Catching up with Suneet Varma always feels like a warm hug. The celebrated fashion designer who wears many hats has just designed a collection for Vivek Ramabhadran’s ‘couture-inspired and consciously made’ jewellery brand Aulerth. We chatted with Suneet on his love for jewellery, his first acting assignment and his love for work.
The collection for Aulerth looks beautiful...
We started working on it about a year-plus ago, but we were clear that we wanted it consciously made and that story about sustainability was important to us. It wasn’t going to be mined. So, how to actually go about it and make precious jewellery which is truly timeless in its uniqueness, couture-inspired and doesn’t leave a carbon footprint. That also adds to its preciousness. I did 32 pieces to start with, like bridal necklaces and components that actually matched it. There could be a beautiful pendant on a bridal necklace, which can also be used as a matha tikka, a hairband which can also be used as a choker, a bangle that could also become an armband. So, there were lots of interesting variations of how the jewellery could be worn and also jewellery that travels very well. People have so many destination weddings now. So, it’s been an interesting idea and I think they have tremendous feedback, not only on the way they have conceptualised jewellery, but also how it’s made, what it looks like.
Suneet Varma’s designs
I think in some ways I have always loved jewellery more than clothing even. I own a pair of earrings which are from my great grandmother. I don’t know if they are men’s or women’s, but they can pass off as either. It’s probably 150 years old. In fact, I bought jewellery for all my nieces’ weddings 15 years ago, though they are not planning to get married in the near future! I think I have bought and selected every piece of jewellery that my sister and mother own.
I used to wear rings, earrings when I was younger, but seven-eight-10 years ago, I stopped wearing anything. I feel more free.
The jewellery looks old-world and vintage...
Mine is old-world because I am old-world (laughs). It’s pastel, with soft, feminine colours. I wanted it to look like an old Mughal green. We are planning to do many more trunk shows and shoots. It’s an exciting venture to be a part of and I learned so much. It’s a clued-on team that markets and produces these products.
Suneet Varma for Aulerth
What are your most favourite pieces of jewellery?
When my mother turned 70 (she is 81 now), I bought her a seven-lari polki necklace from Gem Palace, one lari per decade. They are big and clear and very beautiful. It cost an arm and a leg, but it was her 70th and I knew she would pass it on to the girls. That is one of my most favourite pieces. The other thing I love are the little diamond earrings I have, which are my great grandmother’s. I have been collecting jewellery from vintage flea markets in New York, Paris, Berlin, Prague... wherever I go. I’ll never travel anywhere unless I don’t have the details of the flea market! Some are more home... interior, sculpture, painting, carpet, furniture and some are more clothing, jewellery and hair accessories and trinkets.
Suneet Varma for Aulerth
The most beautiful flea market I have been to in the world is called Puces in Paris and I am a massive flea market hunter. I bought an old, beautiful, box full of the most incredible feathers from a ballerina who had passed away, from the 1920s, and she used to dance in the Ballets Russes and when I did my Swan Lake show, I used her hair pieces on the girls. The box had wonderful laces and headpieces and her name was written on it and there was a photograph of hers.
I’ll buy jewellery, old pieces of embroidery and sometimes I buy sculpture. I have paintings all over my house which I bought from flea markets and trudged them along. I have bought African art. I love to buy these beautiful, crazy things. So, I think my love for jewellery stems from thereon.
Do you like collecting anything particular?
I have always had a fascination more for rings and bracelets.
Suneet Varma in the MINI campaign
Tell us about the MINI collaboration...
I worked with BMW for almost 15 years. MINI Cooper is also part of BMW. I always talk about the big love for life, work and their new campaign is called Big Love. They said I was the perfect fit for that! They were looking for a multifaceted personality and someone who is in fashion but has other interests. Let’s say I like dogs and photography. They wanted to show the three big loves of my life.
So, it was basically an acting assignment for you...
It was an acting assignment (laughs)! I didn’t know what to do, but I think it worked out well. I don’t know what to expect, but it was my first time in front of the camera. We did one at Couture Week last season with them and then we did this one and we’ll do another one now.
I just literally signed a wonderful licensing agreement with a home furnishing company in Bangalore that sells in about 500 stores in India and also to big luxury houses all over the world. They have a lot of sub-brands as well. They have a smart, cool and forward-thinking team of people. The collection will launch in July.
Home was something I was keen on. Right now I am doing furnishings. Then I might do bed linen, interiors, furniture.
How are you juggling so much?!
The Mini thing was supposed to happen earlier, on December 25. We shot the film and then the pandemic happened. The fashion week came (FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week) and FDCI insisted I do that and I wanted to do it. Plus, I am doing a big wedding in Dubai. Everything has squeezed in two months which would have been spread over four months. It’s a bit of a push, I’ll be honest! (Laughs)
But you love being busy...
(Laughs) I love being busy. I am definitely the culprit there.
You have dabbled in so many things. What is left for you to explore?
The really funny thing is I keep my universe open and alive and work just comes at me. For me, work begets work. The more you work, the more work comes your way. Maybe because of the pandemic, social media is so strong now and everybody is watching everything. So, they see people who are able to deliver and are active in the sense that they will promote the collaboration. The harder I work, the luckier I get. I believe in it.