe in catwalk shows anymore. Instagram is so powerful, 65 per cent of my business originates from there,” he explains. I also spy a new direction in the imagery, with dusky models and, difficult to miss, a lot more bosom. “In fashion, you have to reinvent yourself every three to five years. You need to be fresh. Right now, I’ve become tired of gaunt faces and stick-thin models. I’m obsessed by boobs!”
Inside Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Calcutta Home: Garden Oasis
When Sabya wants a break from work (I doubt it happens often), he takes a turn around his garden. And what a splendid garden it is! This is the real feat of the restoration of this Calcutta mansion. Some 4,000 plants were sourced to create this lush oasis that looks like it’s been here for hundreds of years. There are banana trees that are taller than the two-storey residence itself, thick-trunked palm and Kafir lime trees, and a pristine lawn for Sabya’s two cocker spaniels (who share the house with him). It’s so dense that you can’t even see the deep Calcutta red of the house behind it. Sabya muses for a second. “For an introverted recluse like me, a tropical garden is the perfect getaway.” Introverted recluse? I’m not fooled by his self-deprecation. The real Sabya is charming, warm and from another time—just like his house. Welcome home, Mr Mukherjee.
Assistant Photographer: Deirdre Lewis