Sabyasachi creates a luxurious and breathtaking retail destination in New York

There’s a new shopping destination in New York and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. It is a majestic labyrinthine space that transports its visitors into a semblance of a Maharajah’s palace. There are high ceilings, intricate woodwork, walls dressed in luxurious wallpapers, a generous repetition of rose-tinted glass chandeliers that would have cost nearly a million dollars, layers and layers of kilim rugs, mirrored display cases, monumental vases and jars from Delft, overflowing bowls of fruit, and a staff battalion.

This is the Sabyasachi store. A temple for all that is refined and beautiful. The name might not be familiar to most in the United States, but designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee is a household name in India and sparks lofty dreams among Indians like Ralph Lauren does for Americans. Those familiar with his work in the United States know that some of his designs are sold at Bergdorf Goodman. Now he has created a mall where you can immerse yourself in all things Sabyasachi. Be it through merchandise that includes everything from handbags to jewelry, kaftans to saris, evening dresses to flowing coats. Or you are also invited to enter and enjoy the sensory experience, admire the variety of works of art hanging on the walls, admire the embroidery and beading on the dresses, admire the scent of the Indian rose and incense sprayed throughout the store, or entering the vast dressing rooms decorated like country lodges.

Defying the convention of making in-store merchandise similar regardless of store location, as has been the case with the majority of retail stores under globalization, the New York outpost of Sabyasachi offers exclusive products in New York. This adds to its destination appeal. And why you should head to Christopher Street in a hurry.

Below, 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 choose this place?

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 important and beautiful, people will find you. I wanted a space that could be transformative, but also remained grounded in its own history and heritage. Whether it’s Stonewall or Christopher Street, I feel like I know the neighborhood through headlines and history, but rather a connection that’s hard to define. And when I walked into The Archive, that magnificent neo-Romanesque building so strong in its own heritage, I knew it had to be the site of 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 start working on the store.

What was the concept of the store? It’s unlike anything in New York.

I have often said that I saw myself as a bridge 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 has to be dynamic. My job is to make it dynamic for today’s consumer. As a designer, I have the privilege of curating, editing and refining what I have known into a living legacy. It is the central thought that frames all my stores. I think it comes from the spirit of Calcutta, which is so beautifully embodied in the old houses and palaces of the city. This is where art, culture, craftsmanship, heritage and history come together harmoniously but with a distinct point of view. It’s layered in this almost heady blend. The store has become almost a metaphor for the trip from Calcutta to New York.

What other product categories would you like to focus on?

Glasses, beauty and, at some point, home and hospitality.

What do you think of cultural appropriation and what is the line between appropriation and appreciation by someone who would like to wear your creations?

While conversations about cultural appropriation are important, they are often politicized and misused. I often say crafting can’t 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’re supporting a whole generation of artisans and their legacy. My customers are drawn to my products because they are there to celebrate and revel in something that is simply beautiful, and that is appreciation at its best.

About Catherine Sturm

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