My journey in Indian craft and design was launched at 100 per cent Design, a trade fair in London in 2006, with a trio of 24-carat gold leaf and pure silver wrapped thrones handcrafted in India. These objects presented an out-of-the-box perspective on Indian handicraft at a time when India was mostly known as a sourcing base for cheap and cheerful objects that were mass produced to cater to trends created by large international companies. Craft was considered pejorative in India too led by foreign trends and imports, making it impertive to reframe the dialogue around the ‘Made in India’ brand internationally with a focus on the originality of its design language and the quality of heritage-based crafts in order to make it attractive to Indians and design lovers all over the world.
Historically, this was not the case around the 18th and 19th century when Indian decorative arts found place of prestige in the finest homes in Europe and palaces in India. Today, these crafts are languishing due to a lack of relevance and patronage, and in order to restore their desirability as collectible objects, one must consider the importance of contemporary design as a tool to integrate traditional Indian crafts with 21st century living.
An elitist market
The collectible design market is an elitist world that caters to the 1 per cent of the international collector base comprising of gallerists, critics, curators and museum heads that are responsible for shaping tastes and influencing ideologies that last well into the future with the power to place objects in the most prestigious private homes and institutions alike. The cultural confidence of presenting Indian forms in an unconventional material palette and production technique mixed with a long-term marketing strategy has facilitated the inclusion of objects with a strong Indian vocabulary such as ‘Bori Sofa’, Matka stone tables or the Bicycle Wallah Thrones into this primary design universe.
Design at its core is democratic and while the collectible design market is highly influential in its prestige, its outreach is limited to the top tier much like the art market due to its high price tag. I launched Ikkis, a functional and more accessible design brand in 2019 at Maison et Objet to tap a larger market with a mix of 21 objects in a vocabulary of Indian names such as ‘lota’ tiffin, ‘chai’ stem glass and ‘matka’ jug, to name a few, marrying them with universal functions of eating, drinking and decorating.
Creating a new vision
In both cases of GG collectibles and Ikkis we adopted a disruptive approach to the business, by placing our main focus on re-engineering existing Indian product vocabularies to create a new vision and distinctive competitive value for an International audience. Being a voice in domain of craft and design Internationally is essential in repositioning craft in India today, and we adopted a non-conventional global business model, one that we knew would be slow performing in the beginning but with the right marketing strategy, could eventually replace long-term incumbents in the home space in India and be taken seriously as a product design brand Internationally.
In its 15th year, GG collectibles have found homes in leading International museums such as the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, the Vitra Deign Museum in Germany and the M Plus Museum in Hongkong proving the success of this strategy.
Four years later, Ikkis is shipping worldwide from India and is also available at select stores across the world with an ever increasing global clientele that is keen to dine and entertain in Ikkis.
Beyond novelty and nostalgia
Delving deeper into the issue of the placement of Indian crafts in the home of the future, there are two aspects of design language namely novelty and nostalgia that need to be framed in order for Indian handcrafted products to sustain themselves into the future. Novelty is generally created through the application of Indian materials and decorative techniques on western forms that create instant appeal but get lost in a plethora of similar forms resulting in a trend. Nostalgia is an instant connection to objects created through the application of patterns that India is recognised for which merely celebrates the past but is lacking in its current context.
At Ikkis, our approach to craft embraces a larger vision for repositioning the ‘made in India’ brand involving a mix of industrial and hand manufacturing techniques through our Unlimited Collection of objects. Additionally, we offer a Limited Edition series of signed objects that are made in collaboration with master craftsman where the craft is celebrated in its pure form with the legacy of the artisan in focus, allowing the customer to buy into heritage craft without compromise.
New focus on the home
To call India a burgeoning market is an understatement. Indians today are shopping at the most expensive stores in the world. Social media and a post-Covid scenario have brought the focus on the home revealing its significance in the creation of identity and status for a new India. To bring Indian crafts into the home, products need to have a global agenda more so than ever, a retelling of the story which rests strongly on the pillars of quality and design.
While designing, one must consider the many demographics that exist within Indian society and reflect on what defines Indian living in the 21st century. In my experience, Indians today are oriented towards the west, albeit with strong cultural roots in need for differentiation that goes beyond wealth and status towards taste and knowledge. My studio called Wrap creates customised interior and furniture design for the real estate segment offering this mixture of ingredients as a benchmark to attract a diverse segment of society enhancing the builder’s and buyer’s vision simultaneously.
Another example of this design process is told through the Ikkis tableware range that is selling a new vision of dining in thalis to a country that has dined in it for centuries through a reimagined format. Customer testimonials include statements of pride on the traditions of Indian dining, rediscovery of Indian cuisines and childhood memories brought back by the lota tiffin. Indians love to show off when they are entertaining, and as a brand we are proudly partaking in that feeling of pride through culture mixed with sophistication.
Gifting for occasions such as weddings is a moment of pride and genuine sentiment in India and for that reason pure silver objects have sustained their status as the obvious choice as they bring purity of material and longevity. The feeling with which Indians gift is to bring something from their home to their loved ones one for it to stay forever. Gifting objects that rely solely on their attractiveness of packaging and momentary wow factor are often regifted or end up in the storeroom. For products to find status in contemporary Indian homes, they need to have designs that are timeless, excel in quality and materiality and integrate into the receiver’s home through a reimagined function. Versatility of function is one of the pillars of Ikkis, each object can be used in multiple ways that puts our customer in the creative seat.
Our latest collection, One by Two which means ‘Ek ka Do’, a reversal of the numbers of 21 is a reimagination of geometric rangoli patterns for the festive table scape. Playing on the idea of abundance, the Lego like playset can create never ending patterns for entertaining. With a fresh vocabulary of forms, we are hopeful that this collection will be globally appealing owing to the proportion of the platters and their potential use that lends itself to almost every international cuisine in the world with colours that are universally appealing.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.