There’s a new retail destination in New York City and it is unlike anything we have ever seen before. It’s a majestic labyrinthine space that transports its visitors to a semblance of a maharajah’s palace. There are soaring ceilings, intricate woodwork, walls dressed in luxurious wallpapers, a generous repetition of rose-tinted glass chandeliers said to have cost close to a million dollars, layers and layers of kilim rugs, mirrored display vitrines, monumental Delft vases and jars, bowls overflowing with fruits, and a battalion of staff.
This is the Sabyasachi store. A temple for all things refined and beautiful. The name may be unfamiliar to most in the US, but the designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee is a household name in India and elicits aspirational dreams among Indians as Ralph Lauren does for Americans. Those who know his work stateside would know that some of his designs are sold at Bergdorf Goodman. Now he has a created an emporium where you can immerse yourself in all things Sabyasachi. Be it through the merchandise which include everything from handbags to jewelry, from caftans to saris, from evening gowns to gender fluid coats. Or you are also welcome to just walk in and enjoy the sensory experience, to admire the variety of art hanging in the walls, to gawk at the embroideries and beadwork on the dresses, to take in the scent of Indian rose and frankincense spritzed throughout the store, or to step into the ample changing rooms decorated like tented campaign pavilions.
Defying the convention of making the in-shop merchandise similar no matter the geographical location of stores, as has been the case with majority of retail stores as part of globalization, the New York outpost of Sabyasachi has products that are exclusive to New York. This adds to its destination appeal. And why you should head to Christopher Street with haste.
Below, the designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee talks about his store, his plans for expansion and draws the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation.
Why and how did you decide on this location?
I knew I wanted to create the undiluted Sabyasachi experience for New York that India has known for decades. And I knew that if you create something of consequence and beauty, people find you. I wanted a space that could be transformative but also stood its ground in its own history and legacy. Be it Stonewall or Christopher Street, I feel I knew the neighborhood through headlines and history, but more a connection that’s hard to define. And when I walked into The Archive, this magnificent Romanesque Revival building so strong in its own legacy, I just knew this had to be the site for my New York store.
What were the challenges you had to face to create the store?
The pandemic! We had rented the space in early 2020, so it was a long wait before we could begin work on the store.
What was the concept for the store? It’s unlike anything in NY.
I’ve often said I see myself as a ferryman between the past and the future. India is such a reservoir of history, art and culture — and I believe that for culture to be relevant it needs to be dynamic. My job is to make it dynamic for today’s consumer. As a designer I have the privilege to conserve, edit and tweak what I have known into a living legacy. That’s the core thought that frames all my stores. I think it comes from the spirit of Calcutta, that is so beautifully embodied in the old homes and palaces of the city. It’s where art, culture, craft, heritage and history come together seamlessly but with a distinct point of view. It’s layered together in this almost heady mix. The store became almost a metaphor for the journey from Calcutta to New York.
What other product categories would you like to branch into?
Eyewear, beauty, and at some point, home and hospitality.
What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation and where can the line be drawn between appropriation and appreciation by someone who would like to wear your creations?
While conversations on cultural appropriation are important, it’s often politicized and misused. I often say that craft cannot afford to skip a generation, because when it does it means the end of that legacy. And when you buy a beautiful product with history, heritage and craftsmanship, you are supporting a whole generation of craftspeople and their legacy. My customers are drawn to my products because they’re there to celebrate and revel in something that is simply beautiful—and that is appreciation at its finest.