In 2018, when Priyanka Chopra got married to Nick Jonas, she wore a sparkling red ensemble for her Hindu wedding. The lehenga (skirt and blouse worn by Indian brides), intricately embroidered by 110 craftsmen over 3,720 hours, was teamed with Mughal-style jewelry with uncut-diamonds, emeralds and Japanese cultured pearls, created by Sabyasachi Jewelry. Jonas wore a hand-quilted silk sherwani (a long coat that is buttoned to the neck with the length usually extending just below the knee) teamed with an embroidered stole by the same brand.
The man who dressed the bride and groom was Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
When it comes to celebrity weddings, the 46-year-old designer is a favorite.
From Bollywood royalty such as Deepika Padukone, whom Americans saw in “XXX: Return of Xander Cage”, to heiresses like Isha Ambani — the daughter of India’s richest man and Reliance Industries CEO Mukesh Ambani — the Big Fat Indian Wedding is not big enough or fat enough if the bride doesn’t get bragging rights for her bank-breaking Sabyasachi trousseau.
Mukherjee and his brand were recently in news when Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, a leading Indian fashion conglomerate, announced a strategic partnership with Sabyasachi Couture by acquiring 51 percent stake in the brand for INR 398 crore ($54 million).
“We are proud to partner Sabyasachi in its journey to become the only global luxury brand from India,” said Ashish Dikshit, managing director, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL), in a press release.
“We see a ‘Made in India’ global brand like Sabyasachi occupying the pinnacle of our ethnic wear portfolio. Over the next few years, ABFRL intends to craft a portfolio that addresses the entire gamut of ethnic wear segments: value, premium and luxury.”
For retail brands, premium ethnic wear is a growing business. In 2019, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail acquired another ethnic wear and lifestyle online retailer, Jaypore for INR 110 crore ($15 million).
“Big retailers have started appreciating ethnic homegrown brands, which was not their focus area earlier,” said Ankur Bisen, senior vice-president, retail & consumer products, Technopak, a Gurugram-based management consulting firm. “It is likely that Aditya Birla will invest in capabilities to strengthen Sabysachi’s presence in the mass market premium segment.”
Sabyasachi Couture (SC) saw profit after tax increase from INR 7.46 crore ($1 million) in the financial year 2017-18 to INR 9.11 crore ($1.25 million) in 2018-19, according to a document by credit rating agency Care.
Mukherjee, who started his company in 1999, continues to operate from his hometown, the eastern city of Kolkata. Best known for intricate traditional Indian embroidery, this graduate of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, has diversified into bridal jewelry, accessories, and home décor.
His company generated revenue worth INR 274 crore ($37 million) in 2019-20.
In India families are often happy to spend up to INR 1 lakh ($1,353) one the bride’s apparel alone—and Sabyasachi’s growth can be linked to this.
“Over the course of the last couple of years, as my brand evolved and matured, I began searching for the right partner in order to ensure continuity and long-term sustainable growth,” said Mukherjee in a press release announcing the merger. “I am honoured and excited to have found that partner in Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla and ABFRL. Aligned in our vision, and committed to excellence, we will work together to grow a truly global luxury brand out of India.”
Birla is the chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, the parent company of ABFRL.
The “corporatization” of one of India’s biggest and most influential fashion brands has been welcomed by the fashion industry and industry watchers.
“It’s a milestone moment for Indian fashion,” Priya Tanna, editor in chief, Vogue India, told Zenger. “From Everstone Capital and Ritu Kumar to Anita Dongre and General Atlantic, and now Sabyasachi and ABFRL. Corporates and fashion houses all over the world have established power partnerships, and we’re now seeing Indian fashion expanding into this zone as well.”
“This is a well-intended partnership framed within an aligned vision. If anything, it will only power and fuel Sabyasachi’s vision and brand, and scale it up to the next level.”
Mukherjee’s business acumen in securing this deal is being praised as much as his artistic vision.
“What Sabyasachi has achieved with his brand and how he has diversified into so many fields is truly remarkable,” said Sunil Sethi, president, Fashion Design Council of India, a non-profit that works to further the cause of Indian fashion. “He has worked hard to build the brand with the right kind of advertising, key associations with Bollywood, tie-ups with the biggest international names.
“He made his mark with creativity and not with his marketing genius that came much later. I am hoping that the partnership with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail will allow Sabyasachi to do even bigger things. Now that his company is flush with funds, he can go back to the drawing board and concentrate on the creative aspect, where he started his journey.”
“This partnership bodes well for the Indian fashion industry and paves the way for other such partnerships,” said Varun Ravindranath Rana, a Delhi-based fashion commentator, consultant and former fashion features director at Harper’s Bazaar India.
“The success of these mergers will depend on the balance that the fashion brands strike with their corporate partners,” added Rana, who worked as Mukherjee’s assistant early in his career. “We will have to wait and see how this evolves.”
“What I do hope, however, is that the entry of the corporate entities helps artisans and craftsmen get the benefits that are due to them. It’s important that their rights are protected, medical assistance is provided, retirement funds created. If this does not happen, it will become just another corporate profit-making initiative. And that’s okay but only if everyone is taken along.”
(Namrata Acharya contributed to this story)
(Edited by Uttaran Dasgupta and Gaurab Dasgupta)