Now, Sabyasachi at Bergdorf Goodman

Now, Sabyasachi at Bergdorf Goodman

Will Sabyasachi’s couture and accessories popup at New York’s most luxurious address make the world take the Indian consumer (and aesthetic) seriously? 

Barely a week after Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL) announced a 51 per cent stake in brand Sabyasachi, provoking numerous speculations and backstories about the collaboration, the designer had another “big” announcement to make.

“Bergdorf Goodman has invited us for a couture popup. The presentation will be in the central rotunda of the store with Dior and Chanel on either side and most importantly we will show saris and lehngas along with our belts, handcrafted handbags and jewellery,” said the designer in a phone conversation two days back. The news was embargoed for Indian publications until noon today.

The Sabyasachi brand has had one jewellery popup previously at the New York retailer Bergdorf Goodman. Last year, a necklace for an Indian bride sold by the store on the sidewalk (due to the lockdown) made news. However, the first-ever inclusion of Indian couture opens a discussion about why cultural specificity in fashion creativity may be critical for a designer’s voice to echo globally in the contemporary scenario. That, and the growing international relevance of the Indian consumer and a Fifth Avenue debut for a ‘luxury handbag’ from India.


Signature accessories are also a part of the 300-piece collection.

Images with this article offer a fair idea of the Sabyasachi fare to be put up at Bergdorf Goodman from February 19 to March 20. It merits reiteration that it is not just a brand, bajaa, baraat of saris and bridal lehngas. The 300-piece collection includes eclectic jewellery made from a mix of materials, precious and semi-precious stones. Also, printed and embroidered scarves ($354 to $606 pashmina scarves and shawls ($1,001 to $9,600) leather belts, slings and bucket bags, some from the designer’s just debuting collection ($234 to $1,790). Others are variations from last year’s collections. The reader with an eye on fashion magazines may resonate with the then pregnant Anushka Sharma’s nude-white coat and pyjama, a Sabyasachi ensemble on the January cover of Vogue India. Besides that, the Bergdorf Goodman drop includes quilted trench coats in solid colours, hyper printed velvet kaftans, Banarasi saris, printed blouses, kurtas paired with wide and loose bottoms.

A sharp businessperson with a talent for lucrative and eye-catching collaborations in the past (Christian Louboutin, Pottery Barn, L’Oreal Paris, Thomas Goode, H&M to name some) Sabyasachi says he interprets this popup at Bergdorf Goodman more as a doff to the might of the Indian consumer than his work as a designer. He may just be right even if he is being modest. Neither of us explicitly mentions the words “Kamala Harris” but the fact that US President Joe Biden’s administration includes a number of distinguished professionals of Indian origin has helped divert attention to Indian clothes and other cultural details.



Even those who are not fans of Sabyasachi’s couture aesthetic or of this Bergdorf Goodman collection might agree that the resurgence of the sari as a garment of pride (instead of conspicuous ethnic dressing as it was once seen as) among NRIs in the last year has updated the sari story on the international stage via Instagram. As a living drape, the handloom high is inclusive of millennials, also of gender fluid customers, not just a museum piece to be revered. Popular sari handles on Instagram do not necessarily celebrate the “designer” or “bridal” sari like those created by Sabyasachi but given its old legacy and new fame, the sari is arguably a friendly and familiar “costume” for the world. That you can buy it on Fifth Avenue is not sensational news.

But the lehnga is. Its arrival in Manhattan as bridal couture from India is more curious, at least for this writer. The allure of the “Indian bridal skirt” was prettily marketed during the Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas wedding in 2019. Most seductively by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner who wore resplendent lehngas by designers Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla and Anita Dongre. Even so, the business potential of bridal lehngas in the US for non-Indian clients may remain a question mark.

Will Accessories Beat Couture?

Not surprisingly, Sabyasachi agrees when asked if he believes that accessories, belts, handbags will take over his clothes after this popup. “Clothes and couture are the purest notion and they essentially create the brand story but yes, it is right to think that accessories and beauty (which we may add in the future) will promise global scalability,” he says adding that entry line products sell sturdily for most big brands. In this case, the indication is clear from the way his accessory lines performed last year. Strategic pivoting towards bags and belts during the lockdown with stores shut across India helped.


The Bengal black mini and the patchwork tote.


The growth in sale of accessories in 2020 is at par with the previous financial year, confirms the designer. The “Calcutta Sling”, launched in October on the brand’s Instagram and priced at ₹49,500, opened for preorders from  December 1. It fetched 200 orders soon after announcement even though the delivery wait list is for two and half months. Similarly, the Nani bucket and the Taj Minaudière both announced last year got a queue of preorders. Sabyasachi belts hit a new high during the lockdown (with orders placed online). Priced between ₹7,000 and ₹9,000, they found 20-30 customers everyday going up to 100 on some days says the designer’s office adding that 10,000 belts have been sold worldwide ever since they were launched in 2019 for sale. They made a style debut in Sabyasachi’s show called ‘Big Love’ in March 2015.

The Royal Bengal mangalsutra (first seen on Priyanka Chopra Jonas) was announced for pre-orders in June last year. Priced at ₹1,98,500, it sold 200 pieces during the lockdown.

What About the “Big” deal Then?

Many years back at the urging of and introduction by Fern Mallis, then senior VP with IMG Fashion and the co-founder of New York Fashion Week, Sabyasachi debuted at NYFW in 2006. With the persuasive Kelly Cutrone as his publicist, the designer recalls that he found many buyers. He showed for a couple more times after that. “Yet something was not centred. Everyone wanted an essence of India as long as it wasn’t too Indian,” he says adding that he decided to return to India (with his rani pinks and embroideries) to grow his brand. “To become a global voice, I needed a language of my own,” he says.

Thirteen years later, that’s why you will find the unapologetic symbol of bridal excess from India, the lehnga in Bergdorf Goodman standing across Dior and Chanel couture. For young and emerging Indian designers, Sabyasachi’s message is to get out there with your own language and on your own terms. To be unafraid of Indianness in form, fabric and thought. However, for most business strategists, it may be the business strategy of smartening up the fortunes of Indian accessories abroad that makes the most sense.


Photo: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP

A look from Sabyasachi’s Spring 2007 collection showcased at Olympus Fashion Week at the UPS Hub in Bryant Park in New York City.

Just that one last question. With couture essentially being a bespoke creation, if someone, maybe a crazy rich Asian asks Sabyasachi to make an orthopedic sling or a swimming suit from printed and embroidered textiles, will he agree?

“No, as a brand we don’t take commissions from anyone. We will never allow a customer to dictate what to make,” he says, quoting Steve Jobs. “It is our job to figure out what (customers) want before they do.” That may help him secure a permanent couture store inside Bergdorf Goodman.

Disappointing as it may be for Bling Empire protagonists, the formidable Anna Shay and her wealth-on-steroids tribe from the new Netflix show need not fret. They could actually popup at Bergdorf Goodman and take a Taj Mahal back home. On a minaudière sling of course.