How Sabyasachi Made a Hot Saree

at the age of 12, Sabyasachi was sure he was born to be “famous for blood”. He wasn’t sure what he would be famous for. Middle-class people did not speak like that in the pastoral town of Chandnagur, a small town in West Bengal, about 30 miles from Kolkata. His father was a chemical engineer in a wool factory, and his mother was an artist who taught cooking. She asked him to stop saying such things or else the neighbors might think he was crazy.

When he was 14, he moved into a small room in his paternal grandmother’s house in the chaotic post-colonial city of Kolkata so that he could attend a good high school. He’s always got his 100s – which means, in India, he inevitably has to be tracked in science. He said, “I thought the education system in India was like an arranged marriage, where they push you into a system and ask you to discover love.” “However, at the same time, I knew that if I didn’t drop out, I would end up becoming an engineer or a doctor, which I didn’t want to.” As Sabyasachi tells it, he made sure he had to kill himself and take a handful of sleeping pills that he was slowly collecting from pharmacists around town. For the last six or seven seconds before he fell asleep, he frantically tried to make his way back. His mother, who was shocked, slapped him and forced him to vomit. After that, he dyed his hair orange, and loosened his father, who was very strict, and took him to the Trincas restaurant, where Sabiasacchi stood on the stage badly chanting Madonna songs. But without a sense of direction, he remained depressed and dropped out of school for three years in a row.

One of the few bright spots in Sabyasachi’s life at that time was his cosmopolitan neighbor, 26-year-old Metta Gus. Bold and fashionable, she wore mini skirts, high heels, and blue eyeliner. (This was in the 1990s, when trends in India were delayed by about a decade.) She didn’t care because she was married and he was only 15 – they were clan spirits, interested in life outside of their immediate surroundings. When Ogaan – one of India’s finest multi-designer boutiques – opened down the street where they lived, Sabyasachi was intrigued. Studying clothes, he decided that he wanted to be a designer. He sketched out a purse for Ghose, including a neon pink mini jacket and a turquoise miniskirt inspired by his idol, Madonna, and Ghose told him he was going to be famous. Sabyasachi pursued Ogan until a salesperson finally revised his drawings. The salesperson said they were nice, but he needed more experience.

While his mother was buying paint at an art supply store, Sabyasachi spied cheap Indian beads — gold, wood, and mother-of-pearl — to attract the midday light and decided to design his own collection of jewelry. This started his romance with Indian material. There was something very beautiful and joyful in the common Indian adornment, with its complexity and flaws. He found a street vendor selling his necklaces and earrings in plastic boxes on a street full of cheap jewelers. When Sabyasachi registered his arrival the next day, everything was sold out. A doctor who bought a necklace and earrings with painted wooden beads for 165 rupees (about $2), said his business should be at Bergdorf Goodman. This was the first time he had heard of the store.

When Sabyasachi told his family that he intended to apply to design school, they were frightened and upset. How could their illustrious boy become a humble tailor? Ghose sent her husband to explain that a designer is different from a tailor and that Sabyasachi has an extraordinary talent. However, Sabyasachi’s parents refused to pay the entrance examination fee, so he sold his science and mathematics books to cover the fee.

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