Designer Rachna Joshi Nair brings art to the home through a marriage of artisanal skills and creative vision.
Preserving the past with a visionary look to the future, home accessories designer Rachna Joshi Nair explains her unique, contemporary twist on India’s revered tradition of artisanal skills.
Following India’s ascent as a burgeoning luxury mecca, Bollywood fever has taken the West by storm, initiating an exciting exchange between cultures. The move of European luxury houses into the East heralds a new aesthetic approach, marking a move away from the traditional riot of color and “all that glitters” mindset, to a more discreet sensibility. Few understand this cultural osmosis better than Rachna Joshi Nair. Trained in textiles at Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University, Joshi Nair moved to Paris to complete an MBA in luxury brand management, where she also got her professional grounding in luxury while working for Louis Vuitton. In 2006, she founded her own label, Simbl, aimed at the high-end home accessories market. Blending the highest Indian craftsmanship with a European creative approach, using the finest quality materials sourced from both regions, the collection is a successful symbiosis and exemplifies the best of both worlds. Texture takes center stage, as fine silk is rolled into tactile knots, and the profuse layers of leaves and origami-style pleating couldn’t be further away from the heavy embroidery of India’s celebrated style.
Further reinforcing the artistry of the collection, Joshi Nair recently teamed up with the celebrated photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta, creating an arresting collection of images that takes the imagery supporting her work to the level of fine art. Rachna Joshi Nair discusses the evolution of the brand and her creative trajectory.
Rachna Joshi Nair’s definition of luxury:
Enjoying the moment. The enjoyment of the present is incredibly difficult to achieve, it cannot be bought but it can be learned.
If luxury were …
A deep breath and an idea.
A place of total freedom: freedom of mind, spirit, time, everything…
Something that is consciously created and crafted with love and beauty.
Someone original, creative and capable of constantly surprising me. Someone who makes me want to surpass myself.
Where did your interest in traditional handcrafts originate?
I think that growing up in India you see stuff around you and unquestionably absorb it, but I also trained in textiles too, so that’s where I consciously became aware of it.
Most of my work draws not on the capacity of the existing skill in crafts; my techniques have mostly been invented by me, they are not really traditional crafts at all.
How do you work with the craftsmen who create your collection?
It’s an exchange. There are things that I have in mind, and then we talk together and we try things out together. It’s a case of finding people on the same wavelength, because you can have a craftsman who just mechanically carries out his craft and then you have people who love their craft, who think about it and have the curiosity to go further.
What inspires your work at the moment?
A lot of it is inspired by organic and natural shapes, but at the same time it’s also very graphic, it’s kind of like nature finding its own way through a very geometric organization. When we look at nature, we’re always trying to change it, to structure things, but creation is chaotic, it’s going to break out, to do unexpected things, break down boundaries, so that’s pretty much a unifying theme. For example, if you look at artists like Rothko, there’s so much movement and color, it looks like something’s trying to burst beyond the boundaries and blur the edges. Does Rothko inspire me? Absolutely. Also people like Rachel Whiteread who, again, works on the idea of spaces and the memory of spaces.
Your work is very experimental, taking natural textiles, such as silk and cotton, and pushing the boundaries of both the material and traditional craft techniques. What have been your most exciting discoveries?
I think the most interesting for me, and the one with the most potential also, is the knotting because there are infinite variations and things you can do with it. Every time you interact with somebody the technical art initially develops. What’s unique is that it isn’t very different, but it behaves differently in the long term. I worked with the craftsmen to create a whole series of it and they made their own variations because it was easier for them to manipulate, so we made smaller variations, experimented with different shapes, different sizes, even a simple thing like changing the size of a cord. It’s really the material that dictates the technique and the technique makes you decide which material to use, it’s very interactive.
I am currently experimenting with high-tech fabrics. It’s very much in the experimental stage right now, but it’s more to do with the lighting aspect. These are fabrics that react differently to light when the lamp is lit. It’s more resistant to light, but that’s not really the driving force because for me, even if I use a natural silk, it is very light sensitive, so the colors will fade and change and for me that’s really beautiful because it’s an object that evolves with time, you see the traces that the light has left on the fabric.
I’m also experimenting with a couple of new fibers, working with weavers in Kashmir who used to work on shatoosh. Since it is now banned, they have such a high level of skill working with such fine yarns, that we are working with a new fiber to get a feeling that is close to shatoosh. It’s a fiber that was developed by a New Zealand based company, which is the only one that has the technique to develop the natural fiber. It’s really rare, so we are working with them to weave this fiber in Kashmir.
The images for your latest collection have a very artistic feel, could you explain the idea behind the campaign?
It was shot by a well-known photographer who’s a good friend of mine, called Prabuddha Dasgupta. He lives in India but he travels fairly extensively. He saw my work in Paris and we decided to do a mini-series. He asked me what I wanted to do with it, how I wanted him to shoot it. I told him “Whatever it says to you, just go ahead.” I wanted it to be more conceptual, not object oriented and he just went ahead and did it, and it was fantastic. We spoke about how I work and what I like to do, but there was no brief given. It was amazing that he managed to catch in pictures the mood and the images that I had in my mind when I think of an object, that’s exactly what he caught.
Would you like to collaborate with another artist?
Absolutely, but not at the moment. I think that Prabuddha has managed to capture something, and I would like to continue something with him, in fact. I know that he also feels that he hasn’t quite finished it yet. It’s still a work in progress. When I have more objects ready, when the more experimental phase of my work is a little more advanced, and maybe in a different setting. He lives in Goa and he was telling me that the light is absolutely right for my objects, so maybe that should be the next step.
Your work advocates slow design, which has become increasingly popular, do you see this as a change of spirit?
Yes and no. There are designers who have always been working like that, people who appreciate a certain skill. The minute you say that things take longer to make, or last longer, it’s going to be more sustainable. For the last couple of years we’ve been hearing a lot about renewable energy, sustainable development and being eco-friendly. I know that there are people who are very serious about it, who’ve been doing it for years, before it became the hot thing to do, and I kind of have a problem with it being the “hot thing”. In a way, it’s very good because people focus on it but at the same time I think a lot of people piggyback off the trend and when the trend’s over, they move onto something else. I think for people who are serious are about it, they didn’t start yesterday, and they are not going to stop tomorrow. I think there is a lot of mindless consumption, so a trend against mindless consumption is definitely good. I hope it will last a bit longer.
Among your clients, have you seen a change in consumer buying with regard to the current economic climate?
For my clients, I think it’s actually going in the right direction, because before this whole thing became center stage, it was already a part of how I like to work and how I think. When clients buy one of my objects, they won’t use it today and chuck it out tomorrow, it’s something that grows with you and lives with you, so it was already part of it, so I don’t see a huge change, just a lot more people going that way, which is good.