SACHIN AND BABI AHLUWALIA cut quite a striking figure as they cruised the Neiman Marcus dress department last weekend in Boston, chatting pleasantly with each other, a small entourage of staff that accompanied them from New York, and of course, excited clients, eager to have the designers' expert styling tips. Babi, wearing a digitally printed skirt and blouse from the current collection, glided between racks, expertly pulling armfuls of the richly made and impeccably tailored dresses and separates for which she and her husband Sachin are known.
Together nearly twenty years, the couple met while pursuing degrees in fashion. "We’re both from India, but we met in New York City while we were at FIT," explains Sachin. "I was studying design, and Babi was studying textiles. We were really good friends, and when I needed a fit model I’d call her at two in the morning. We started a business together right out of college and six months later got married."
The Sachin & Babi empire today comprises two eponymous clothing lines (Sachin & Babi and Sachin & Babi Noir) and Ankasa, a line of home goods and furniture, but their brand is rooted in embroidery, their first venture. "We really started out as a B2B (business-to-business) model first," says Sachin. Translation? If you've found yourself admiring the embroidery work on runways like Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, or Carolina Herrera through the years, you've seen their handiwork.
Working alongside some of the top design houses in the world to enrich their already masterful couture is a pinnacle of success that many designers and business owners would find satisfying enough. But for the Ahluwalias, success meant pushing themselves even further. In other words, the only thing to do when you reach the top is to keep going. The duo started their own line of RTW in 2011, a move they consider one of their biggest risks yet, and a risk that repeats itself with every new collection. "Every season and every new direction is a risk. Part of taking on a business is embracing that," they've said of the challenges they face with their company.
Another massive challenge they face is one that, not done right, spells doom for some brands; working with a spouse. "At this point we've been together for 20 odd years, and work well together. We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses well, and work accordingly," says Babi. "We've been doing it for so long, it's what we know, it's how we know how to work," she adds.
And that sense of closeness could be carried on by a second generation of Ahluwalias - the couple's young daughters. "We have two daughters, almost 9 and almost 13," Babi explains. "They grew up in the business, so they almost just take it for granted." Whether they'll be entering the family business anytime soon remains to be seen. "They’re both very creative, so we’ll see," she suggests. "I've told them that if they want to come in one summer and create designs, we will use their prints for clothing."
For now, though, it's a stunning range of crisp digital prints in the SS2015 line, carried at Neiman Marcus and online at SachinandBabi.com. Standouts were a cascading blue rose print that could go from tea party to cocktail party, and a graphic granite print that married the best parts of pure texture and sleek satin, allowing for a visually dynamic but figure flattering effect.
WITH SEVERAL STRONG COLLECTIONS already under their belts, the couple plans to continue presenting each season, but not in the traditional way. "There are 375 events in just a few days. It’s gotten crazy," Babi says. "It’s reached it’s peak, there’s no room for more." Indeed, the future of NYFW is top-of-mind across the industry, and some brands have shifted their approaches. "We've actually stepped back from doing NYFW. We are just presenting each collection to a really tight group of editors and buyers, instead," explains Babi.
But the duo does still see a place for fashion bloggers, even if it's not at their NYFW shows. "Bloggers play a really important role in the industry, but it's the ones with something to say, with writing talent, that really stand out," says Babi.
"The more work you have to put into something, the more it's worth doing," adds Sachin. "It sounds cliche, but it's true."