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Sabyasachi on making Mickey Mouse a maharaja for the Disney Create 100 celebrations

The nostalgia Mickey Mouse evokes is unfathomable, so when India’s most revered designer puts a turban and jewels on him, the result is captivating. In an exclusive conversation with Lifestyle Asia India, Sabyasachi Mukherjee talks about the making of his art piece that pays tribute to the iconic and beloved Mickey Mouse. Designed as a part of Create 100, a platform dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Disney and its creative storytelling. With all proceeds going to Make-A-Wish Foundation, Sabyasachi and 100 of such unique collaborative artworks are created to capture the happiness that Mickey and friends brought to our lives. 

Sabyasachi Mukherjee isn’t shy when it comes to collaborations with names like H&M, Pottery Barn, Starbucks etc becoming a valuable addition to his own. Yet this venture with Disney stands out simply for its ability to evoke nostalgia and create philanthropic value. Talking about the inspiration behind his artwork, he shares, “My creation, known as ‘Namaste Mickey’, draws inspiration from India’s rich tapestry of traditional and miniature paintings. Crafted by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation, it begins with a digital print on handmade canvas, then adorned with the age-old, intricate embroidery techniques of India. This has resulted in a contemporary collector’s piece.”

‘Namaste Mickey’ is a playful representation embracing Mukherjee’s irony and wit. The iconic Taj Mahal, the Bengal tiger and the gilded Mickey as maharaja might represent a Euro-centric view of India but they are equally integral elements of Sabyasachi’s design philosophy. For him it is a celebration of the virtuosity of Indian craft, a melange of East and West, and mostly steady dedication to uplifting the Indian artisans along the way.

LSA Exclusive: Sabyasachi Mukherjee on his artwork for Disney 100

What is your earliest or most significant memory of Disney?

My earliest memory of Disney goes back to my childhood. I remember watching Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on television. It was the 70s, no Internet and a lot less screen time, there was one channel on television and that was our main source of entertainment. Those animated characters brought immense joy and fascination to my early years.

Growing up, what was your favourite Disney character?

My favourite Disney character was undoubtedly Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse is iconic and represents a sense of fun, adventure, and a timeless charm that resonated with me growing up, and continues to do so.

What, according to you, is the impact of art and fashion on each other?

As a designer, how do you integrate art into your work? – Art and fashion have always been bound together. There’s art in design, it’s why I started the Sabyasachi Art Foundation. To give underprivileged artists a safe space to not just practice their art, but to be able to make a living from art. Because I do believe that art should be nurtured by design and design houses. I am deeply inspired by art and artists, be it Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher Gil or Mughal miniatures and Persian Qajars. For me, art and craft is where the real joy of design lies.

Tell us about the inception of the Sabyasachi Art Foundation and its role in creating the ‘Namaste Mickey’ artwork.

My mother was a painter, but she gave it up to teach and take care of my sister and me. When the brand I made found its feet and started doing well, I knew I had to do something for fine artists. The Sabyasachi Art Foundation was created to offer underprivileged artists from Bengal a livelihood, mentorship and a studio space to practise their art. And over the years they have become an integral part of the brand. Their art is displayed across all Sabyasachi stores in and outside of India. They’ve created what are now signature prints of Sabyasachi inspired by Company Paintings and Mughal botanicals. And they’ve been commissioned to create art for so many of our collaborations, from Disney to Christian Louboutin, H&M, Starbucks, Pottery Barn and so on.

What are the key Indian handicrafts, techniques or embroideries that you wish to highlight with the ‘Namaste Mickey’ artwork.

Namaste Mickey is a truly collaborative piece that has elements of the various crafts practised in our various ateliers. It’s hand painted in Tempera by the artists from the Sabyasachi Art Foundation. It was then digitally rendered onto fabric and our master embroiderers have used various house embroidery techniques. And the mixed media details include metal and inlay work that has been created by our jewellery artisans.

What is the role of design (art+fashion) collaborations in today’s climate?

I always say for culture to be relevant it needs to be dynamic and creative collaborations infuse a new energy. It brings together like minded brands or people, but challenges them to think differently. That’s the beauty of any cultural exchange, it breaks down barriers and opens new ideas and possibilities.

What, according to you, is the importance of taking Indian crafts to the global audience? And how the label Sabyasachi continues to do so.

My mission is to take the best of India to the world, and bring the best of India back to India. A lot of Indian craft has become diluted, I work towards preserving the finest of Indian crafts and creating heirloom quality products. Be it our embroideries, handwoven textiles with our clothing, or the incredible goldsmithing and jewellery crafts in our jewellery, and the artisanal leather craftsmanship in our handbags and belts. All of this has led to the reverse migration of many craftspeople back to Bengal and to our ateliers in Calcutta. And we also work with a network of master craftspeople across various clusters all over the country. I strongly believe that the future of Indian crafts lies in luxury, and I work to bring that quality and artistry back.

An artwork that moved you?

Artists and their body of work inspire me. Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher Gil will always remain my greatest inspirations.

What does luxury mean to you?

Quality, heritage, usability and timelessness—luxury needs to be felt, experienced and enjoyed. I’ve always been a believer of slow luxury, where the artisanal and superlative come together.

All Images: Courtesy Sabyasachi Mukherjee x Disney 100. 

Sabyasachi on making Mickey Mouse a maharaja for the Disney Create 100 celebrations

Akshita Nahar Jain

Sr Associate Editor

Akshita Nahar Jain has worked with various publications, including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Bride, and Time Out Delhi, and written extensively on fashion and lifestyle. A sucker for alliteration and stylish sitcoms, she enjoys scrolling the web for less travelled destinations.

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