Majestic peacocks in orange and blue strut alongside blooming lotuses in crimson, the vibrant colours stand out against the black backdrop — anyone remotely familiar with his designs will not need to see the bold signature in the left corner to know that the “Peacock Throne Rug” has been designed by Rohit Bal. After all, the peacock and lotus are Bal’s favourite motifs, used extensively in his clothes and found even on the walls of his Veda chain of restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. The rug is part of “The Indian Carpet Story”, a collection of wall-to-wall carpets and rugs created by Bal for Ege, a European carpet manufacturer based in the city of Herning in Denmark.
The designer-wear industry in India, estimates a recent Assocham report, is growing by about 40 per cent annually and will be worth over Rs 11,000 crore by 2020. No wonder, fashion designers are extending their lines beyond apparel and lending their names to products such as cars, jewellery, homes and furniture.
Raghavendra Rathore recently redesigned a vintage 1947 Chevrolet, while Tarun Tahiliani and JJ Valaya have done hotels and homes, and Suneet Varma has worked with Swarovski and BMW. Bal, 51, was something of a pioneer in this regard, extending his line to a range of Titan watches in 2003, Zippo lighters in 2010 and, more recently, a limited edition Chivas Regal bottle. He has also collaborated with the well-known international designer Christian Louboutin and high-end menswear brand Reid & Taylor (the Rohit Bal Reid & Taylor collection). Then there are his restaurant chains Veda and Cibo (which specialises in Italian cuisine). Bal is also the first to design bespoke carpets. “Interiors and fashion go hand in hand,” says the designer. “When I put my name on something, it becomes an extension of me.”
* * *
Bal has done several ranges of carpets for Ege. There is the “Fragrance of India” range, which includes “The Peacock Throne” rug and another called “The Shah Jahan”. The carpets here have elaborate and ornate designs, inspired by the luxury and opulence of the Mughal era. While these might not be ideal for modern homes, they will be a hit at five-star hotels.
“The Tranquil Lotus” range combines elements of the classic and the contemporary in the Lotus trinity motif. Three lotuses in different colours are set against a background you can customise according to your choice. This range is close to the designer’s heart for its “simplicity and accessibility”.
In the “Fields of India” range, Bal aims for contemporary elegance, using a network of jagged lines and shapes inspired by the rooftops and fields contouring the Indian landscape. In the “Marble Mould” range, the designer plays yet again with floral motifs.
It is the technology and attention to detail that make these rugs unique, says Sanjay Nijhawan, managing director of Applause Designs, which will be marketing Ege carpets in India.
A specialised Millitron machine is used to manufacture the carpets, which lends them a three-dimensional effect. It also allows for a high degree of customisation. Bal’s designer carpets will be available in 65 countries in over 50 colour palettes, which means a buyer can see a particular design, pick the colours and place an order. “We can customise everything — from a small piece to one up to 100,000 sqm,” says Nijhawan.
Given the difficulties of cleaning carpets in a country as prone to dust and dirt as India, will these high-end rugs find favour here? Yes, says a confident Nijhawan, adding that Ege’s biggest market is in Asia. “Today people are moving from bungalows to apartments. The concept of interior design is changing. Young couples with generous incomes redecorate their homes every five years. And luxury in homes only comes with a beautiful carpet,” believes Nijhawan. It is this segment of aspirational, cosmopolitan consumers whom Nijhawan will target for Bal’s signature rugs, besides institutional buyers such as hotels, airports and corporate offices. The carpets will be retailed through high-end furnishing stores across the country.
* * *
Every two years or so, Ege collaborates with a designer across the globe to design a collection of carpets. Nijhawan, who has been in the carpet business for over 20 years and has installed carpets in the offices of businessmen such as Sunil Mittal, knew that a collaboration with an Indian designer was long overdue. “And no one understands India better than Bal.”
And so in December last year, Bal flew to Denmark to see Ege’s factory, with around 70 designs in hand. “I sat with their creative team for three days, which is very long for me,” laughs Bal. “It was the first time I was exposed to carpet making on such a large scale. One look at the Millitron and I knew the possibilities were endless.” But Bal did not want anything too “high tech” or “gimmicky”. And so he briefed a team of 20 designers about his vision and shortlisted 30 designs. Later that month, Nijhawan got a call from the company’s headquarters. “The European designers were gaga over Bal’s efficiency and talent!”
While Bal is yet to see the complete collection (the carpets are being shipped from Denmark as per orders), he couldn’t be happier with the results. “The idea of expanding one’s creativity is still nascent in India. Design can be applied to anything as long as you are indentifiable by the masses,” explains Bal. When a visitor looks at one of his carpets in a hotel or restaurant, Bal says he anticipates praise, of course, but also, “They will know it is a classic Rohit Bal design.”