Ace Couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee Forays Into Beauty In Collaboration with Estée Lauder


Everything that could possibly go wrong on the day of my interview with Sabyasachi Mukherjee happened–from the laptop acting up at the last minute to wonky wifi and a sudden technical glitch in the meeting app. I finally managed to join the call a couple of minutes later, hassled and ready to apologise. I had an apology speech ready! I was over-prepped for the interview after reading as much as I could about him and picking brains of my colleagues who have interviewed him in the past. Of course, that’s not how I expected it to start. However, I met with a comforting voice and warm smile on the screen and just like that, Sabyasachi and I started talking about everything beauty. 

Even in the remotest area of the country that’s oblivious to the term fashion, people recognise Sabyasachi. Though it’s his first, Sabyasachi’s influence on the beauty industry cannot be ignored–from brides asking for a classic Sabyasachi look to his fondness for kohled eyes and a fiery red pout, he’s been as relevant to beauty as fashion. So to believe that his foray into beauty will be synonymous with the enigma that he is in the Indian fashion industry won’t be wrong. I had multiple questions for him, from his choice of red for the lipstick range to its design and packaging. The Sabyasachi range of limited edition 10 lipsticks is created in collaboration with Estée Lauder. “I created two red lipsticks between every single possible skin tint and there’s a red for you from one of the two,” he says. Here are the excerpts from the interview where he takes me through the journey of bringing Sabyasachi Beauty to life and his expectations from the range.

ELLE: Everything that has the stamp of your label is a well thought-through creation. Tell us about this association with Estée Lauder (EL) for Sabyasachi Beauty limited edition range of lipsticks.


Sabyasachi Mukherjee (SM): I seeded the idea of Sabyasachi Beauty 20 years ago when I was doing Band Baajaa Bride. Everybody used to say that ‘you’re doing these makeovers but it would be beautiful if the girls wore Sabyasachi makeup.’ It’s interesting to note that ‘beauty parlours’ all over India have a catalogue and the imagery in them are of Sabyasachi brides, not for clothing but for the beauty look–whether it’s the kajal and centre-parted hair with a bindi and pale lips, or a winged eyeliner paired with red pout for the reception look. We also seeded the idea of beauty in our movies as well. Whether it’s Aishwarya Rai Bacchan’s earthy look in Raavan (2010), or her bold red lips in Guzaarish (2010), we have constantly spoken about Sabyasachi Beauty.

With Estée Lauder, it took us four and a half years to create 10 lipsticks because we started this collaboration in 2019. We’ve been cautious with this launch. I spoke to the EL team and said that ‘I want to deliver a world class lipstick to my customers’. I want beauty from India to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world. I think a good collaboration is when two parties come together with their individual strengths–here, EL contributed with their formulation and manufacturing and I came up with my idea of Sabyasachi Beauty, its packaging and co-created the shades.

I have always believed that India is going to become the primary spot for the global market. It is going to be a bigger beauty business. It took me 20 years to get here, but now there is no turning back.

ELLE: Shall we talk about the inspiration behind this collection?

SM: Beauty, I believe, is a cluttered industry where people are making more and more products. It confuses the customer by giving them more than they require. My brief was simple–to create what is necessary. I thought if I can create 10 lipsticks and within that, I can address all shades of diversity and needs from a lipstick. 

I truly believe that a woman requires one or two iconic products in her life to define who she is, the rest of them come and go. You may have thousands of beauty products in your lifetime but you end up keeping only a couple of them. I want to be someone who caters to the two and not the ten thousand. At Rs. 5,400, it’s an expensive lipstick, but when you hold the product, you know that you’re not settling for anything less.

ELLE: Eyes play an important part for a Sabyasachi look but still you chose to go with lipstick, and it’s a limited edition. Tell us why?


SM: When I wanted to bring my first (beauty) product, I wanted the one that is the most democratic. If you look at eyes, it takes a lot of practice to do eye makeup. I grew up in a middle class setting, I know how it works for many people. As fashion insiders, we get very arrogant about fashion and beauty because we are in this trade. But what about the people who are bankers, lawyers, school teachers, air hostesses, a NASA employee or someone in tech? What is one makeup product that gives an instant and quick transformation? 

For me, an eye is step 2. Step 1 is lipstick because it is the easiest application, and the lowest common denominator in creating a quick transformation. You can have no makeup on your face, just moisturised skin and a lipstick would still transform the look. The idea is not to make a woman look like a Sabyasachi woman; I’ve created it for a woman who loves makeup and also for the one who’s intimidated by it. I still know a lot of women who don’t like putting on makeup. How do you entice them? Probably that woman would like a Muslin Tea which is a nude shade instead of a Rouge Bengal. I expect every woman to interpret beauty in their own way.

ELLE: I have learned that the colour red plays a significant role in your brand’s story telling. However, it has been explored endlessly. How has it been explored differently for this collection?

SM: There are two shades of red in this collection– Rouge Bengal and Calcutta Red. The former has a bit of a yellow undertone while the latter blue undertone. Across India, skin colour changes dramatically–some people have a yellow hue to their skin while others have a pink hue.

For red lipstick, you can do tens and thousands of shades. But a few people actually understand that it’s the hue and the saturation that create the perfect lipstick. One can create 20 red lipsticks that almost look identical but in the formulation, the underlying pigment changes everything. I created two red lipsticks between every single possible skin tint and there’s a red for you from one of the two. 

ELLE: Apart from packaging and design, how involved were you when it comes to texture and formulation of the product?  

SM: I think EL was not prepared for how involved I would be (laughs). When I do my collaboration, I like to put my heart and soul into it. At the end, even if it’s 50% responsibility from both sides, I still like to be 100% involved. So, from strategy to packaging and formulation to naming colours, I was involved in everything. It was a great learning process. The team understood India better through me and I understood beauty business better through them. 

ELLE: Tell me about designing and packaging of the collection. Did you offer any particular pattern or colour palette?

SM: In many ways, the packaging was inspired by Calcutta, Estée Lauder’s archives, my obsessive love with old Bollywood and Hollywood, the era of 1920s and 50s, Indian renaissance, and Bengal renaissance. At the end, all of these elements were put together in the packaging.

You have one shot with the person going to the counter to pick up a lipstick because it’s a very fiercely thought-out segment. I can tell you as an Indian when you see that product, you’ll only feel a sense of pride. To give you an example, our entry level product is the belt and I see these girls make ceremonial videos out of them getting ready in the morning to go buy a Sabya belt and bringing it home and wearing it for a party and celebrating with their friends. I am sure it’s going to be the same experience with these lipsticks. I want an Indian or a South-Asian consumer to realise that great brands can come out of this country.

ELLE: Did you have any set colour palette in mind for this collection?

SM: I did not want to do fashion colours at all. I wanted to create classic colours in the fashion colours like Tropical Tangerine, Coffee Masala and Bombay Berry are fashion colours while there are beautiful nudes like Muslin Tea, Apricot Silk, and Pomello Rose and then there are glamour shades like Devi Pink, Rouge Bengal, and Calcutta Red. So there’s shade for every person, from fashionable, classic and subdued shades. 

The idea was if a woman wanted to buy lipsticks for every occasion then how can I fulfil that need in 10 lipsticks so that she never has to buy another one. I hate making things that are just a fad. Every time we have an Instagram launch, you see people criticising me for being repetitive but I would rather create something of value than that’s only topical.

ELLE: Lastly, do you have a plan of expanding in this direction? 

SM: Of course, it took 20 years to get here. It was a well thought of and calculated decision. I don’t do anything by accident because I am a strategist. Now that this great wheel of product, commerce and excitement has started churning, it’ll never stop. Next steps might take a little time but this is certainly not a flash in the pan.

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