The year was 1991. Menswear brand Sharbari Studio was fast becoming the only Indian fashion brand that worked solely for men. With hand-embroidery over hand-sketched motifs that drew inspiration from ethnic India, Sharbari Datta’s studio became the hobnob of the rich and famous. From Ismail Merchant to Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Shoaib Akhtar, Sourav Ganguly, Leander Paes to Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and many others have to dressed up in her designs. She is also credited for introducing the coloured dhoti while breaking away from the traditional beige or white variants.
Thirty years later, her son, Amalin Datta, and daughter-in-law, Kanaklata Datta, have taken over the operations of the brand. After Sharbari’s passing away in 2020, the duo has added a contemporary feel to the brand to make it more appealing to GenY customers. What started as a collection of 100 pieces of kurtas, angrakahas, jackets and coloured dhotis is now a formidable force in the fashion industry.
“We specialise in jackets and angarkhas for men and long gowns for women. We have experimented majorly with several colours and created a whole new range of shades by using the discharge technique. These fragmented colours have created a whole new look,” said Amalin.
Sharbari Studio has styled men in Bollywood and the rest of the glamour world long before men’s fashion was even considered fashionable to talk about. From dressing up all the men at the high duty Abhishek-Aishwarya [Rai Bachchan] wedding to designing for Al Gore to dressing up the 11 cricket commentators in Champions League Twenty20, the brand has been there and done that.
For someone who has always handled design and production at Sharbari Studio, aided amply by his wife Kanaklata, repeating magic on the ramp year after year is no mean feat. “From deciding cuts and styles to updating the brand to meet modern demands whenever necessary, I have always worked closely with my mother. We are now a 30-year-old brand and I want to carry on experimenting with the creations to make the brand more and more contemporary, and reach more people. But then I don’t want to give up on the timelessness of the brand either... like we are never going for fads. We use new technology to cater to new generation’s demands,” he pointed out.
However, things have changed with time. “It is very important to feel the pulse of the new generation. I feel that with every generation the looks are changing. We used to do achkans that were knee-length, but today we are doing achkans that are waist-length. Then we are exploring new colour zones for menswear. I want to carry on with these experimentations. I want to do three-dimensional sherwanis with projection, then maybe illuminated sherwanis... these experiments I have to keep on doing,” she said.
Amalin has been a natural when it came to designing for men. “Our home was often frequented with creative people from different walks of life. I have never had any formal training but have always gone with my gut feeling. I have always taken inspiration from Indian history as a culture. We have been a bespoke brand for the last 30 years and that’s how we want to keep it. We have operated out of our home studio in Kolkata and people have enjoyed this informal shopping experience. Our work is not mass, these are studio pieces, so we don’t want to expand with stores all over the country and dilute our products. Maybe we produce less, but the products are made with passion. But none of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of my wife. She is the pillar of strength both for me and for the brand,” he added.