It was at the collection launch of fashion designer Anjul Bhandari in New Delhi last year that I was introduced to Aaquib Wani for the first time. He had transformed the venue into anenchanting garden of 5,000 sholapith roses, emblematic of the designer’s Awadh-inspired collection. Besides the pain-staking details of his installation, two aspects stayed with me. One, the smile of contentment on his face despite having worked on it overnight, and two, the conscious inclusion of his team in every conversation of acknowledgement with viewers. It didn’t take much digging to unearth the vibrant world of Wani. From spaces, festivals, sets, interiors, interactive installations and weddings to visual and graphic design—he has transcended every medium to create magic. His most recent work was at the international music festival Lollapalooza in Mumbai in January. In an exclusive conversation, the self-taught experiential artist shares an insight into his blended aesthetic palettes, absorbed through his Kashmiri heritage and New Delhi upbringing.
Roots In Kashmir
Growing up in a quintessential Kashmiri household, meeting local artisans and seeing them create beautifully has played a monumental role in Wani’s creative expression. His father was into the business of Kashmiri art. “I have fond memories from childhood when artisans used to visit us with shawls and discuss the latest design trends. Every six months, they would come up with finished products based on the brief, and it used to blow my mind each time. They never had any formal education and instead followed their instincts. Being inspired, I started drawing and replicating designs and made models of planes and other stuff using thermocol sheets. Took old toys and broke their parts to create something or the other using Lego and mechanics,” Wani recollects.
Wani began designing posters and merchandise for music bands. and continued freelance work along with two full-time jobs. He was at Rock Street Journal magazine and mixed-media design studio Scenografia Sumant before launching his own studio. “I was introduced to spatial design while working with scenographer, installation artist and costume designer Sumant Jayakrishnan.
I learned to apply my skill set in physical and digital forms.” Wani represented India at the London Design Biennale 2016 as part of Jayakrishnan’s team. Soon, one of his friends advised him to start his design venture. “The thought stuck with me, and I took a leap of faith to launch my studio in 2018, named Aaquib Wani Design Studio,” he adds. Wani has worked and collaborated with various brands, including United Nations, Spotify, Adidas, Bacardi NH7 Weekender and Chivas, among others. His relationship with Adidas has been noteworthy, having designed a jacket for actor Ranveer Singh and special edition shoes and clothing line for cricketer Rohit Sharma.
Wani’s collaborative approach and passion for driving the preservation of traditional crafts are evident in his extensive body of work. For instance, he chose sholapith, a lesser-known and unique art form, to create a ‘craft bazaar’ at Isha Ambani’s sangeet in Udaipur, and brought down 150 artisans from West Bengal who worked together to create the dreamy venue. It turned out to be the most-photographed piece at the wedding. Talking about his vision to create an ecosystem collectively for designers and artists in India, Wani says, “Over the years, I have realised how artists are always taken for a ride as we don’t have the mindset of working as a business or in a corporate structure. The giants end up shortchanging smaller artisans. So, as an artist who has worked with corporates and global brands, I want to help my generation of artists to grow beyond making beautiful art. To work their way around the professional world, with contracts, cracking deals, and more.”
It started in 2018 when Wani didn’t want to part with an old worn-out fake Burberry jacket. “I always wanted to paint over garment, and so I sketched out something and approached the closest street sign painter. The result was stunning, and queries poured in on social media. It led to a campaign of handpainted wearables for which I reached out to more artisans. The exclusive pieces featured intricate traditional crafts ranging from Madhubani to Pattachitra. I encouraged the local artists to explore different media. It was never the aim to be a torchbearer for local artisans, but I love the process of working with them, and they enjoy it as much. This is how Aaquib Wani Custom Wearables came into the picture, and the money from it goes directly to the artists,” he shares.
With technology evolving expeditiously, innovation has set the bar for design too high, Wani feels. Wedding decor is finally being viewed beyond floral decorations. “ We have experimented with projection mapping and light installations at weddings. It reduces the usage of materials and helps me to play with content to enhance the experience for my audience,” he explains. Speaking enthusiastically about his upcoming projects, he adds, “We are working on an interior project in Pune for a popular cafe, stores in Delhi for upcoming fashion brands, and more music festivals, as that comes naturally to me. We have repeat clients from 2022, such as Serendipity Arts Festival, exciting things for the IPL, and we’re looking forward to more weddings this year.”
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