The Sabyasachi x Estée Lauder collection has landed…

Here’s everything you need to know about the cult Indian designer’s first ever make-up collection
The global inspiration: Sabyasachi’s debut collection for Estee Lauder
Dipal Acharya5 March 2024

Sabyasachi Mukherjee is fashion royalty in his native India. Having been in the business for more than two decades – and with an empire that spans couture, ready-to-wear, fine jewellery and the occasional fashion collab – his move into make-up is no less spectacular. We caught up with the designer to quiz him on the inspirations, cultural importance of beauty in India and cult products from the collection.

ES: What were your earliest beauty memories growing up?

SM: I think my earliest memories would start at home with my grandmothers. I grew up in an old French colony town called Chandannagar in Bengal, before moving to Calcutta as a teenager. Echoes from both find a way into my design vocabulary. Be it the colours, crafts or culture. My maternal grandmother a complete maximalist with her red pout and silk brocade Benarasi saris, and my paternal grandmother austere in her crisp white khadi saris and kohl rimmed eyes. And then there were the ladies in my neighbourhood. You cannot miss the genuine exuberance in the way India celebrates its beauty rituals, not as anything special but in the everyday. Be it the kohl that’s smeared across the eyes, oil massaged into hair, bursts of vermillion across foreheads or the red alta or henna that’s applied on hands and feet. Beauty is as tactile as it is cultural. It cuts across economics in India. What I love about beauty rituals is how people embrace their individualism, even as they celebrate their cultural heritage.

Along the way, I’ve always looked up to the women in my life. My grandmothers, Madonna, Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil, Gayatri Spivak, my neighbour in her minis, my friend’s mother with her long silver hair, the working women of Calcutta waiting at the bus stops, elbows out fighting for their space. They taught me independence and strength, and in their sophistication and style, I found my own voice.

ES: You are particularly adept at embracing global collaborations – from H&M to Christian Louboutin. What made this particular project so important?

SM: I met the Estée Lauder team in 2019 and we started working on the collaboration almost instantly. I told them that India is going to become a very important market for beauty. This was before the big explosion of global brand ambassadors from India. We understood the power of India, what it represents and what India could represent to the rest of the world, and we wanted a collaboration that captured the opportunity. For Estée Lauder, it was about tapping into the power of India, for me it was about representing India the right way, both at home and away. The idea was to create something in beauty that would give our customers a sense of pride and to remind them that beautiful things don't have to be transient. I was sure that I would create a range of classics, that are clearly anti-trend and seasonless. Products that are not time-bound, that you can keep using. Hopefully, this is going to be the first step towards bigger forays into beauty, but there's definitely no turning back from here.

ES: What was that process like?

SM: It’s been four years in the making. I'm very proud of being Indian, and completely refute the notion that world-class products cannot come out of India. When I was speaking to Estée Lauder, I was clear with them that when we build a lipstick, we want the best in the world. Estée Lauder were also very clear that they wanted to create something that had an Indian ethos but with a global soul. I think I must have driven everybody up the wall trying to get the right amount of brown or yellow pigment in a red to make that red just right. Even with the fragrance we spent months deciding between rose and cinnamon. But cinnamon was the clear winner, with it being so symbolic of India’s history with spice and being such an unobtrusive smell. Then came the formulations and the packaging and so on. It takes years to build something that can become a classic. It’s been a truly collaborative process and a joy making this collection come alive.

ES: People often forget that there are also practical differences when it comes to products being developed for a diverse audience. How did your cultural heritage influence you?

SM: My brief was simple, cut through frills and trends, and create what is classic. My own brand is based in culture, heritage and in creating products that stand the test of time. I set out to create 10 lip colours that would cover every kind of classic beauty need. I’ve been a colourist for over 20 years now, and the city I live in, the various processes of dying textiles, the selection of gemstones as a jeweller and the women I’m most influenced by have all played a part in making this collection. So, Rekha’s berry pout can be glimpsed in Bombay Berry, Frida Kahlo in Pomelo Rose and the spirit of Calcutta in Calcutta Red. Completely diverse personalities, but 10 definitive colours. With these shades the mission was to attain a certain universality through iconic colours. So you can find and interpret your shade for yourself. For me, it has to be Calcutta Red. I will always be partial to the classic red lip. And red is such a core colour. It truly is the spirit of Calcutta, which is the very DNA of my brand.