Even as temperatures in Mumbai are rising, things are heating up in the city between some of our leading fashion designers. This month sees them battling a real-estate war—with each vying for a building in Kala Ghoda, the city’s historic heritage precinct.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the country’s most successful fashion designer by revenue alone, is moving from his grand basement-plus-one sumptuous boutique at a Rampart Row brownstone. He is moving to an even grander location, taking over an entire new-classical building facing Horniman Circle and in the same line as the Hermes and Christian Louboutin boutiques. Sabyasachi’s new address is a 100-year-old colonial edifice that housed the HSBC Asset Management headquarters from 1970 to 2021. It was then sold for Rs83 crore (although it was listed in 2020 for Rs100 crore) to the Karan Chand Thapar Group of Kolkata, a conglomerate with interests in real estate, aquaculture and coal. Sabyasachi, under the aegis of his new investors—the Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL)—will pay a monthly rent of approximately Rs1 crore for the ground-plus-four structure, measuring 40,000 sqft.
The Kolkata-based designer, who turned 49 last week, is mere weeks away from opening. The new space will house his couture, ready-to-wear, jewellery and home collection. This real-estate deal is said to be the biggest since Zara opened at Flora Fountain’s 50,000 sqft Ismail Building.
Sabya’s mega opening has been beaten by another uber successful designer. Anita Dongre opened her flagship last week, taking over the main road-facing historic Sassoon Building. Dongre has lovingly restored the 200-year-old building that faces the David Sassoon Library and the University of Mumbai. The ground-plus-three storied building measures 8,500 sqft. Dongre has retained the original teak balconies, the hand-painted ceramic tiles, iron railings, wooden staircase, and restored the stained glass patterns.
“Bombay is my home and the Sassoon Building has witnessed every change in this city,” she stated. “By restoring this building, we wanted to keep as much of the original form as we could…. I wanted to bring back the luxury of the 19th century and have it meet the effortless grace of the 21st century. It has been a particular joy to realise a vision that mixes Indian crafts with colonial architecture, against art that celebrates nature’s bounty.”
When I visited, her brother Mukesh Sawlani, who is also the chairman of the brand, showed me around. One floor is dedicated to bridal-wear, another to menswear, a third to grassroots, and the ground floor showcases her accessories. Dongre’s walls are celebratory, with nature-inspired pichwais and wallpaper.
Also opening this week is Delhi designer Gaurav Gupta’s passion project. Gupta, who has just showcased at the Paris Fashion Week, was one of the first to open a store at the Kala Ghoda precinct. His Mumbai flagship was right across the Jewish Synagogue in the area’s leafy lanes. While there were rumours of the designer moving into the three-storied Delhi Art Gallery building nearby, Gupta seems to have found an equally charming and sizable property a few lanes away. His ground-plus-two storied boutique opened at Sanwa House this weekend. “I just needed a bigger space,” he says with a smile.
This lapping up of prime real estate in Mumbai only means one thing: Indian bridal designers are truly raking in the big bucks. But in undertaking gargantuan architectural projects such as these, painstakingly keeping alive Mumbai’s heritage and paying homage to the mega city, they have also proved how culturally committed they truly are.