Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have been the most trusted designer duo over the past 33 years. Under their eponymous label, they have created iconic pieces for both national and international stars. The designers, who recently exhibited their latest collection at Blenders Pride Fashion Tour in Delhi, speak to Bulbul Sharma about their long, eventful journey, and the state of fashion in India.
Q. How did the label Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla come into being?
A. We met by chance at a mutual friend’s home on 15th August 1986 and struck an instant rapport. We talked furiously about fashion, our vision and our dreams all day, and took an instinctive decision to team up. It was straight from the gut for both of us and a leap of faith in each other.
We began with a boutique and collection called “Mata Hari” by the end of the same year. And the rest, as they say, is history, a beautiful history.
Q.What inspires your designs?
A. Inspiration is found everywhere. As artists, we are always extremely sensitive to our environment and everything it contains. India is, of course, our eternal muse. Her history, culture, craft, art, and architecture along with her soul and spirit are a bottomless well of inspiration. We draw deeply from our heritage techniques and embroideries. We never to merely replicate but reinvent them to never-before-seen standards of finesse and expression. Our aesthetics are deeply rooted and we follow our own hearts. Design isn’t a profession for us, it is a creative compulsion and calling. We dream big and always execute bigger. It’s always about seeing everything, especially the old with brand new eyes, and using that vision to fashion beauty. Being original is a mission. We cannot do anything by halves. It’s got to be 200%.
Q.What is your creative process like?
A. It’s relentless. There is no defined process because we breathe, eat and sleep design. An idea, a thought is the starting point and then follows the ceaseless experimentation to give it concrete form. It originates in one of us, sometimes in both and the rest is playing with it until it reaches fruition.
Q. How do you resolve your creative differences, if any?
A. Of course, there are differences, not in the process itself but in how the two of us interpret and envision a particular concept or design. It’s a to-and-fro process between two very strong and opinionated individuals. Sometimes we agree. At other times we agree to disagree.
We have a deep respect for each other’s creativity and what the other brings to the table. One plus one has always created more than two. No difference between us is ever seen as something negative.
Q. You have created pieces for so many celebrities. Any particular experience that has stayed with you, or the celebrity you especially love to design for?
A. From the very beginning, we have been privileged to have our work speak for us. The celebrities we have dressed have come because they spotted our work and fell in love with it. Jaya Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia, Amrita Singh were our earliest clients and it has been a beautiful continuum of designing for luminaries since then. It is immensely gratifying and humbling. There are far too many memories to pick and choose. Every working relationship has been a learning experience and an emotional joy.
Q. It has been more than three decades in the industry, how has the journey been?
A. We marked 33 years in fashion in 2019, an incredible milestone for us. Our journey has been a whirlwind of creative growth. We began with couture 34 years ago. The last few years have seen us diversify into diffusion, Western wear, resort wear and also new collaborations in fine jewels, cashmere and footwear. Reinventing ourselves, pushing borders, challenging our own rules are key to our joy as designers. It’s an immense privilege to do what you love. And that we are still madly in love with our work, we continue to learn, to hone and to dream bigger dreams for ourselves is the biggest high. Evolution is the oxygen of creativity. It is our mission and practice.
Q.What are your thoughts on the current Indian fashion scenario?
A. It is alive and kicking. Has a huge wealth of talent. What the industry now needs is advocacy and investment for fashion houses to grow to their optimal size. The potential is limitless. We must make “Brand India” a global standard of excellence and original design.
Q. Which colour schemes, fabrics are going to dominate the coming season?
A. We don’t choose this or that. We revel in the entire spectrum. From whites, beiges and skin hues to pastels, jewel colours and greys, midnight blues and blacks. Our collections this year also feature extensive use of weaves, block printing and natural fabrics.
Q. What does fashion mean to you?
A. Fashion is everything to us. It is our calling, our work and our play. Aside from aesthetic and creative bliss, fashion is also a statement of being. It reflects one’s spirit, personality and soul. It makes a strong and evocative statement about who we are—our values, individuality and essence.
Q. How can designers contribute to create body positivity?
A. We have always looked at fashion, style and beauty as being utterly free of narrow definitions and superficial notions like body size. Beauty is a massive holistic circle comprising many different shapes, moods and people. We have never restricted or constricted our work to a particular one. That goes against our very design ethos, which seeks, finds and creates beauty in diverse forms.
It’s high time the industry, from designers to editors, celebrated the human form and spirit in its multiple, distinct avatars.
Q. We recently saw your designs at the 15th edition of Blenders Pride Fashion Tour in Delhi. Tell us about your association with the fashion tour?
A. We first partnered with Blender’s Pride Fashion Tour in 2005, where we showed our collection at its inaugural fashion tour. As it marks its 15th milestone edition, it is wonderful to be back on the tour with our show in New Delhi. This time the celebrated Blenders Pride Fashion Tour goes beyond conventional runway shows to unveil a breathtakingly new face of fashion. Charting a new course, this edition comes with a path-breaking format by presenting festivals of fashion.
Q. How would define your theme “My Blend, My Pride” for Blenders Pride Fashion Tour?
A. The theme, “My Blend, My Pride”, expresses our creative vision and is a personal statement of our values and beliefs. This collection is our ode to the spirit of love. It’s about breaking free, ditching the rules and borders that separate. Beauty does not discriminate. Love is inclusive. Love takes on many different forms. Fashion is an expression of our individuality. It must be a celebration of difference, of that individuality. Beauty is far too big to be shackled by narrow definitions. It must flow as freely as the imagination.
When we cast this show, we were clear that it must be inclusive and celebrate the entire spectrum of human beauty. We had cross-dressers, transgender, members of the LGBTQIA community, a hockey player, a navy captain and an Instagram blogger from Odisha on the ramp to showcase and celebrate the universal nature of our fashion and the coming together of so many different kinds of people as one. The music by Kiran Kamath was a mix of iconic Hindi, Sufi, and international music designed to reflect a cosmopolitan vibe.
We are passionate about India. She has been a muse to our design expression. Blend is our ode to the sheer scale, variety and diverse beauty of India—many cultures, many peoples, each distinct, with a soul and personality of their own. This collection incorporates traditional textiles, heritage embroideries, iconic motifs and blends them together to create a brand-new standard of style for the future. We look deep into our own 33-year-old legacy as designers, with fresh eyes and present a collection that exudes finesse and a decidedly contemporary spirit. We are unabashedly in love with craftsmanship and constantly challenge ourselves to reinvent it and our design expression to a new standard. It’s a beautifully eclectic, exuberant collection.
Q. What are the highlights of the collection that you showcased at Blenders Pride Fashion Tour?
A. We have re-explored heritage textiles and block-printing techniques, including Bandhani and Ajrak, and combined them with the most intricate hand-embroideries and accents to create thoroughly contemporary silhouettes, which pay homage to the classical but with a definite twist of the future. Beauty is timeless but must always be revisited with brand new eyes and an ever-original expression.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. We look forward to diversifying into more luxury lifestyle verticals, including makeup, perfumes and home.