Designers Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla’s studio could well be a world unto itself. But you’d never the guess the luxuries it beholds as you enter a nondescript building in an industrial estate in the interiors of Andheri. You wouldn’t even imagine this as you stand outside their offices, two spaces facing each other across the corridor on the first floor – on the left are their personal chambers, on the right, their ‘salon’, where they meet clients. Enter either, and you’re smitten. In the world they inhibit, restraint is invisible and opulence becomes an art. The walls are draped with art and life-size paintings, curtains in beige mulmul reach up the ceiling in muted synchrony, and, of course, precious artefacts find pride of place – framed pictures of a bygone era, an ornate brass chair, beautiful coffee table books, and their beautiful, creations.
That is why Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla came to be Lifestyle Asia’s Luxury Makers this year. Luxury to them is a way of life, and their motto is to see design as an amalgamation of excellence and experience. In their world, more will always be more.
The AJSK Life
Everything about AJSK is bigger, better and braver. A career spanning three decades is marked with milestones, but just in the last month, Beyonce just sported their outfit at the Ambani wedding performance, they dressed Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh at their reception in Mumbai, and nearly all of Priyanka Chopra’s wedding ensembles were designed by them. The entire wedding planning and decor of the Chopra -Jonas wedding that went viral on Instagram too belonged to them. Not to mention the countless celebrities who attended these weddings in AJSK creations. Just the tip of the iceberg.
On a rather uneventful Wednesday, they sit down with us for a chat in the ornate living room of their studio. “We met in August 1986 and decided to join forces instantly. It was impulse and gut instinct. We were both committed to creating couture which set standards of creative and technical excellence. Sans shortcuts or compromise,” says Abu Jani nonchalantly. “Our first label and store was Mata Hari in Juhu. The debut collection featured on the Bombay magazine cover and in a spread before we even opened. It’s been an incredible journey,” Sandeep Khosla explains. “Blood, sweat and tears and an incredible junoon or madness to constantly raise the bar of our own creativity – that kept us going,” adds Jani, on how they stayed together and kept things on an even keel all these years.
Ask them about the 32 years, and they are immensely satisfied with the choices they made. “We are privileged to have had our work speak for itself. And to have found a space in the wardrobes and hearts of the most discerning clientele across the globe,” says Khosla. The label was credited for introducing weaves like tanchoi and jamavar into modern-day dressing; recreating and reinventing zardozi; and turning the laid-back chikankari into something glamorous. And they went beyond fashion. The duo has worked with furniture and interior design, and have completed 25 residential projects thus far. Plus, there’s the tag of design consultants for the award-winning Terminal 2 at Mumbai airport.
More than just a label
The last three years, in particular, have been eventful. They’ve added newer labels to their showcase – Diffusion Asal by Abu Sandeep, KHOSLA JANI, an international westernwear brand, and GULABO by Abu Sandeep, for resort and pret-a-porter. There is also a new jewellery line, AJSK for Saboo. But their newest baby is wedding designing. “Bridal is an integral component of couture in India. Weddings are fabulous week-long celebrations. That calls for a lot of dressing up and custom orders. In the last few years ‘Wedding Design’ has become a core competency with us here too. We design select weddings for a select clientele who wants a distinctly Abu-Sandeep touch to the occasion,” explains Khosla, who truly believes that it’s the next path for the brand to take.
But weddings are not an easy task. But AJSK have always been about the finer details and that’s where they score. “We work on every aspect of design – it’s the tiniest details that count. We create magical fairy tales because a wonderland is what a wedding must be. Every event, every client deserves our finest. And an out-of-the-box, fabulously original design expression is what we deliver,” they say in unison. But balancing couture and weddings is like walking a tightrope and as Abu says, nothing fabulous comes easy.
Looking back, it’s the good faith and their attention-to-detail that made sure the label stayed true to its roots. Their bridal couture, in particular is about catering to a woman who is her own. “The 21st century bride isn’t a homogeneous gender but an individual who designs her own wedding dream, which, like her wedding ensembles, must be made to measure and bring that dream to reality. Tradition and modernity are in perfect union in her balance,” says Khosla. But ask them about the future of weddings and they laugh at predictability. “We would love to see weddings that are intimate, romantic and seriously stylish. That’s all that matters,” they say.
The magic of AJSK is their vigour for life and their passion for design. The medium can be anything, it’s the experience that really counts. And this affection for opulence is seen throughout their work.
Staying true to themselves
How does one stay relevant these days? With social media on fast-track and everyone getting their 15-minutes of fame, can there be creativity that lasts forever? The answer is simple for Jani: “For any artist to grow they must be turned on by what they do. Creative souls are never satisfied. They need constant inspiration and relentless honing of their expression, that’s how we want to do things,” he adds.
Maybe that is the reason that the duo marched to their own beat when they stepped in as costume designers for a few Bollywood films. Is there nothing they didn’t touch? “We did the costume design for ‘Devdas’ and returned to celluloid with ‘Veere di Wedding’.There was a huge gap between the two projects, but we believe in timing. Sonam and Rhea Kapoor have implicit faith in our work and we in them. It was a no-brainer to work with a team we respect and have a creative rapport with. Maybe there will be more movie projects when we find one that appeals to our creative hearts,” adds Khosla, not ruling out the fact that their work with Bollywood is unfinished.
The label has, of course, had its own challenges, plagiarism being the biggest one. “Fly-by-night operators in Chandni Chowk are one thing, but when it’s so-called fashion designers ripping you off, it is hideous and criminal. We as an industry, you as media and clientele need to ensure that we don’t celebrate mediocrity and copycats,” they say.
AJSK have withstood it all. “It’s been an incredible adventure and we are as passionate and as ambitious today as we were as young men. Dreaming even bigger for ourselves and those we design for,” laughs Jani. “And those three decades of work is nothing compared to what their future plans for the label are. As Khosla chimes in,“Dreams do come true. If you are willing to give it all you have.”
Director & Producer: Nanki Jassal
Assistant to Director: Yohan Samuel Pissurlenker
Director of Photography & Editor: Raoul Tandon
Camera: Omkar Potdar and Vaishnav Trivedi
Hair & Makeup: Avan Sethna