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When sustainability meets Indian craft, functionality and fashion

Multidisciplinary artist and space designer Mahesh Sharma talks about his forthcoming sustainable furniture showcase and designing fashion show presentations

Mahesh Sharma has worked on several Sabyasachi fashion showcases in India
Mahesh Sharma has worked on several Sabyasachi fashion showcases in India

Grand couture presentations tell a designer’s story without the models having to say a word on the ramp, and multidisciplinary artist and space designer Mahesh Sharma helps them do that.  

Over a decade long career, Sharma has worked on the fashion presentations of designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Malhotra and Tarun Tahiliani. 

For his personal creative pursuit, however, Sharma works with Indian craftsmen to create furniture and objet d'art using scrap material and salvaged wood. Sharma will be presenting his works at his debut solo showcase, Design by Nature, starting 21 July, at Delhi's Bikaner House.

Also read: Couture trends ruling the runways and street style

In an interview with Lounge, the designer speaks about his interest in furniture and how the world of fashion shows has changed over the years. Edited excerpts:

What encouraged you to try furniture design?

It was during the pandemic that my passion for luxury art furniture design and painting was ignited. This period allowed me to explore rural areas of India and establish connections with local artisans. The remarkable craftsmanship and ingenuity I witnessed among these artisans served as a profound inspiration, prompting me to embark on a creative journey. I began to create innovative products using unconventional materials, such as repurposed roots and discarded objects. I aim to merge artistry with functionality. I strive to transform discarded materials into distinctive and artistic furniture pieces.

Tell us a bit about the materials you have worked with for the pieces of your current showcase.

Throughout my career, I have worked extensively with various materials, including steel, brass, wood, MDF, glass and acrylic. However, my inclination leans more towards sustainable options like metal, glass and reclaimed wood. In my current exhibition, I am primarily focused on utilizing sustainable materials such as glass, metal and reclaimed wood.

What got you interested in reclaimed wood?

My interest in reclaimed wood grew when I witnessed the abundant disposal of old roots and wood in rural areas of India. These materials were often burned in brick factories, causing environmental hazards. Recognizing their untapped potential, I decided to salvage and repurpose them in my designs, alongside recyclable materials like glass and metal. Although acquiring reclaimed wood and roots is relatively straightforward, the process of transforming them into luxurious furniture pieces is time-consuming, often spanning one to two years. However, the result is a one-of-a-kind and sustainable product that revitalizes discarded materials, contributing to artistic creativity while also promoting environmental conservation.

Your thoughts on international home design brands entering India?

The entry of international home design brands into India brings both opportunities and challenges. While these brands are capitalizing on Indian craftsmanship and artisanal skills to cater to the local market, their products often come with high price tags, making them unattainable for many people. In response to this, we have developed our collection that encapsulates the same sense of luxury, design aesthetics, and high-quality materials. 

By incorporating Indian handcrafting techniques and sustainable materials, we offer distinctive and exquisite pieces that are more accessible to Indian consumers.

In what way has the 'fashion show' evolved in India over the years?

While Western countries traditionally dominated the fashion show and apparel design scene, there has been a notable shift in recent times. Renowned businesses and designers are now turning to India for inspiration in design and craftsmanship. Indian designers have recognized the value of India's rich artistic and design heritage. As a result, fashion shows in India now celebrate and showcase the country's diverse culture. This change in mindset has garnered global recognition for India's originality and creative abilities.

Any changes or trends in the field of show design since the pandemic?

The field of show design has undergone significant changes due to the pandemic, most notably the increased prevalence of digital shows. During lockdowns, designers turned to digital platforms as a means to showcase their work. This shift has provided an accessible and expansive reach, surpassing the limitations of physical shows. The focus is on leveraging social media platforms. Consequently, there has been a transformation in how fashion shows are conceived and consumed, with digital platforms assuming a central role in the landscape of show design.

Your most memorable fashion show?

There are two that hold a special place. One is the Sabyasachi couture show, which featured a luxury train journey theme. This concept resonated with a wide audience and garnered exceptional feedback. The other standout show was the grand finale by Manish Arora at India Fashion Week. Inspired by a vibrant circus, the combination of a distinctive theme, artistic freedom, and the ability to captivate the audience with its grandeur and creativity made it an unforgettable experience.

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