Ashish Gupta's foray into homeware stitches together history and storytelling in an eccentric collection of blankets - Elle India

Ashish Gupta’s foray into homeware stitches together history and storytelling in an eccentric collection of blankets

The designer discusses his love for collection vintage fabric, '90s-inspired patterns and finding lightness in fashion

BY Caroline Issa | September 10th, 2019

Hidden behind a huge canopy of trees in his front yard, Ashish Gupta opens the door to his house and welcomes me into an oasis of urban Zen. Celebrated for his love of riotous colour, sequinned bedazzlement and fearless activism, Gupta’s home is a place for collected treasures, with many spots for quiet contemplation—including a wooden porch that overlooks a mini jungle in his backyard. It’s the kind of home that prompted Matchesfashion.com’s fashion and buying director Natalie Kingham to give carte blanche to Gupta to create something for homes—and several months later, and soon the sold out collection of blankets with history and craft was flying off shelves. I sat down with him over a glass of water (with ice cubes, served on an unusually hot sunny day in London) to chat about new horizons, approaches, and the comfort of beautiful things. 

Ashish in his guest room. Behind him is a wall covered in an exquisite 18th-century French tapestryL4

Caroline Issa: How did the Matchesfashion.com collaboration come about?

Ashish: Natalie Kingham emailed me and said, “Oh my God, I love your house”, and “if you could do some homeware what would it be?” At that point of time I was quite obsessed with these kantha blankets that I had just brought back from India. And then I started reading up about them and found that they come from Bengal, and were made by illiterate women who would make these blankets at home. The blankets were a means for them to tell their story and the technique had been passed down through generations.

A 1970s Robert Haussmann leather and chrome sofa sits against a wall covered in vintage ceramic plates from Kolkata

CI: So their stories are important?

A: I like the idea that a classic Disney print or ’60s floral or some weird, horrible digitally printed ’90s pattern is mixed with some beautiful Indian block print. And the other nice thing about it is that the collection is made of either vintage fabric or end-of-stock fabric that is usually dumped in landfills.

In the living room, a set of 1950s John and Sylvia Reid cabinets act as a platform for the designer’s collection of busts

CI: It sounds laborious. How long did it take to make one?

A: From start to finish, each piece took about eight to 10 weeks. First, the fabrics had to be assembled in a pattern, then the letters had to be cut out and assembled, and they were then patch-worked by hand onto the fabric. Then, the blankets were sent to Kolkata and the women artisans there did all the actual embroidery work. This project has been a learning curve for me. I feel like it ties in well with my background in fashion. Because for my collections too, everything is hand embroidered. There are no short cuts.

A Thonet chair and 1970s Richard Young coffee table in rosewood and chrome, stacked with piles of old Filmfare and Stardust magazines, is flanked by mid-century book cabinets

CI: Your blankets have sold out and you’re already working on the new batch. Are you going to change the way you approach the next round?

A: I’m generically stitching them into themes now. For example, there’s a theme of affirmations, then there’s a bunch of poems and bright flags. It just means that we have to source similar things. I do have quite a lot of fabric though. I’ve been collecting them for a while.

The bookshelves are made with reclaimed pine boards

CI: When you collect these vintage blankets, how do you find them? What speaks to you?

A: It’s the mix of fabrics, the colours and the fact that people who made them must have put a lot of thought into them. Conversely, some people don’t think that much, and that discordance makes it special. For instance, I found one which had these weird fabric-like brocade motorcycles on it and the rest of it was a beautiful floral fabric. I thought it was just so pretty and would never be replicated.

Bittersweet—from the Delights of Lovers series of blankets by Ashish

CI: Is it hard for you to let go of the things that you collect? Are you a collector?

A: Yes, but I’ve become pickier about what I keep.

CI: So the Marie Kondo method is not for you?

A: I started doing that and I found that there’s a certain lightness to it. Now, I have this rule that I really have to love something to keep it in my house. I have inherited things like ceramics from my grandmother, who collected them since she was young. So those are the things I hold on to. 

The Hampstead Heath blanket features one of the poems written by Ashish

CI: Yes, because of the emotional attachment. And I think the beauty of your quilts lies in the stories, the incredible poems and messages on them. You can probably feel the vibrations coming off from them. But do you think that this project gave you a bug to make more objects?

A: Yes it has. I feel creatively so much more liberated. I’ve been working for myself for years, but suddenly, I’m in this really lucky position where people are asking me to do other things. I can be quite fearless about it in a way. It’s made me feel a lot lighter about fashion.

CI: It’s funny that you’re saying that now you feel lighter. Because I find that you’ve consistently been fearless, consistently brought humour and opinion to your work. Not a lot of designers would last as long as you have.

A: I think for me joy is important; it’s about the pursuit of joy. And I always think that every little piece of pleasure you can find, just get it, because you don’t know when the next bit of pleasure is coming.

For the Everything Is Going To Be Okay blanket features patchworked slogan onto a vintage 1970s Superman bedsheet

CI: You write poetry too. How long has it been?

A: I started writing because I had really bad insomnia. I would be lying in bed and suddenly I’d have this nice idea pop in my head and then I’d start stringing it into words. I always feel like I’m writing in this dream-like state… and that this has been my treatment for insomnia.

Hanky Code—a patchwork of vintage bandana scarves

CI: It helps you clear something out of your head and then you actually fall asleep. That’s kind of amazing. And it’s beautiful that you share your poetry with people.

A: Well, I couldn’t for a long time. But now I feel that life is too short, so let’s just put it out there. I actually told Matchesfashion.com that if the blankets don’t sell, I just want them back. I am quite happy to have them back and then everybody will get these for Christmas this year.

A life-size Superman flies across a collage of vintage fabrics, blending not just East and West, but also old and new

CI: Luckily, you have a waiting list. Did you keep any for yourself?

A: I didn’t, foolishly, and now I’m kicking myself. I am going to keep a couple for myself the next time!

Photographs: Vikram Kushwah; Sittings editor: Rupangi Grover