Making heads turn! Ace jewelry designer Mrinalini Chandra

Following your heart in a world of conformities is inarguably an audacious act. That is exactly what Mrinalini Chandra is doing and making it large! Her debut collection called PLEASE HAVE A SEAT showcased in Lakme Fashion Week 2014 took the fashion fraternity by storm. It was a hit and marks a humongous breakthrough in her journey. 

With an urge to take handcrafted finesse to a new high, inspired by the the rich culture & poetic verses of India, trained in Fashion Luxury at the Creative Academy, Milan & NIFT, New Delhi, Mrinalini Chandra worked at Tanishq (New Delhi) and Montblanc (Germany) before launching her own label in India. She was also listed as one of Asia’s top jewelry designers by WGSN – the global trendspotting agency.

In 2017, Mrinalini collaborated with global iconic brand Candy Crush to launch an exclusive range of jewelry for women and men.

We are going to talk about all of this and more with her, a warm welcome to Mrinalini Chandra!

If you would like to listen to the interview instead of reading, scroll to the bottom and hit play!

ILP: You’ve been very busy with the Shaadi of the year – how did it feel like designing jewelry for your favorite muse Sonam Kapoor?

MC: It’s always an incredible experience to make anything for Sonam. She is the warmest person to work with and everything you make for her, she brings it to life. It is nice to see someone do justice to creativity. It was really nice to make the Kaleeras for her. She was the most resplendent bride ever; so real and traditional. In a world, where everyone is trying to be too modern and different, she stuck to the most traditional way of dressing as an Indian bride and she did all her ceremonies as they were meant to be in her Punjabi culture which was the part that I loved most about the wedding. It wasn’t about breaking any norms but doing something that she really believed in and doing it with utmost honesty. Kudos to her. 

ILP: Bollywood plays by a different set of rules. How does a girl from Lucknow with no “godfather” get a foothold in the industry?

MC: That’s a very tough question to answer. I feel that I am still figuring things out in my journey and when I look back, I feel I have come a long way. I have never aimed to be in this part of the industry. I have always thought of creating a better product every time I work on a project. From the very first product that I designed to the Candy Crush project, it was always about creating something better than the last time. So, for me, this has been a very exciting journey and I am lucky to have people in the industry, who see the beauty in it and have supported me as well. Of course, the journey has its ups and downs, but it sure has been a rollercoaster ride. I am blessed with a great support system: my family, my team and my incredibly gifted karigars. The high is that if you can create the visions you have in your mind with people who have not seen it but are willing to give the chance, I think that is the most satisfying feeling of being in this field. There is no substitute to hardwork. 

ILP: What does the brand Mrinalini Chandra stand for?

MC: I would like the brand to evolve into something stronger but I also want it to retain the qualities it has always had. The brand is all about evoking a sense of wonder. Every time I create something, I want people to be a little surprised by it. I want the brand to evolve into something classic – like a Dior or Chanel which becomes a part of your trousseau. If you buy earrings from me, even though they are not precious jewelry, but it is precious enough for you to relate to it, tell your story, keep your secret and pass it on to your next generation.

ILP: Since ILP is primarily about licensing, tell us about how artists, like yourself, view collaborations with global brands to reach different segments of the market or reach a completely new audience?

MC: I think it is a great way of giving an opportunity to new and upcoming talent. It helps you generate a visibility which is otherwise beyond your reach. I feel that is what luxury is all about. Someone sitting in Antwerp can place an order of something made with filigree. The best thing about collaborations is that brands from different horizons feel that there is compatibility and the result is always exciting. It brings together two cultures and people are up for newness.

ILP: Tell us about your experience partnering with global sensation Candy Crush. Jiggy George, Head, LIMA India & Founder & CEO – Dream Theatre called you one of the “most talented yet down to earth designers to work with”. What was your experience like?

MC: It was most exciting and fun experience working with on a collaboration with Candy Crush. It was not just about the collaboration but about the whole team and how it came together with everyone contributing to it in terms of not just putting in ideas but also putting their heart and spirit in it. That made it really very special to me. Since this collaboration has happened at an initial phase of my career, it has definitely been a milestone for me. I am very thankful for the faith that Mr. Jiggy George had put in me when I first met him and for him to think that this is worth investing in a young label like ours. My work is very craft oriented so for someone to see this possibility was truly visionary. I also think that the product that we made and the kind of responses that we have had, made a huge difference in the way that our label is now seen. 

 

ILP: Any particular collaboration on the global stage that piqued your curiosity?

MC: There have been a lot of collaborations that have caught my eye in the past. I like that major international sensations of brands collaborate with artists. I find this very fascinating. Of course, a lot of brands collaborate with models and singers but not much with artists as they have very strong opinions of certain things and brands have very strong ideologies which results in a bit of a clash. However, I like that because eventually both compromise and that, for me, is a collaboration in its true sense. I really like Louis Vuitton, which is a brand known to have very commercial products, collaborating with Jeff Koons which is a very different brand altogether.

Among Indian brands, the Manish Arora collaboration with MAC was really exciting. MAC is a brand known for its classic colors and not known for its fun and spunky nature whereas Manish is known for his out-of-box thinking. I loved the packaging in this collaboration.

ILP: We interviewed art aficionado Jasmine Shah Verma sometime back and she talked about her passion for taking art out of the galleries and to the masses via everyday objects like cutlery, lampshades etc. Do you think branded jewelry also holds the same potential?

MC: I think it definitely does. Also, because branded jewelery is wearable, and the potential of wearing it, the usage is much more. In fact the Hindu called my jewelry a “wearable installation” – which I really relate to. I like it more than being called a haute couture designer because of the high utility factor. I have clients who are known for their quirkiness. Its like they say it takes one to know one.

ILP: Tell us a little bit more about your product mix and distribution platforms.

MC: I started with basically every-day jewellery category moving towards the customized wedding range with not just the massive Kaleeras and but also wedding gift products. Customization is really becoming a hallmark for me because people want something different and I am more than happy to create it for them.

ILP: Do you face the problem of piracy of your designs?

MC: Yes, I do. India has very poor laws with copyright infringement. Labels, both established and younger ones, go this route and it breaks your heart. You do not know if you should take this as a compliment because you have put your heart and soul in creating something new. I feel with some new social media pages coming up, it is easier to shout out and point out piracy and it has noticed that people are in support of anti-piracy. That is very helpful and encouraging to us. I believe the consumer is not so unaware anymore, is more educated and smarter and because of social media exposure their knowledge is better. You cannot fool anyone so easily anymore.

ILP: Although the overall consumption of gold dipped last year vs the average over the past decade, India is still the 2nd highest consumer of gold behind China according to the World Gold Council. Are you looking at other precious or semi-precious metals to de-risk?

MC: Since I have started working, we have most commonly dealt with 24-karat, 22-karat and diamonds in 18-karat. Now what we see is, something very typical to Dubai, an offering from a 9-karat to a 14-karat which is becoming very prominent in India. In fact, I am myself working on a line like that. Silver jewelry has always been there. Precious stones are not so popular in India unless they are combined with white or yellow gold. Because platinum jewelry has a higher price point, I don’t see it working so much for women as much as wedding bands for men which would work. I do not see gold disappearing from an Indian market point of view. The younger women now still prefer gold but with a modern outlook. In a pret way, I see gold in 9 – 14 karat continuing to grow.

ILP: How do you balance art & commerce?

MC: That is the hardest thing I have ever had to do because when I am creating something I don’t want to think about how to monetize it. But sadly, I have to. Aditya, my husband, has taught me the importance of commerce and how to balance it with art.

ILP: Which designers do you draw inspiration from?

MC: In India, it would be Anamika Khanna. I have been a big fan of her since I was in college. I happened to interact with her just after my first show. She just stopped by to buy the products in the stall area. She said my products really caught her eye and commended me on it. That moment meant a lot to me. All her clothes are like an artwork which does not follow a regular pattern making process. I think she does draping on a mannequin and it comes off as an original. I don’t think she is a person who would compromise on the amount of work she wants to put in her designs which I really like and follow in my line of work as well. I would not like to compromise on my products. Sometimes the product gives minimal profit, but at the end of the day it is the client satisfaction that really matters.

On the international scene, I love many jewelry designers and follow their work. One of them if Jacqueline Ryan who takes her inspiration from Greens – its 3D jewelry. I’m not very clued into their personal lives, but I love their work and continue to follow them.