What happens when you take someone from two different worlds (literally and metaphorically) and ask them to create something? Meet Vyshnavi, founder of label Dvibhumi. She was not afraid of following her gut and took a chance into the unknown. Retail is not an easy business and I applaud anyone who takes a giant leap of faith here to test their own potential.
TBS : What does Dvibhumi mean?
Dvibhumi is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to “two earths”. One earth is India, where I grew up, and the other is Southeast Asia, where I live, work and travel. Dvibhumi is a meeting ground of ideas streaming from both my worlds.
TBS : How did you conceptualize the brand? Talk us through its evolution to where it is today.
I was chugging along from meeting to meeting in the advertising world. But my work also gave me the chance to get involved with the cultural landscapes of Southeast Asia while crafting locally relevant stories for global brands. It was during this time that I travelled within the region and became increasingly aware that in its heritage – Asia, has compelling design stories of its own waiting to be told to the world.
I already loved jewellery. I spent a year painstakingly putting together three capsule collections. The reaction to my work was extremely encouraging, and generosity from friends, bloggers and independent designers poured in fast and readily. They shared my work, a friend agreed to model, another friend worked on the brand identity, and so on. Friends in India and the Indian expat community were the first to purchase and endorse my work. My first investment was on a camera which I used to shoot my own high quality pictures. I put together an e-commerce site and a lookbook to experiment with retail partnerships. Today, my work is showcased at some of the best boutiques in India and Singapore.
Dvibhumi is a little over a year old right now. My focus is on building the brand and my own credentials as a designer. I’m being extremely selective in what to pursue, and handle all the work myself. It’s a slow but very rewarding process.
TBS : What is your design background? How do you approach design?
I don’t have formal education in design and there is no structure at all! I chase ideas that pop into my head and sustain my interest for a while. And I’m switched on all the time. I instinctively look for interesting forms and stories wherever I go and I’m always deconstructing people’s styles. And then there’s so much nourishment to be got from reading about other creative minds like chefs, textile designers, filmmakers, etc. At some point, all of these odds and bits come together. I do try to move towards a certain look and sense of purpose, but I think it will be a while before I find my voice as a designer or settle for specific design approach.
TBS : Tell us about where the products are made?
I design in Singapore and collaborate with gifted artisans across India and Southeast Asia to create my products. Currently, my design stories are based in India and Indonesia. I have identified workshops in these places so that the products can narrate stories in the richest and most authentic manner.
TBS : Your jewelry is so obviously India inspired but there is a lot of restraint in your design. How do you find this happy medium?
My work borrows a lot from the artistic and often interconnected worlds of India and Indonesia. Both are rich in textures, motifs, patterns. But I also love current themes like geometry, urbanity and minimalism. I don’t want to be steeped in the past; I’m not creating museum pieces. A more delicate use of motifs and texture brings things into sharper focus, and a wider set of audience is able to appreciate them as well.
TBS : Please share something about the local craftsmen.
The Ubud region of Bali is where the pieces from the Ayu Story are made. Historically, Ubud has been Bali’s centre for art, craft and culture, and even today, dance, art, carving etc form a very important part of the school curriculum. There is talent in almost every household, and most artisans are multi-faceted. They are able to apply their skill to new mediums and contexts. For instance, Bali’s famous carving is typically done on wood, bone or stone. And the material used in Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet theatre) is usually leather. For Dvibhumi’s Ayu Story we worked with artisans trained in carving and leather cutwork, but gave them a different medium to work with: wax. They applied their traditional skills to create moulds for the jewellery designs. The surface area of the material was much smaller than what they were used to and required different tools and finer handwork, but they did a fabulous job! This versatility is what helped me recontextualize Balinese architecture and Wayang Kulit.
TBS : What is the story behind the three collections?
In the world of Carnatic Music, Kutcheri refers to a music recital. Dvibhumi’s Kutcheri story has evolved from the iconic ornamentation style and aesthetic world of great Carnatic divas like MS Subbulakshmi. The Ayu Story embodies the spirit of Bali, where prayer blurs beautifully into nature-worship. Ayu offers a range of 925 silver jewellery inspired by the silhouettes, cutwork and overwhelming detail of Bali’s temple architecture and Wayang Kulit tradition. The Vibhuti Story is shaped by the dome structures and fretwork of Renaissance and Islamic architecture.
TBS : Good design is becoming so homogenized with replicas popping up of everything we see on the runways. This is one of the reasons I think shoppers are gravitating to more artisanal products. Would you agree? What are your thoughts?
Borrowing of ideas in both desirable and undesirable forms is second nature to the creative industry. Why, runway labels appropriate cultural symbols and use ideas of smaller designers too! Yes, the shopper looks for something exclusive, but not always in the form of original design. A certain set of shoppers likes basking what may be called “small brand privileges”. There’s a perceived exclusivity that lower production volumes bring, that comes with being able to correspond directly with the designer and toting an off-the-radar brand that they had the joy of discovering. And artisanal labels have more heart. In their products they offer more authentic representations of the designer’s vision, and generously offer rich detail on the creative and production process. All these make the shopper feel special and more involved. There’s a kinship because they see themselves as friends of the brand. Overall there’s a lot more love, generosity and human quotient in an artisanal label. Ostensibly at least.
TBS : What’s next for Dvibhumi?
I am very excited to launch a new chapter in the Kutcheri Story. It’s work in progress currently and will be ready in a few weeks. It’s going to be fresh inspiration from the world of Indian Clasdical Music. And there will be more accessories to look forward to – for the neck, wrist, fingers. I can’t wait to reveal the new look.