It was a bleak and boring world of stripes and checks that Sharbari Datta gate- crashed into in 1991 with her first show of luxurious, ethnic menswear. In a world where the silk tie was perhaps the only fashion statement for urban men, Sharbari -with her coloured dhoti and well cut and embellished men’s kurtas, angarakhas, sherwanis- made a huge fashion statement that changed Indian menswear forever. Older men initially felt inhibited but the younger ones, mindful of the mirror, took to Sharbari with the zeal of a convert. They were followed by the older generation; who were slow to shed conventions. In 1998, she was awarded by Vijay Mallya of the UB Group for significant contribution to Indian clothing design. In 1999, she was awarded with the “Bharat Nirman” for the best person in the field of fashion in Kolkata. An exhibition and fashion show at Sheraton Hotel, Dhaka, Bangladesh saw an overwhelming reaction both from the press and public. Also Read – Add new books to your shelfTwenty five years down the line, Sharbari has dressed celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly, late Jagjit Singh, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, late RD Burman, Vijay Mallya, Sanjeev. Artists like MF Husain, Ganesh Pyne, Manjeet Bawa and Paresh Maity have bought from her and her client list includes some of India’s most powerful women like Mamata Banerjee, Shubha Mudgal, Shobha De, Ila Arun and Aparna Sen. Also Read – Over 2 hours screen time daily will make your kids impulsiveSharbari’s quick popularity indicated that Indians, both men and women, were fond of dressing up. The elaborate styles of a bygone era of leisure and pleasure were coming back with a vengeance in her clothes. Cave and folk art, Egyptian mural, calligraphy of West and East Asia, Pop art and Picasso, miniatures, Hindu Mythology were sources of inspiration for her leading many to describe her garments as ‘artwear’. Then, in 2001, Sharbari ventured into the realm of male accessory design and in a show sponsored by World Gold Council, she showcased her range of exquisite gold jewellery for men, breaking all pre-defined notions about masculinity. Sharbari, the designer for men, never looked back. What was your childhood like?My father, late Ajit Datta, belonged to a zamindar family near Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was an outstanding scholar, a literary person, a well known professor, and above all, a famous poet in the post-Tagorean era. I grew up in a truly intellectual cauldron. I completed my formal education from Presidency College with MA in Philosophy.My childhood and my formal education exposed me to the world of literature, arts, philosophy, music and mysticism. I was attracted to the cultural side of Indian tradition. My love for tradition and aspiration to serve the cause of our pre-existing culture, gave birth to the idea of designing Indian traditional attire for men. Tell us about your first break…My first exhibition was in 1991 at the Conclave Gallery in Kolkata. The exhibition was informal and without any commercial aspiration. The exhibition was successful in the sense that all the pieces were sold out. I got some confidence and did my second exhibition the next year. The press was invited for the same, garnering public recognition for me. You have dressed many a celebrity. Who are your best male clients?My client list would include, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Kapil Dev, Leander Paes, Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly, Jagjit Singh, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, RD Burman, Mamata Banerjee, Shubha Mudgal, Shobha De, Ila Arun, Aparna Sen, Vijay Mallya, Sanjeev Goenka, amongst others. However MF Husain buying from me is a memory I have personally come to cherish over the years along with Ganesh Pyne, Manjeet Bawa, Paresh Maity.Any celebrities who surprised you by visiting your studio?Yes. My jaw dropped when the iconic film director Ismail Merchant dropped by one day to our studio. This was sometime in the 90s. He was visiting Kolkata on the occasion of the annual Kolkata film festival. He sat in the studio, had chai and sandesh. He ordered a kurta and churidar from my collection. I still can’t get over his visit. Another prized guest was Aishwarya Rai’s mother, Brinda Rai. She was visiting Kolkata when her daughter was shooting for Rituparno Ghose’s film, Chokher Bali. I kept asking her who had recommended me but she said that she had read about me. “Don’t underestimate yourself”, she said. I think she bought a few men’s kurtas as gifts. Aishwarya and Abhishek married four years after that visit. Rai ordered clothes for the bridegroom’s family from me. On another occasion I believe, a big steel tycoon from India purchased a kurta pyjama from me for the former US Vice President, Al Gore. Also, someone told me that a stole made by me displaying a motif from the Old Testament was displayed at the Vatican in Rome. A Cardinal who was visiting the St Xavier’s, Kolkata had carried it back to Rome. What challenges did you face while becoming Sharbari the brand?Regarding challenges, I must mention that I really didn’t face any. I was fortunate enough to taste success from the very beginning. I never retailed and sold my menswear privately, from my residence-cum-studio. I never advertised. Have you designed for women? I design women’s clothing on request – but my true and serious collection is always for men. I design exclusively for men, and to my knowledge, remain the only one. What are your other interests? How do you relax?My other interests include cooking, gardening, reading, art and music. I’m a voracious reader, I visit art galleries and I have also grown my own garden. Who are your fashion icons?My fashion icons would include MS Subbalakshmi, Rekha and Hrithik Roshan.Why did you choose to live and work in Kolkata?I was born and brought up in Kolkata. I have never even entertained the thought of moving to another city. I also like London but not as much as I adore Kolkata. Actually we grew up in the heart of South Kolkata and studied in Presidency College which is a distinguished institution of the city. I’m most comfortable in this city and my family has struck roots here. Would you ever ask Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen why they wanted to live in Kolkata?Do you think the city has changed? If so then how much?Yes, it has. But paribartan is inevitable and not a bad thing. You cannot expect the Gariahat crossing to be what it was like 30 years ago. The older generation doesn’t like change but it is best to adjust yourself and take it easy. I can keep day dreaming about the old neighbourhood we grew in or the pipul tree that raised its head in the garden. But the landscape and the skyscape has changed. Kolkata is now a city of highrises and flyovers. Life is lived in the fast lane and we shop no longer in local markets but in malls. My grandchildren think differently and I no longer have the energy of a 25 year old. How has the Trinamool Congress led State Government performed? Mamata Banerjee is serving her second term in office…I used to admire Mamata Banerjee from the beginning, even before she became the Chief Minister of West Bengal. But after she came to power I sometimes harboured doubts about the people surrounding her. But her struggle and effort to do good for Bengal is above question. She has also created a designer’s hub as part of ‘Vishwa Bangla’ and I have been given a stall there. Mamata also buys my kurtas as gifts for state guests who come for the Kolkata International film festival every year. I believe my kurtas have been gifted to stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Irfaan Khan, Prosenjit and Biswajit.Who are the best Indian models? Also, who are your favourite designers?I like Ritu Kumar’s designs and I even bought outfits from her at one point of time. When movie star John Abraham used to walk the ramp, I loved his looks and he has showcased my clothes with great aplomb. Top male models like Milind Soman, Zulfikar Syed and Shayan Munshi have also walked for me. They are all excellent in their work. You do have a factory, don’t you? You don’t retail at all?My daughter-in-law Kanaklata and son Amalin manage finances and look after day to day operations of the business. My factory is small but it is about 25 years old. I design all my clothes. I have never retailed and by God’s grace, my clothes are booked five months in advance. My label is sold in private, it is exclusive and I meet my clients by appointment only. You cannot get a copy of a Sharbari Dutta outfit or buy the same garment twice.