Behind the Seams: Sanjay Garg
“As a child growing up in a small village, I always believed that I was going to change the world.” An unquestionably larger-than-life statement, but it doesn’t seem odd coming from the easy-going man who sits in front of me, on a bench under a tree, sipping on masala chai. He tells me of his love for drawing that began when he was very young, back when he didn’t know of the existence of design, and recalls that he had many questions about the way women around him dressed. Scattered memories, like that of his grandmother’s lehnga and his fascination with leheriya, tell the story of his introduction to fashion. Today, his creations honour craftsmanship, his passion for history is boundless, his ‘everyman’ persona is enchanting and his mind is a smorgasbord of contemporary concepts. Leading the movement for minimalist elegance and traditional innovation, Sanjay Garg and his aesthetic are a true breath of fresh air. As a key player in the crop of initiators who’ve made the sari cool again, he’s earned a top spot on most fashionistas’ hotlists…something he doesn’t really care for. “I knew with all my heart that there was something missing in the industry,” he explains. “Just because people weren’t wearing saris or seeing heritage weaves as trendy didn’t necessarily mean that there was anything wrong with these things.”
Before anyone can broach the topic, he makes it very clear that he disowns the idea of seeking inspiration in anything. He never approaches any experience with the aim of being stimulated by it; his belief is that it will affect him if it has to. The Great Stupa in Sanchi did, and how. While there, he learnt about ancient kathas in Buddhism, one of which depicts Buddha as a monkey. Discovering this while marvelling at the monkey carvings in the temple, he wondered why it wasn’t a motif in clothing…he had seen enough elephants. Thus was born one of his most beloved collections, Monkey Business, after years of ensuing research. Another one of his came when he was sitting with his team, discussing ideas and talking about the fact that answers often come before the question. While musing that a solution might be at the very table they were seated at, his eyes focused on a bowl of mogras placed in the middle of it, and that was all that his ingenious mind needed. Describing the sari to me, he declares that “when you wear the garment, with its white flower and yellow dots, you will recall the smell”. Explaining his Berang collection, he outlines the stimulus as the spectacle that occurs when you use an indigo dye over and over again, about 20 times, and the colour itself loses its identity as it turns into a fabric of sorts. For the textures and patterns, raindrops were his muse.
According to Garg, the not-so-secret ingredient in the successful moulding of his brand has been an undying focus on getting the basics right. He’s made many daunting gambles, he tells me, especially when he decided to work with handloom saris (“It had such a behenji stereotype attached to it; we struggled a lot and now everyone thinks it’s cool!”) and brocade lehngas (“I was told that no one would buy them”). This year, he took another leap of faith with his store in Mumbai, which he created keeping the Raw Mango woman in mind. “She’s a modern woman, in touch with her personality, who knows what she likes. She has a spark. She’s like a cheetah in my mind sometimes, I can’t explain it.” To him, buying an artistic product should always be an experience; it should always entail touch and trial. And that is something he believes can only be kept alive — in the age of technology — if creators nurture and stand up for their passion relentlessly. “When you feel so strongly about something and believe in your roots, it’s only natural that you’d want to convince everyone of its magnificence,” he expounds. “As a designer, I ask myself what my contribution to my country is, and I feel as important as an engineer or a doctor…and why shouldn’t I? Why isn’t it recognised as a necessity; an essential part of the functioning of a society? Why is it acknowledged only in the realm of luxury and not something that also belongs to other classes? Design is a solution, it’s that simple!”