Embracing An Indian Aesthetic

by Rohini Wahi

The Indian design scene is looking better than ever — in my opinion, this is because India is finally embracing its own unique position within the industry and creative worth.

There was a time when the Indian design industry — fashion and product — would try to mimic the West, shying away from an Indian aesthetic with the view that West was best. It has been a long time coming, but I am absolutely reveling in the trend of Indian designers celebrating the nuances of their homeland.

This playful feature looks at designers using India-centric narratives in contemporary design and the specific vernacular of their regions; for once, design made in India for Indians. Scarves printed with various amusing neighborhood characters on their morning walks in Calcutta, embroidered cushions detailing the chaotic tapestry of rush hour, and product details that update traditional Indian design like the ubiquitous woven “Muddah” stool. —Rohini

A potent shot of chai or tea, served in small iconic glasses - commonly sold in shacks on the streets of Calcutta and across India - served as inspiration for Calcutta-based designers Syu's and Jit Art Studio's range of illustrated, block printed products, "Cutting Chai."
Another collaboration by Calcutta-based designers Syu's and Jit Art Studio, "Morning Walkers" is a playful take on various characters on their morning walks in Calcutta - the guy from the Laughing Club, a man wearing a monkey cap, an old man dozing off to sleep, and so on. The morning Walkers or Joggers range of products include silk chanderi scarves and sarees.
"Morning Walkers" detail.
Internationally renowned Bengali fashion designer Sabyasachi's exciting new collaboration with wall covering brand Nilaya is inspired by distinct Indian narratives and celebrates five different regions. India Baroque, Spice Route, Jodhpur, Mahkmal and Varanasi are inspired by hand-painted pottery and block prints, crumbling family homes and India's royal reigns.

Read more about the stories here.
The fashion world meets interiors in another image from Bengali fashion designer Sabyasachi's new theatrical collaboration with wall covering brand Nilaya.
The description of The Play Clan's "Yatayat Jam" embroidered cushion cover is too amusing not to include...
"Fasten your seat belts, rev up the engine and hit the roads only to find yourselves immobile for hours. See Unity in Diversity as vehicles, along with people and animals, of all shapes, sizes and forms unite only to diverse in every possible direction.
Speed of cars is challenged by that of cows as both parties try to reach their desired destination by disobeying the ever-absent cops.
Here you might want to agree with us when we say that snail's pace seems faster than the pace of turbo-charged engines.
On our roads, Indian Standard Delay is inevitable.
We wish you and ourselves a happy and safe journey."
The "Chora-Chori" Chai Mug set [roughly translated to guys and girls] by The Play Clan.
Inspired by the street hawkers stands, selling "chaat" (a spicy, savory snack) across the streets of Bombay, the Bhel Puri Stand was initially designed by Australian designer Sian Pascale (living in India at the time) as a series for Abode Boutique Hotel. Made from recycled Burma teak hardwood, with a German matte varnish and powder-coated thali plates, the piece is handmade in India.
This beautiful hand screen printed and quilted hot water bottle cover by Kangan Arora reads "Hot water" on one side in English and "Garam pani" (hot water in Hindi) on the other. Finished with zig-zag, bunting-like piping.
The ubiquitous and humble Indian "Muddah" stool is used in households all over India. No-Mad (a collaboration between Valerie Barkowski and Anju Kothari) reinterprets the traditional stool in striking contemporary colors and with hand-braided cotton cords.
The exquisite Bombay store Good Earth has been celebrating India's rich heritage for years with tasteful housewares that weave folk tales into its collections.

This "Kokand" table linen is a tribute to the rich cultural heritage of the city famous for its splendid palace of Khudáyár Khán. Inspired by the colors and textile traditions from the crossroads of the Silk Route, the table linen features embroidered Suzani‬ inspired Butah motifs. The design story includes tablecloths and napkins in hand-spun linen.
The "Zeenat" collection of tableware from Good Earth is inspired by the Mughals love of gardens, floral patterns, refined crafts and a legacy of luxury. The Zeenat design story is adorned with a sublime floral "Butah" set in a latticed "jaali" arabesque.
A series of fantastical art prints from housewares brand No-Mad, "Nandi," the sacred cow of India has become the muse of the brand and her portrait dominates the collections. Here, she is dressed in No-Mad's "Gunjan" design.
Kitsch lifestyle brand India Circus is a riot of colors and draws from a wealth of playful Indian motifs. I just love this vibrant "Kettle Calling" tote bag which celebrates the humble Indian kettle.
Monsoon umbrella from India Circus.

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  • Thanks for this post! I would love some more writing on what exactly IS the Indian aesthetic/aesthetic philosophy. I’ve lived in India for a year and a half now and I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes Indian art and design what it is. It certainly isn’t monolithic in a place this diverse. But are prints of Indian objects really representative of Indian design? The clean, static lines of some of the products in this post, while appealing, don’t really seem Indian to me. They seem a little like Scandinavian or Japanese representations of typical Indian objects. Much of what I see here in India is, by contrast, riotous and nearly overwhelming with color and movement and sparkle. Of course, I have very limited experience and so I’d love to read the thoughts of more knowledgeable people.

    • Charlotte

      You bring up an interesting and important question here. I agree that it’s impossible to distill any country into one monolithic style. That said, I think Rohini is looking to designs here that embrace aspects everyday Indian culture (produced in India by Indians) with a contemporary flair. (She’s done posts on more traditional Indian design in the past few months, the type you may be referencing here).

      I’ll have her weigh in here, as I’m unqualified to speak on what is or isn’t Indian style.


  • Hi Charlotte, Yes I do understand what you mean by riotous and overwhelming with colour – much of that is what we see and live by on a daily basis – India has always stood for ‘more is more’ which is inherent as a cultural of expression in the most vibrant, almost theatrical way.

    This post highlights just one trend amongst many of the glorious aspects of Indian aesthetics we have been covering here on the site recently. We have one upcoming exploring the luxury market in Indian design too… i think the list could go on with the wealth of different trends out there… I think a post is definitely due on the ‘colour and movement and sparkle’ you mention though! : )

  • Love the prints, style and fusion of Indian iconography and heritage with western design. The evolution of “ethnic” to modern style is what we are witnessing here. Great article!

    • Thanks Shurbra! It is – i love the prints and the iconography too – especially all the references to Chai and tea-drinking – they work so well as repeat patterns.