Back To The Origin: Couturiers Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla Recollect Memories About Their Premiere Collection

These are some names that are definitive of the Indian fashion industry: Anita Dongre, Anamika Khanna, Raghavendra Rathore, Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla and brothers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra. You’ve seen them take a bow with their showstoppers on countless runways, but we bet you can’t recall their maiden collections. In fact, we wondered if they could too! So we asked them to jog their memories and take us back a couple of decades to their raw beginnings. Here are stories of working out of backyard tailoring units, discovering classic trends from fashion faux pas and more, as the creative visionaries share anecdotes from their rookie days.

In this 5-part series (Anita Dongre and Shantanu & Nikhil), next, we have veteran designers Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, who took a trip down memory lane to talk about their inaugural line and the stories behind it.


Image from Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s first collection 

How It Began 

Sandeep shares, “We started working five days after we met! In 1986, there weren’t many designers—there was Ritu Kumar, James Ferreira, and beyond that, there were boutiques. Abu and I came from two very different cultures. Abu is a Gujarati Bohri, and I am Punjabi. This very mild but talented person (Abu), paired with this aggressive and ambitious person, stirred up quite the magic. It was a yin and yang sort of thing. My imagination and his sketching skills have been one of our biggest plusses.”


Image from Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s early collections

First Collection 

“The first-ever line we did was for this one lady; we labelled it Mata Hari. She approached Abu and gave us the reigns for concept and design, with no interference from her, and settled for a certain amount of cash. Abu’s father collected postcards of films; Margaretha Geertruida was playing Mata Hari in one of her films, and both of us had these exotic fantasies which translated into this line. The entire first collection was of 80 different pieces, each of a different style.”

Image from Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s early collections

Hurdles & Challenges

“The difficulty was money. We both started with Rs 15,000 each in our pockets. Our first rented workshop was small, and we had to sell every piece we made because making separate samples were unaffordable. We even namelessly designed for other boutiques to financially support ourselves and our brand. The tragedy was, during those days, Indian designers were not backed by a community or company like we see today. It was the influential ladies from the ’80s who shed the limelight on us. Whether it was Parmeshwar Godrej, Jaya Bachchan or Dimple Kapadia, they all walked into our store one day organically.”

Image from Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s early collections


“The first garment we made when we were working with Ensemble was one of the silk kurtas with a massive ghera. Unfortunately, we ended up getting a large stain on it. After washing and drying it, we made a potli out of it. The next day, we saw an accidental crush effect, which we liked so much that it later became our inspiration for the iconic crush collection. I had an aunt in Lucknow who was doing chikankari work. We found chiffon at her place and decided to print on it. There was only one printer back then, from whom we bought some stunning old blocks and then started forming patterns, yolks and butas on the kurtas. We discovered our love for chikankari there, and from then on, we haven’t stopped experimenting with it.”


Image of wooden blocks used in their collections 

Reinterpret Or Pass?

“I think we have been striving to stay ahead all the time, with design and trends. Everything we made stemmed from the different handicrafts of our country. If given a chance to redo our firsts, we would like to see how Abu and Sandeep of today would reinterpret it.”


Reinterpreted sketch by Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla 

Picture Courtesy: Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla 

Find ELLE’s June 2021 issue on stands or download your digital copy here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content