Interview: Fashion Designer Sonam Dubal on How Buddhism Is Reflected in His Work
Designer Sonam Dubal's unique signature style is known for fusing Eastern tradition with a modern aesthetic, redefining oriental cuts into chic, contemporary silhouettes that combine modern influences with traditional creativity. In an interview with Asia Society, Dubal discusses how his personal heritage shaped the design philosophy that he is now known for.
Your designs use up-cycled elements and materials. Why do you think it is important to be environmentally-conscious as a designer?
As a designer, it is important to be aware of our environment today. The poisoning of our rivers and oceans and slow degradation of our environment cannot be wished away. Our relationship with nature has come full circle. The plastic, waste, and conspicuous consumption have brought us to this stage where we must learn once again to respect the bounties of nature — like my Buddhist Indian heritage has taught me — and understand its balance in life. Creatively, it is challenging to be conscious and to work with sustainable fabrics and indigenous textiles. As a language, it is a form of expression and so paves the way for design to be understood culturally.
My journey with design is closely linked to this pattern of up-cycling fabric, reusing and mixing it with modern design, weaving and blending textiles from different parts of India. Kantha, from the state of Bengal, is one of the most beautiful textiles in this tradition. Old saris are hand quilted together and make magical designs that create the earthy color tones and geometric forms. Thus, in its very origin, it carries with it the theme of regeneration.
How has your Sikkimese and Marathi heritage influenced you as a designer and the aesthetic of your pieces?
Having been brought up in a multicultural environment I learned to respect and understand the values of both my Buddhist and Marathi heritage. In my journey seeking a language of design, I delved into this cultural melting pot which was complex in so many ways yet simple in others and found an amalgamation through my work and aesthetic which has been the foundation of my line, Sanskar.
Working and reworking with traditional textiles from various parts of India, evolving shapes that have an Asian sensibility reflecting the oneness of the world and yet have a unique identity of their own has been one my greatest challenges through the years. Finally, the aesthetic is about creating an interesting balance within an environment of heritage using colors, print, embroidery, and style.
How would you describe your personal sense of style?
My personal sense of style has been about keeping it simple with a single dash of color or print against black. Style to me is innate and doesn’t have to be loud — it can be subtle like the linings of my jackets that are always in print or an interesting blend. As a textile lover, I’m always drawn to interesting scarves and stoles that I often accessorize with my Nehru jackets.
Design is one space that Asians and Asian-Americans are very successful. Who are some of your design role models that are Asian?
Asian American designers are slowly paving the way forward with the changes in the world. I love the womenswear lines of Prabal Gurung and Bibhu Mohapatra. Through the years I have also followed the world of Japanese designers Yohoji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Kenzo Takada.