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I wanted to create a lipstick that was anti-trend: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

In an interview with Lounge, the designer talks about his collaboration with Estee Lauder and designing a beauty collection that celebrates India

The Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Collection includes 10 satin-matte and ultra-matte lipsticks
The Estee Lauder x Sabyasachi Collection includes 10 satin-matte and ultra-matte lipsticks

Sabyasachi Mukherjee is known for creating modern heirlooms, whether it's in the shape of a lehnga, a gown or a ruby- and diamond-studded choker. Now, the 50-year-old designer is bringing his sense of design, steeped in luxury and Indian heritage, to a bullet lipstick. 

On 29 February, the Kolkata-based designer announced the launch of a limited-edition lipstick collection, in collaboration with Estée Lauder, one of the world's leading cosmetic companies. The line includes 10 satin-matte and ultra-matte lipsticks, packed in luxurious gilded cases, adorned with 24K gold plated accents and emblazoned with the Bengal tiger (his brand logo). Each lipstick is worth 5,400.

The opulent shades, named in celebration of Indian culture, include Muslin Tea (caramel nude), Apricot Silk (rosy, mauve nude), Pomelo Rose (deep rosy nude), Udaipur Coral (burnt coral), Rouge Bengal (warm red), Devi Pink (fuchsia), Calcutta Red (a blue-red), Bombay Berry (deep berry), Coffee Masala (warm brown) and Tropical Tangerine (terracotta).

It's not the first time an Indian designer has collaborated with an international beauty brand. In fact, Mukherjee had joined hands with L’Oréal Paris to offer a limited edition make-up line in 2018, becoming an instant sell-out.

That's perhaps the biggest draw of such East-meets-West collaborations. Having a name attached like Mukherjee, a global influencer of bridalwear couture, to a lipstick has the potential to shine even if it's sold in a highly saturated market like India's. 

Also read: People think I come to work on an elephant, says Sabyasachi

“Collaborations are happening everywhere at a global level, and they will continue. But they need to be measured in their approach,” says Rohan Vaziralli, the general manager at ELCA Cosmetics, the India affiliate of Estée Lauder Companies. “They help in brand visibility and amplification but they also need to drive desirability. Also, consumers don't just want a shiny product; they want a quality product.”

Why only lipsticks, though, with the Sabyasachi brand? “Lipsticks offer consumers an entry into a brand. Plus, there's so much innovation happening within the space of lipsticks. With the Sabya lipstick, we wanted to create a high quality lipstick that had a cool packaging, quality shades—and very, very local, and Sabya is as India as it gets,” explains Vaziralli.

In an interview with Lounge, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the designer, talks about his new offering  and the creative process behind it. Edited excerpts: 

How did collaboration happen?

I met the Estée Lauder team in 2019 and we started working on the collaboration almost instantly. I told them that India is going to become a very important market for beauty. This was before the big explosion of global brand ambassadors from India. We understood the power of India, what it represents and what India could represent for to the rest of the world, and we wanted a collaboration that captured this opportunity.

For Estée Lauder, it was about tapping into the power of India. For me, it was about representing India the right way, both at home and away. The idea was to create something in beauty that would give our customers a sense of pride and to remind them that beautiful things don't have to be transient. Lipsticks because it’s such a beauty essential. 

I wanted to create a range of classics that are clearly anti-trend and seasonless… colours and a product that is not time bound, but versatile and wearable. 

This is going to be the first step towards bigger forays into beauty; there's no turning back from here.

How did you zero in on the shades?

My brief was simple: Cut through frills and trends, and celebrate the classics—but in my way. My own brand is based in culture, heritage and in creating products that stand the test of time. I set out to create 10 lip colours that would cover every kind of classic beauty need.

I’ve been a colourist for over 20 years now, the city I live in (Kolkata), the various processes of dying textiles, the selection of gemstones as a jeweller and the women I’m most influenced by have all played a part in making this collection. 

So, (actor) Rekha’s berry pout can be glimpsed in Bombay Berry, (painter) Frida Kahlo in Pomelo Rose and the spirit of Calcutta in Calcutta Red. Completely diverse personalities, but 10 definitive colours. With these shades the mission was to attain a certain universality through iconic colours so you can find and interpret your shade for yourself.

What can the consumer expect when it comes to the texture and feel of the product?

What’s great about Indian beauty is how ubiquitous it is on one hand, and how sensual on the other. Be it the kohl that’s smeared over the eyes, bursts of vermillion across foreheads or the red alta or henna that’s applied on hands and feet. Beauty is as tactile as it is cultural. So, the texture of lipsticks and the sense of smell becomes almost as integral as the colour. 

I knew it had to be a felt experience. For the fragrance, we spent months going back and forth between various fragrances—we were finally caught between rose and cinnamon. With India’s history of spices, I just knew it had to be cinnamon. It’s a most non-intrusive smell, but still so distinct. And for the texture, the lipsticks are available in Satin Matte and Ultra Matte—smooth, easy to apply and lush in feel.

How did you, as a fashion designer, approach the process of creating the lipstick?

I think my approach stays the same across everything I design. I often compare my process to the farm to table chef, where it is ingredient led. Similarly, I worked closely with the Estée Lauder team to find the right formula for the lipsticks, the gilded packaging and of course, the colours. The rest becomes an extension of my repertoire, where, from the colours to the fragrance, everything was created with a unique design proposition that is at once new, and signature of what I do.

Also read: What Sabyasachi x H&M gets wrong and right, almost

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