‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.’ Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote comes to mind when you think of Sanjay Garg, and what he has been able to pull off with Raw Mango.
He came from humble beginnings, showcasing handloom sarees at Dilli Haat and Dastakaar Bazaar, was then handpicked by Anita Lal of Good Earth to stock at her institution of a store. He insists that he still operates at the fringe. I remind him that it’s exactly the opposite now. There is a certain awe and reverence attached to his brand. His fashion week shows are packed, stylists swear by him. His team tightly controls who the clothes can be lent to, or who can tag them on social media. Big Indian couture labels had a strict embroidery formula, then he came along and disrupted the order.
Designer Sanjay Garg
His newest, Other, a hyper surreal, subversive art exhibit showcased as a launch campaign is a sharp departure from their nostalgic, referencing small town India imagery. Models don figurine eyes, bodies are painted red, and the music may sound like noise to some (his words, not mine). Beyond the visuals, the clothes are in his signature pop colours and prints. Silhouettes that sit at the intersection of old and new India. It has the internet divided, equal amounts of shock and awe. As a stylist, I love it- It’s been a year in sweatpants, we need something to shake us out of this comfy-coma.
ELLE: Do you think Other‘s imagery takes away from the clothes?
Sanjay Garg: Not at all. The clothes were sold out in some stores before we even launched. Maybe only 30% of our online followers are our actual clients.
Campaign image: Other
ELLE: What does it feel like to grow up on the internet with Raw Mango?
SG: As a country we need to be more tolerant of different points of views. For eg. The idea of Punjab has always been Bollywood perpetrated bhangra etc. Actually, I saw really simple people; their literature and folk music featured in Heer. I am tired of ‘Banquet Hall campaigns’ that are shot in front of palaces and hotels. I don’t see my brides as pretty dolls. It is their party, and they are hosting guests, they should be able to move around. Moomal was my Rajasthan, my sister featured in it. People’s idea of Rajasthan is touristy – elephants, fort, maharaja. My Rajasthan is a cow dung land too (houses are made of cow dung). Only 1% of people get married in that aspirational manner, why should we only show that? A thinking crowd comments on our page and they think we should be the most responsible brand.
ELLE: Did you know you were going to be so successful? Are the people from your village proud of you?
SG: No, they are really disappointed that I am not married yet.
Campaign Image: Moomal
ELLE: Do you have a personal Instagram account?
SG: It’s good that I don’t. I have many opinions.
ELLE: You said you don’t want to be called a fashion designer?
SG: I am an artisanal textile producer. I also sell, make films, am involved in branding… designer seems limiting. If I weren’t a designer I’d be a krantikari (activist), now I am getting back to it. That is what I have been trying to do with clothes anyway. Honestly, I didn’t even care much for design. When we took on the handloom sari, it was considered academic by some, looked down upon by others, as behenji.
Campaign Image: Heer
ELLE: But it’s the coolest thing in fashion right now?
SG: That is a problem too, a sari needs to be just like a T-shirt. When you turn up in a sari casually, people ask, “Aaj kya hai?” (what is today?). No one questions a T-shirt, even though so many women sleep and get up wearing a sari, as does my mother. The day it is neutral, will be a good day. The world outside thinks it’s a national costume or a wedding dress.
ELLE: Do you regret the Zooni campaign imagery? (Shot in Kashmir, it received major backlash because of its timing.)
SG: No. The timing was sensitive, and we had to respect that and step back. We couldn’t communicate effectively that Zooni had models, music, clothes and its work from Kashmir too. It didn’t just use Kashmir as a background location. Since I no longer have commercial liability to release it, we will, when the time is correct.
ELLE: Outside of Zooni, do you support Kashmiri karigars? What about Chikan clusters? We’ve never seen it in any other collections apart from Cloud People’. Could that be a part of the backlash?
SG: Very good question! With mashru, benarsi and chanderi we still work with the same artisans we started with. Our chikan was extremely fine and on cotton mul; people couldn’t justify it as a luxury buy as they do other (richer looking) textiles. We used Kashmiri work in our newly launched shawl collection. It’s like the silk route influence – Phiran and abaya silhouettes have been a part of our vocabulary already.
Campaign Image: Monkey Business
ELLE: You famously said Bollywood actors wouldn’t work for the brand, and yet you just released an online edit with Karishma Kapoor?
SG: I love and respect theatre and cinema actors. Meeta Vashisht featured in Moomal. I have never understood using them as showpieces. But, should I continue to sell handloom only to people who understand and buy it already? Seeing a Bollywood person wear it means it goes mainstream, which is great for my weavers and the brand.
ELLE: Do you feel the pressure to intellectualise everything? That you can no longer enjoy something just as beautiful?
SG: (Laughs) You can’t if you don’t have it no? There was no intellectualising in Other; in fact, it was the most irrational thing. I was done with the idea of a purist, there was no linear thought. What is surrealism and scary? I’ve shown people what different kind of weddings can look like, so why not do the same with beauty?
Images: Sanjay Garg