This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content. Additional information may please be sent as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
A brief biography
When I was growing up, like many of those of my generation, Shyam Ahuja was a name spoken of in hushed tones. His annual sale was as important as Diwali because it brought his pastel-hued cushions and carpets within the reach of many more of his fans. His goodies dressed up a home like nothing else did. Shyam Ahuja gave India a new language in quiet sophistication.
Ahuja, a few weeks shy of his 89 th birthday, passed away in his New York home, where he had lived for the past two decades and had spent the last few years ailing. Ahuja is survived by his son Vikram. His daughter-in-law, Meera, wrote a sumptuous coffee table book on the business and its heritage called ‘Dhurrie’. It came to be among the first books on an Indian brand by an Indian.
Often called India’s Ralph Lauren, Ahuja became the first name in home textiles as early as the 1960s. He received an order to source some weaves from Indian weavers and soon enough that became his calling. He was known to visit weavers in the villages of Uttar Pradesh in order to know them better. This made him understand the importance of the dhurrie when India’s wealthy were otherwise preoccupied with Mughal pile carpets. The flat-woven carpet had its roots in prehistoric India, Mughal courts and British India. Ahuja was determined to bring to this floor décor its lost fame. He redesigned them using his global language as a Versailles ceiling, a tartan print, as well as the Indian mango, or the paisley.
The entrepreneur turned the Indian dhurrie into a luxury must-have Though Ahuja had several stores in India, at one time even 10, he was the first Indian label to go international. New York’s Midtown Manhattan has a massive store with his name on it, as do London and Paris Saint Germain. He sold in every continent, right from the USA to Australia. He was even responsible for training and launching the careers of several well-known home furnishings labels — Sarita Handa, Sunita Namjoshi, and his nephew Ranjit Ahuja — they were all his proteges.
Launched in the early 1960s, at the same time as Fabindia and Anokhi were born, Ahuja wanted to give India a modern, luxurious and sophisticated design language. He had come to be India’s first luxury label, long before Indian fashion or décor companies began to take shape. He introduced stripes and checks, along with a muted colour palette, to an India that swung from royalty-obsessed maximalism to a cheap and cheerful aesthetic.
“He was the first Indian brand to work with foreign interior designers too,” a grieving Ranjit says from his Mumbai studio. He describes his uncle as charming, thoughtful and someone with the most refined eye. “He was responsible for my formative years. I started being a salesman at his New York store. He was a big influence in shaping my early years in furnishings and textiles,” he adds.
Trustee at The Registry of Sarees, Ally Mathan, is a long-standing admirer. “He had a store in Bangalore in the 1980s when there were no stores in Bangalore. We had to travel to shop,” she smiles. “My entire home has been furnished from his stores. He was the first to use denim as upholstery, and he pioneered in using ikat in home furnishings. His colour palate is unparalleled,” she says.
In 2018, curator and writer Mayank Mansingh Kaul showed Ahuja’s work alongside the tapestries of Nelly Sethna and Le Corbusier in an exhibition he curated for Jaipur’s Jawahar Kala Kendra. “He was probably among the first brands to go global on his own terms, in an environment where the country was known mainly for producing international brands,” Kaul says. “Given that even today India only has a handful of such labels in the home segment says a lot about the courageous and pioneering spirit of Mr Ahuja.”
But Shyam Ahuja and his luxury label remain a thing of the past today. Many of the Instagram generation have barely heard of him. Internet searches will throw up few interviews or news. Ranjit acknowledges this when he says, “In today’s digital age, he wasn’t in tune with fast fashion and fast home. But he was very much in tune with craftsmanship and quality, that was part of his DNA.” His was the first Indian label to go global