40 Years of L’affaire: Wearing Continuity

40 Years of L’Affaire: Wearing Continuity

The founder of the well-known Delhi store on why Indian culture matters to him and how he has communicated it through woven textiles for four decades 

Amidst a sweeping aesthetic revolution that has altered the way India wears and buys in the last few decades, its many cultural cocktails in visual and individual representation, the sometimes alarming, sometimes astounding “fusion fashion” of cities, Krishna Aroop’s 40-year-old store L’affaire stands for continuity. Its façade may get renovated, interiors refurbished from time to time, its window dressing may reflect seasons, the very market it nests in—M Block market, Greater Kailash, Delhi—may unrecognisably change. Yet, L’affaire remains a tastemaker in textiles. The fact that its clientele associates it with the luxury of handwoven saris and fine fabrics remains unchanged. That’s a lot to say in an era where brands continuously chase change as the fast track to growth and customer recall.


L’affaire store at M Block market in Greater Kailash I.

At L’affaire, the rich woven saris in the windows, whether they are ingeniously patterned Uppadas from Andhra Pradesh or zari-dense Banarasis that magnetically attract attention, or the printed georgettes that sit on hangers inside, the discerning customer senses, in a matter of minutes that a fine design sensibility is at work. This is before the store staff unfurls the saris to narrate the stories and designing-weaving-dyeing-processes that make the products exceptional. Think a dull gold Banarasi cotton-silk sari dyed in tea leaves with a floral zari border and pallu. Or a muted mauve where colour and zari collaborate on a sari to stand out in a crowd, its flowers and foliage patterns entwining like in a work of art. Or, an arresting vermillion red georgette sari with a single all-encompassing paisley woven across the sari in gold zari. The full paisley can only be seen when the sari is held from end to end but the luxury lies in the wearer knowing the skill of weaving such a large motif and the imaginative wizardry behind an enlarged motif. There are brocades and Patolas, chintz printed textiles and Jamdanis. From ready to wear offerings to dupattas and unstitched fabrics, the store may not be humongous in variety but the depth of its curation is its charm.


Banarasi cotton-silk sari dyed in tea leaves with a floral zari border and pallu.

L’affaire’s visible, visual language may be of woven saris contextualised in the idea of traditional India—for instance, a woman dressed in a brocade sari, jasmine flowers in her hair on the ghats of the Ganga in Varanasi. But in reality, the brand speaks in the aesthetic and convictions of its 64-year-old founder, owner and creative director Krishna Aroop, one of the younger brothers of the late designer Satya Paul. The grey bearded Aroop is warm and smiling, impeccably mannered and admits he loves kurtas more than shirts and trousers.


Krishna Aroop at the L’affaire store.

Since the inception of the store in 1980, Aroop has nurtured numerous weaving clusters and artisans across India and has collaborated with select fashion designers. The man who quotes Sanskrit verses, recites Urdu poetry, and excerpts from spiritual-philosophical texts to make sense of life and its meaning beyond daily existence has long been an Osho devotee. In his office on the upper level of the flagship store (the only other store is in Select CITYWALK mall in Saket), once he begins to speak, a range of blended influences that have shaped him bubble up. From poetry to organic jaggery, holy basil to the art of indigo dyeing, you realise that the textile connoisseur in him is moulded by old refinement. Sketching sari motifs himself, paying attention to authenticity and nuance instead of modernity and forced newness, Aroop eschews a bygone order, a certain romantic nostalgia.

Here, he talks about the milestones of his brand and his life. Every response takes us beyond textiles into a passionately imagined world. Edited excerpts:


A sketch made by Aroop and a sari based on the sketch from L’affaire.

You and your five siblings have all been in textile businesses. Your older brother, the late Satya Paul, became known popular as a sari designer and your other brothers run Heritage, also a popular South Delhi store. You founded L’affaire. Did it have something to do with your upbringing that cultivated this sensitivity towards cloth and aesthetic?

Well, not exactly. Our father of course was temperamentally a very sensitive man, who would have tears in his eyes even while singing a bhajan. After partition, the family came to Delhi and had a very humble beginning; my father started the resettlement of our family in Delhi and would go on to open a restaurant called Punjab Watni in Sarojini Nagar market when the government gave shops to those who had lost land and business during partition. Whatever he did or touched, it yielded fruitful results and his passion and love for whatever he did became a learning for all of us that somehow sowed seeds of our passion in all of us.

In the year 1968, Satya Paul Ji started the textiles enterprise and all of us siblings grew up around there and later developed an abiding interest in textiles. In those days in fact, I didn’t understand the difference between a shower curtain and silk. I was a commerce graduate, but I was fond of colour and could draw and paint beautifully. Then this became my passion. I began to sketch, create patterns, work with dyers, weavers and master craftspeople by sketching, observing, learning through reading, experience and working on the ground. To me, weaving was the most fascinating part of the entire learning.


A red georgette sari with a single paisley woven in gold zari.

L’affaire is well known as a sari brand and you have worked with weaving clusters across India. What are your early memories of Indian weavers and what do you think has fundamentally changed?

My most vivid memory is that no weaver or craftsperson in those days was worried about being credited for their work or for recognition. They expected you or any patron to appreciate their work when you sat across them on the floor or at a table. Indian culture emphasised kaam (work) more than naam (fame). Today with technological exposure, with every weaver having a mobile and through that access to social media and various influences, the younger generation among them do look for recognition. Especially as they see that stores or designers use their creations and put branding on it instead of the weaver’s name. And weavers now understand this brand and label consciousness just as well. Ground realities are very tough for them especially after COVID-19. Many skilled craftspeople are driving taxis, selling vegetables. That age old patience of working on one sari for weeks or months is waning among most weavers. So even if some of them don’t hanker for fame and name, we owe it to them. After all, they are the ones who create the magic.


A collection of saris from L’affaire.

What are your thoughts about the recent Sabyasachi x H&M collaboration as that entire hue and cry was also about Indian artisans not getting appropriate credit from a designer?

Let me respond by invoking the Sanskrit word “svasti” where “asti” is transformed into “svasti”, “asti” means that which is, thereby transforming mundane into profane and which leads to wellbeing of everyone. As a responsible person and leader in the industry, the designer could have used this opportunity not only to credit the Sanganeri printing vocabulary but could have involved and encouraged the artisans. To me, this would have been a great opportunity that could have been inclusive instead of being exclusive and self-promotional. I have very high expectations from a brilliant designer like him.

Tell us about the L’affaire visual campaigns. Marigold flowers, Ganga ghats, women in brocade saris, Urdu or Sanskrit scripts woven on saris, vermillion touches…the aesthetic is strikingly Indian and traditional with lingering nostalgia. 

For 10 years after the store opened in 1980, we never showed a model, nor our products in any advertising campaigns. Everything was symbolic and graphic. Our logo was created by Satish Sood, a recognised graphic designer in those days. In fact, the JJ School of Arts, Mumbai took our campaigns of the first 10 years until 1991 as a case study to point out that a sari and textiles brand never used products or models. Our first campaign in 1991 was called ‘Sammasati’. It is a Buddhist word from Pali language and it means the right remembrance and there’s only one right remembrance, that we are just instruments in the hands of existence.

L’affaire’s earlier print campaigns from the ’80s and ’90s.


We eventually began using models for our saris. In fact, in 1993 when we introduced the Urdu sari (with legible Urdu poetry woven in it), I wondered if anyone would appreciate it. But we continue to weave those saris in Varanasi even today. There are saris with the Sanskrit script and you can read shlokas on them. Each sari, Urdu or Sanskrit, comes with a little booklet that tells you what is legibly woven in it. About being nostalgic, I think Indian dressing and cultural sustenance has to be consciously done. I feel rather disappointed sometimes when I see entire staff serving at restaurants dressed in black, same in salons and barber shops. In market places and malls, it is hard to find a lady in a sari. There is a flood of blue jeans and Indian dressing has become structured and blue below the waist. I am not the kind who can clap when people blow out candles on birthdays because blowing out a candle goes against the grain of our culture. In India we light candles, we don’t blow them out.


Saris with Urdu and Sanskrit verses woven into them.

So what is the ultimate punji (wealth), the biggest earning of your 40 years at L’affaire?

The biggest wealth is to be able to create and not worry about its commercial aspect. From day one till today, I have never measured the scope, scale and success of my work through my financial success. That was never my concern. Today, we have two L’affaire stores, one in GK M Block market, which is the flagship store and one in Select City Mall in Saket. In 40 years, as my beard has greyed, I have never believed that I should be driven by profit, for me the passion, the commitment and interest in creating designs, working with weavers, crafts clusters remains my primary motivation. Of course, I know that I have a business to run, people to look after, but I am not sitting atop a commercial metre ticking every day. In fact, when I first designed the Urdu script saris or the single paisley design across six yards of one sari or many such designs, my worry was not who will wear it or who will buy it; it was about executing a design, an idea I felt was relevant, aesthetically distinct and mattered to me and our brand.

Banner: Krishna Aroop in his office at the L’affaire store in GK M Block Market, Delhi. 

Photographs: Priyanka Parashar.