THE spanking new Raw Mango store at Reay House on Best Marg, Colaba, is a far cry from the label’s founder Sanjay Garg’s first studio in his apartment in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, back when he launched the brand in 2008. The Mumbai outpost is 2,500 sq ft of spartan luxury housed in a heritage structure, conceptualised by Garg, architect Ashiesh Shah and design maven Isla Maria ‘Loulou’ van Damme.
Awash with natural light and peppered with white terracotta horses, wooden sculptures and burnished brass counters, the store speaks of sophisticated minimalism. However, what both work spaces have in common are the almirahs, which discreetly house Garg’s vibrant handwoven textiles. “I had no clue about space and design back then. But I used to keep the textiles safely wrapped up in mulmul, piled up inside an almirah even then. Perhaps, that was the birth of an idea of a store,” he says.
Garg, who has been called a textile artist, fashion designer and sari revivalist, says, “Luxury is about experience. Design is not necessarily only about a neela lehenga, brocade blouse or tota motif. It’s a way of life. I didn’t want to make a shop, I wanted to redefine customer interaction.”
It’s the morning after the formal launch of the Colaba outpost and he is naturally stoked about opening his first store in Mumbai where he launched Raw Mango at Jaya Jaitly’s Dastkari Haat Samiti exhibition at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in 2008. That Jaitly was present at the opening last week, alongside the likes of Deepti Naval, Sonam Kapoor, Kiran Rao, Konkona Sen Sharma, Mini Mathur, Suket Dhir, artist Sudarshan Shetty, and a retinue of well-wishers from the fields of Bollywood, fashion, art and design, is testament to his eight-year-old brand’s growing popularity and regard.
Raw Mango may have started off as a handwoven textiles brand, which sought to modernise the Chanderi sari with vibrant colours and contemporary motifs like cows, peacocks, parrots and tigers, but it soon turned into the precursor of a movement that brought the handloom sari out of retirement and on to the red carpet. And now, with the launch of his eponymous occasion wear line, Sanjay Garg Signature, in 2014, the 36-year-old from Mubarakpur, Uttar Pradesh, has come a long way.
But what hasn’t changed is his brand ethos. He describes it as: “Very Indian, yet global and very today”. “I’m always thinking about how I can take tradition forward through design intervention, so that tradition becomes today and not yesterday. This is my philosophy, no matter what I do tomorrow — textiles, art, decor or objects,” he says. But while tradition remains a constant cornerstone, there’s no trepidation about tweaking it. His textile interventions have spanned Chanderi, Varanasi brocades, Mashru, Akola block printing and Bengali jamdanis. “We may explore embroideries too some day. After all, it is also done by artisans,” he adds.
For someone who denounced fashion weeks, didn’t hire a public relations agency and wasn’t overtly interested in celebrities sporting his wares, he’s now doing all three. While he insists the Bollywood connection has evolved organically — “Shabanaji (Azmi), Deeptiji (Naval), Dia (Mirza) and other Bollywood stars buy our clothes and wear them” — he does admit that the media representation and fashion week route became necessary because the brand is growing at a rapid pace. After all, as he says, “Traditions are always evolving”.