Sabyasachi : Vanity and Fauxpology

 “Social media has brought out the exhibitionist in all of us,”

said one of India’s most famous fashion designers. If social media brought exhibitionist in Sabyasachi then it also brought critics in his fans.

When I first read the now infamous statement, I instinctively rolled my eyes and thought, lenhengay bechne ke liye kuch bhi!”  Later, people far more articulate than me took his case in elaborate and equally angry comments. The crux of their criticism was: just stop judging women for their make and jewellery. Stop associating it with vanity and pain.


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A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

Sabyasachi in his statement said, “If you see women “overdressed”, caked with make-up and armored with jewelry, it is most likely that is she is wounded” Well by this logic, are all of his models wounded? Are all celebrities that he so lavishly dresses, with heavy clothes and makeup, insecure? A man, who earns his profits by selling expensive jewelry and clothes, doesn’t get to say that women who are “armoured with jewellery” are wounded.

Source: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

For the longest time, women are and have been judged for makeup. Talking about the implications of makeup writer Lux Alptraum once wrote, “For women, the world of beauty often presents a difficult, if not outright impossible, situation to navigate. Eschew cosmetics entirely, and you’ll likely be scorned for not caring enough about your appearance; put too much faith in the power of physical transformation, and suddenly you’re a grotesque caricature of vanity as well as a portrait of deceit.”

Source: AFP

By his own admission, Sabyasachi admitted the immense efforts that are invested in curating his brand’s Instagram feed. In a 2018 interview, he revealed that “Everything on Instagram is curated well: we often toil all night to get the color gradient right.” The interview also reports that “He personally writes the note that accompanies every picture, drawing from his own experience, impressions, and knowledge, to create a sartorial biography.”

There were 7 more posts that came after the statement and a little scroll will reveal that the number of Sabyasachi’s judgmental post is not limited to just one. Another post by Sabyasachi says, “Some women find jewelry filling in the gaps and echoing the silences in their lives and they cling on to them, hoping their everlasting sparkle rubs off a little magic in their restless souls.”

This post is most probably inspired by Monimalika, a character from Tagore’s story Monihara (The Lost Jewels, 1898), from which Sabyasachi gained inspiration (or reference). This post was published hours before the hell broke loose. The main post that gained much criticism has a quote by Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, a novel by Charles Dickens. Monimalika, a wife of a wealthy merchant, she seeks happiness in jewelry that her doting husband buys for her.

The reason for her possessiveness about her jewels can be attributed to her inability to conceive a child that isolates and saddens her. At the end of the story, she dies a sad death (murdered). Miss Havisham’s life is marked by her wedding day when her to be husband ditches her just before the wedding. She refuses to move on, stops all clocks at her mansion, wears just one shoe and lives in her wedding dress.  Both of these characters are tragic. Both of these women have been wronged in one way or another by society and more specifically men in their lives. Why a brand that makes wedding attire is associating with two women who are ruined by unfulfilled marriages, what is the messaging?

Source: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Sabyasachi should have done the same thing. There is nothing people would want more than seeing their favorite artist redeem himself. But alas, as if getting disappointed once was not enough, Sabyasachi had to share a non-apology to make matters worse.

According to him, his original post was meant to inspire compassion and the feeling that one should not judge someone for how they dress. This might have been the intention, but its impact was directly opposite.

His apology says, “We, as a society, often get extremely judgemental about peoples’ clothing choices, calling them ‘overdressed’ or ‘tacky’ or ‘inappropriate’.  His original statement that uses words like “caked with makeup” and “overdressed”. The “cakey makeup”, “overdressed”, and “tacky” are adjectives that are used for people and things that are less expensive and doesn’t belong to a particular ‘class’.

Source: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Sabyasachi’s models use subtle make-up, not that it takes any less time or effort to achieve that look. Anyone who does the natural makeup look will tell how many expensive products and hours go into achieving a luminous natural glow. His statement places the local beauty-parlour-aesthetic that has flakey foundation and colours at a lower level than his subtle pallet of nudes and browns. His statement is saying “don’t dress like an 80s vamp, dress like a classy royalty.”

Will Sabyasachi call rich people who spend lakhs on subtle makeup and subtle clothes wounded? What is overdressed for him? Can you be overdressed in his classy clothes? Can you look cakey in Estée Lauder illuminator, or is that term reserved for those that used face powders?

Source: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

In his earlier interviews, Sabyasachi is seen dismissing easy makeup. He says, “Everything is about quick. Just wear a cream and dab a red lipstick and go. After sometime when quick also becomes a formula, there’s no charm left to quick. Earlier people started doing quick because it was an antithesis to made-up… but now nobody does made-up anymore, everything is quick.” So he has a problem with both heavy make-up and with the easy one.

“Having been in the fashion industry for over 20 years, I have encountered it firsthand and commented about it in many of my interviews – how, while many women use fashion and beauty for joy and self-expression, others use it as ‘retail therapy’ to fill in the gaps and voids in their lives.”  Here he talks about retail therapy but does not talk about he himself benefits out of it.

Overall, this statement was a big disappointment. It was an explanation, a damage control measure disguised as an apology. It claimed to have taken note of the feedback but repeated the same fault message.

The only good thing that came out of it was that the comments were left untouched. There are robust dialogue and no censoring. Not that the designer should be given a trophy for letting his fans and critics engage, but still. The comments section was a great education.

Niharika Dabral
Niharika Dabral

Niharika Dabral is an anti-national feminist who wants to be a journalist. This technologically challenged Garhwali strongly advocates that Harry Potter must be included in elementary education.

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