Not being bit by the wanderlust bug is tough; maybe that’s why ace designer Sabyasachi surrendered, too. In his latest Wanderlust collection, created in collaboration with H&M (launching on August 12, 11:00 am IST at select H&M stores in India—namely Delhi, Ahmedabad, Gurugram, Bengaluru, Mohali, Chennai, Hyderabad, Noida, and Lucknow—by appointment, select flagship H&M stores worldwide, H&M’s official website, and Myntra), his penchant for travelling shines. In an exclusive interview with T+L India, the luxury couturier and the collaborating brand’s Head of New Development, Maria Gemzell, talk about this new launch, partnership, their inspirations, and more. By Bayar Jain
T+L India: Tell us about the Wanderlust collection.
Sabyasachi: Travel has always been a big part of my inspiration. I go to different places all over the world and align different cultures together under one roof. The Wanderlust collection actually started with the idea of travel because, right now, the greatest luxury that one can indulge in is travel. It inspires you and opens up your mind; and it’s become all the more coveted post the pandemic because we have all realised that while the home is our sanctuary, we need to get out to see the world.
I was very clear that I would do a travel-inspired collection, which meant that it could be something that I pack for my own travel. This collection has day wear, evening wear, a lot of resort clothing, and many silhouettes and colours which can blend into each other and mix and match perfectly to create an endless wardrobe. But the beauty of it [the collection] is that it is basics punctuated with a few luxury essentials so that whichever part of the world you are in, you’ll always look well-dressed and fit in.
T+L India: How did the collaboration come into being?
Maria Gemzell: H&M made the first contact with Sabyasachi as we really wanted to continue exploring and developing our local collaborations—as we’ve previously done with Mantsho in South Africa—and make it relevant for the Indian market. India is an important and exciting market, and we wanted to work with someone who shares our values and the vision of making fashion accessible for everyone, and a designer who is appreciated and known—both, locally and globally.
The whole idea behind all our collaborations is to make fashion accessible to more consumers. We had a very clear idea about what we wanted from our first global collaboration with an Indian designer and we are thrilled to see it come to life in a way that mirrors the vision of both, H&M and Sabyasachi.
T+L India: How does Sabyasachi resonate with H&M as a brand?
Maria Gemzell: We chose Sabyasachi for a designer collaboration because he is the undisputed master of Indian couture with an amazing ability to dictate new silhouettes. We were drawn to how he speaks to the modern woman and man, and the craftsmanship and beauty of his designs, which you will be able to see throughout the collection. But what really makes this particular collaboration unique is the personal signatures included in the collection, such as the unmissable Bengal Tiger—Sabyasachi’s signature logo, and more.
T+L India: What inspired you to craft this collection?
Sabyasachi: I always design for a market, a segment or a target customer; and the H&M customer is very youth-focused. I wanted to create a collection that paid homage to the H&M customer.
I have a lot of young children working with me and I keep asking them what they would consume if money was not a barrier and if time was at their disposal. And they always say that they want to travel. I understand that to be able to travel and travel easy and non-stop is a perfect solution for a wardrobe. So, I wanted to create a line for people who like to travel within their confined spaces—in their cities or outside. Also, being a couture designer, I always wanted to create a ready-to-wear line but the logistics of doing a ready-to-wear line are very different from doing couture. Together with H&M, this is my expression of what the Sabyasachi prêt line would look like.
The other big inspiration was to create clothing that was fluid. Gone are the days when we had very differentiated menswear and womenswear. I think we are slowly moving into a much more universally accepted society, and I wanted to create a collection that easily overlapped men’s and women’s wardrobes—not just by styling but also by size.
T+L India: Did any particular destination act as your muse?
Sabyasachi: I am a cultural hippie. Places like Marrakesh, Istanbul, Israel, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Paris, New York— that have a lot of multicultural existence; warmth; great architecture, people, and food; and where a lot of Bohemian people travel—have inspired the collection.
T+L India: What are the various design elements one can see in the collection?
Sabyasachi: My team does a lot of restoration print work. The Sabyasachi Art Foundation has restored a lot of vintage block prints, which were then digitally transferred onto fabrics. I inspired them to create an Indian version of Toile de Jouy using nostalgic elements of Kolkata and India, with romanticised Indian motifs like peacocks, tigers, coconut trees and the Taj Mahal. I’ve also used reproduced versions of old Sanganeri block prints.
Personally, I’ve been very inspired by trade textiles and the Coromandel chintz. I wanted to include a sari in the collection. There’s one in cream and red, like a traditional Bengali sari, with a beautiful hand-painted pallu depicting an Indian version of Toile de Jouy by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation. There is also a Broderie Anglaise printed day dress. I like the printed Henley shirts, the ideas for which were developed from Coromandel chintz and trade textiles. I would call it ‘heritage made contemporary’.
T+L India: What, according to you, is the highlight of the Wanderlust collection?
Maria Gemzell: The collection is quintessentially Sabyasachi—from prints and embroideries to craftsmanship. Sabyasachi was extremely generous and it was such a wonderful experience being invited into his creative process where he and our creative team created this wonderful collection together. It was a happy surprise to see his ability to remain so down-to-earth while working so hard and being so successful. I was also surprised at how fun the process was; he was excited about making prêt-á-porter and we were excited about working with him!
T+L India: How do elements of travel feature in this collection?
Sabyasachi: I am very inspired by travel, especially by the cultures I am exposed to through it [travelling]. I am a nomad at heart, and this collection manifests that characteristic of me. It’s not just inspired by what I’ve seen, but also by how I see a global traveller today. So, there are a lot of Indian prints, lots of cotton and georgette, layering, and an unusual pairing of gender-fluid clothing—all of which have brought this collection to life. These clothes are for the millennial at heart—who love adventure and glamping.
T+L India: Your top three picks from the Wanderlust Collection?
Sabyasachi: The Sabyasachi Indigo logo T-shirt, the Sabyasachi sari for women, and the printed photographer jacket.
Maria Gemzell: I’m fully immersed in the collection and I love every piece. Being forced to choose, though, I would definitely say that the accessories catch my attention. Adding them to your outfit will surely elevate any look. I also like the fact that many of the garments can be used by both, men and women.
T+L India: What challenges did you face due to COVID-19?
Sabyasachi: While COVID-19 posed an external physical challenge to all of us as we lost mobility and had to stay at home, the biggest challenge was that many of us were finally confronted with ourselves. While sometimes it can be a little painful, it could also be cathartic, and I think if you ask everybody—from the strongest to the weakest—everybody will say the biggest challenge was being able to overcome mental health issues and staying strong in the face of mental adversity.
T+L India: How has H&M adapted to the pandemic?
Maria Gemzell: The pandemic has, and is still, affecting everybody and the world around us. We have adapted and made changes within our own operations, where necessary, to still be able to provide fashion to our customers. As an example, we have waited a long time now to release this absolutely gorgeous collaboration with Sabyasachi, but now the time is right!
T+L India: How does this collection weave in aspects of sustainability?
Sabyasachi: I’ve always maintained that sustainability begins with consumption. The more you use the product, the less you replace it, and the more sustainable the world will become. So, I have done a luxury basics collection. The idea is to give people something for a lifetime. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do a sari because it’s the epitome of sustainability. It is something you will never throw, and can be reused as a table cloth, quilt, curtain, or even be repurposed into other clothes. For me, it gives the consumer a very timeless collection, which they could wear again and again.
T+L India: What are some measures the brand has taken to ensure sustainability?
Maria Gemzell: Sustainability is encompassed in everything that we do—our business vision of fashion and quality at the best price. They all go hand-in-hand. H&M group has many initiatives and collaborations, and we work closely with all our suppliers. Our vision is to become fully circular by 2040 so that no fashion goes to waste.
T+L India: What place, according to you, could double as the fashion capital of India?
Sabyasachi: Mumbai because of the influx of the film industry, and also because it’s the business capital. Mumbai has different communities growing within one city: the artsy tribe, the business tribe, the film industry, the middle-class professionals, expats…all living in different pockets. I think when you have different societies—fringe and mainstream—living together in complete harmony, you get a very multi-layered and multi-cultural city, almost similar to New York or London. This is one of the reasons why Mumbai should be the fashion capital of India.
Keeping safety in mind, H&M’s in-store shopping in India will be through appointment basis, the details of which are available here.