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Gauri Khan - The Designer
Design is a rapidly-growing industry globally and fast growing wings in the luxury space in India too. BW Businessworld seeks out a bellwether – the eponymous Gauri Khan Designs – for an insight into the contours of the home-grown industry
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The spaces that the elite inhabit are über luxurious and usually the envy of most. When it comes to celebrities, there is always a curiosity about the homes they live in. Being continuously in the spotlight as they are, and the fact that everything about them − from their outfits to their homes − are known to set trends, the rich and the famous too are extremely conscious and particular about the lifestyle choices they make.
Earlier this year, the launch of the new book, The New Glamour: Interiors with Star Quality, by the Los Angeles based interior designer, Jeff Andrews, was celebrated by design aficionados. Well-known as a favourite of celebrities and as the designer who worked on the homes of the Kardashians, Jeff Andrews is known to have a great bond with his clients, and is known to understand their personalities and preferences, which reflect in the designs he creates for them.
In India too, we see interior designers focus on large-scale projects for celebrities and other High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI). Since these jet setters are well travelled and, in most cases, have a distinct
sense of exactly what they want, designers they work with need to com- pletely understand their tastes and aesthetic sensibilities.
Gauri Khan is one such designer, she epitomises luxury and her elegance shows through in her projects. Khan is simultaneously a celebrated consumer and creator of designs who has since 2013, extended her design philosophy to interiors and commercial spaces such as retail outlets, restaurants, hotels and turnkey projects.
Keen eye for art: This writer catches up with her at ‘Mannat’ − her luxurious home in Mumbai, for a first- hand glimpse of her creativity, her taste for luxury and her journey as a designer. We then travel with her to her studio, where her designs are showcased. Gauri Khan has always had a keen eye for aesthetics and a great love for art. Art she believes is what makes a space personal. “Even when I travel I visit museums, I am observant, I look at and read books and magazines about art. I am self-taught when it comes to having a keen eye for art,” she tells us.
“While doing up Mannat and our other homes, I started collecting art, and the artists who I picked up twenty years back have really done well in the market.
I picked these artworks for my own personal space without really thinking in terms of their mar- ket value. People did make suggestions, but I focused on what appealed to me,” says Khan. One tends to agree with her on the fact that art is one of the most important aspects of interior design and adds fla- vour to any space.
We draw her out on her journey in design. “My background in graphic design, coupled with dabbling in mediums like charcoal and oil on canvas painting really helped me hone my skills and aesthetic sense,” muses Khan. “With this, I started experimenting and designing our own family homes, which gave me immense knowledge and insight into how much I loved designing, and with it eventually came the confidence to launch my own store. Today I am extremely proud of Gauri Khan Designs,” says the proud owner.
“We are a multi brand store that showcases inter- national brands such as Roberto Cavalli and Ralph Lauren. We tied up with these international brands to make their products available to the Indian consumer,” Khan explains. Asked about her favourite designer she promptly chooses Ralph Lauren.
“Ralph Lauren is my favourite designer, I have been following what they do over the last few decades. From clothes to homes,” says Khan, “In fact, homes are not what they started with, which came much later. They started off with men’s ties and grew. I love their sense of design, the way they style spaces and the warmth their designs bring to the space. That’s why I have that brand in my store as well.”
Interior design is an evolving industry, even worldwide. Globally, the interior design market is estimated to grow to $78,130 million by the end of 2025. In India, the interior design industry is estimated to be worth approximately Rs 20,000 crore. According to Khan, India is among the most difficult markets for design because there are vastly different tastes to cater to. Indians also tend to play it safe and opt for neutral colours and resist experimenting.
How it all began: Gauri Khan launched her first commercial studio at the Raghuvanshi Mills six years ago. “When I thought of pursuing this professionally, I took small steps towards gaining hands on experience. A close friend of mine, Kaajal, offered to have me join her design studio, which was a great opportunity and eventually I moved on to launching my line at the Charcoal Project store. The following year, I opened my own design studio Gauri Khan Designs.
“I rented out a small space, approximately 600 square feet, where I decided to showcase all the things I love and believe had good design. These were things I had picked up on my travels and some furniture that had been manufactured in-house. My investment was close to Rs 30 lakh, which was a dot in the ocean in the interiors space, but I was clear on the fact that I wanted to start small. I didn’t want to start at the top. I wanted to understand the business and see where it went and how well I did,” recalls Khan.
The store started with two people, and today there are close to twenty employees and growing. “I am a very careful person, I do not like wasting any product, or wasting my time. It was also in a sense the fear of failure, which is quite natural when you start a large project – I wanted to be successful. That is why for me it made sense to start small, take baby steps and grow,” she says. Khan believes one can learn at any time in one’s life and excel at anything one puts one’s mind to.
“Being a designer is tougher than it appears. People entrust you with their properties just on the basis of your vision, without any tangible evidence of what you are going to do. So, in that regard, I think learning the art of designing was a great challenge. To be able to deliver something excellent, not just satisfactory, to a client is my goal. And to achieve that within a strict timeline is a challenge. The execution of good design is an art by itself. So, honing those skills was important for me,” says the proud founder of Gauri Khan Designs. Cracking the code:
Husband and famed Indian actor, Shahrukh Khan, she tells us, had always been very supportive of her work. “The launch of the first store was a small affair, a friend of mine helped me call a few people from town and that was it,” recalls Gauri Khan. “Shahrukh walked in six months after the store opened. He asked me a set of questions about how the business was doing, if we were in profit and breaking even. Once he realised that the business was doing well, he wondered why we were operating out of such a small space. He suggested we immediately move to a larger space but I was insistent on letting the business grow before investing in a large space,” she tells us.
Gauri Khan recalls that Shah Rukh Khan had spotted the space where her store is located today while driving back from a film shoot three years after he walked into the first store. “He saw the current space Gauri Khan Designs inhabits and knew this would be the right space for the store. I am pleased that the growth for Gauri Khan Designs, has been organic,” she says modestly.
In addition to homes, office spaces, restaurants and hotels, she has worked on the Arth Restaurant in Mumbai and Pune, celebrity homes and spaces for filmmaker Karan Johar, actor Ranbir Kapoor, actress Jacqueline Fernandez and actor Siddharth Malhotra among others. Her current projects include a SPA in Goa and an educational institution in Imphal. Like the interior design industry in India, Gauri Khan Designs too is obviously on the roll.