Satya Paul, who passed away on 6 January, hardly came in the spotlight, though he had made remarkable contributions to the fashion industry. He chose to let his works speak and they did.
He gave India its first “contemporary” sari , and was perhaps the first designer who gave the traditional aesthetic a “modern” look. His journey of creating a new designing approach reflected his constant search for spirituality.
In a Facebook post yesterday, while confirming Paul’s death in Coimbatore at the age of 79, his son Puneet Nanda wrote: “Most people are not aware, more than as a designer or entrepreneur, he has been steadfastly a seeker. In the 70’s his inner journey started with going to listen to talks with J. Krishnamurty, later he took sannyas from Osho. After Osho left in 1990, though he wasn’t seeking another Master, he discovered Sadhguru in 2007. He immediately started enjoying the path of yoga and eventually moved here in 2015. He has been a doorway for hundreds of people towards spirituality and all the Masters he was so blessed to have been with. He couldn’t have had a sweeter life or passage… at the feet of the Master. We are sad only a bit, mostly rejoicing in him, his life and now his passing with such a blessing.”
It was this search for spirituality that reflected in his path-breaking work, believes Rajesh Pratap Singh, who met Paul in early 1990s while he was a design student and is now the creative director of the label Satya Paul, owned by Reliance Brands Ltd. “Most of our conversations were about spirituality, not so much about design. He was a free-spirited man. He broke the rules, didn’t follow conventions—it was all an expression of spirituality.”
Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India, who knew the designer before he became “the Satya Paul of the fashion industry”, also remembers him as an “extremely spiritual person”.
In the mid-1980s, when Sethi was a buying agent, he used to regularly meet Paul, either at the latter’s South Extension store or farmhouse in Chhattarpur. “Whenever we used to meet, he used to talk about Sufism, translate Urdu quotes and discuss spirituality,” Sethi recalls. “He was also very invested in his work; he sold it to customer as if he was selling precious gems.”
Perhaps that’s the reason he was among the first few designers who reached leading stores in the UK and France. “Even in Japan he was a big hit; no Indian had reached Japan by then,” says Sethi.