There were only a handful of designers back then and Suneet Varma was the one you could always call for advice. He may be one of the best-known faces in fashion, but he breaks the unfriendly stereotypes associated with the business. Approachable and easy to get along with, Suneet Varma is known for his bonhomie towards industry peers.
MAN ABOUT TOWN
Pristine white walls and Italian marble floors are neutral actors within a modern decor filled with unique design elements drawn from various cultures around the world. Most of the pieces were obtained even before Suneet bought this 3,200-square-foot apartment. “I never think of myself as a collector but as a lover,” he says. “The first thing I do when I plan a trip is Google where the ea markets are.” The assortment of curios tastefully arranged across his apartment bears testimony to this penchant for the atypical. As soon as you walk in, a five-foot-tall iron candelabra attached to a donation box from a church in Kochi greets you. Suneet found these in a flea market and learnt they belonged to a church that had gone bankrupt. “I just had to have them and perhaps, was meant to have them,” he says.
There is no question that more than anything else, Suneet wants his home to be welcoming. When he entertains, guests have the full run of the house; nothing is locked away, no place is shut off. He’s also one of the few among his peers with the confidence to give out the figures and business plans of his very successful brand; transparency is obviously a deep-rooted philosophy.
The living room has a ceremonial African shield on one wall, console tables that are actually prayer pulpits from a church in Sri Lanka and former boyfriend Michael Aram’s steel works on tables. Also on display are gifts from friends. These include artwork by and from Hemi Bawa, an ostrich egg from Tarun Tahiliani and Suneet’s portrait by JJ Valaya. Bawa was his former landlady, while Tahiliani and Valaya are industry contemporaries. “I was at a small dinner at Tarun’s and was appreciating them and later he was kind enough to present one to me.”
Suneet has always been known for his advertising campaigns, having realized the importance of a great fashion campaign to accompany collections before many others did. He also catalogues all his collections. In his home the now-iconic shots of Sheetal Malhar, Milind Soman and other supermodels take you back through Suneet’s 25 years in the industry. They also act as a tribute to photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta.
What surprised me, though, are the religious undertones of Suneet’s home, related through an ornate crucifix and a variety of Buddha sculptures. He calls it an accident of choices. “I never really thought about it. When I buy a piece it is for the beauty, be it for the art, the gold leaf painting, or the way it is carved.” The crucifix in particular is very arresting and was bought 14 years ago—for the princely sum of ₹5,000.
What is less surprising is the surfeit of art, including a Picasso lithograph. Suneet himself is a talented sketch artist with a great eye. In the past, it’s helped him pick up artists who’ve gone on to become star art brands. For instance, the Ravinder Reddy sculpture was purchased 21 years ago for a mere 1 lakh rupees. One of the first works he ever bought now sits mounted on the wall behind his bed. (Piled close to the art are reminders of his day job: a collection of fashion glossies.) The signature belongs to an art teacher called Sunil Babu, whom Suneet met while he was teaching at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi. Purchased for ₹11,000 it’s not the most expensive piece in this home and sits close to another ‘Sunil’—this time a Sunil Das sketch. A third Sunil artwork is a Sunil Padwal canvas in the living room. The most striking piece though, is probably a sculpture of violins by Franck Tordjmann.
Of his proclivity to collect, Suneet says: “It is not about spending a lot of money. It is about loving something.” He has had the same white bone china plates for almost a decade, and takes pride in the upkeep of his home. “When you live alone, you have no one else to pick up after you,” he says.
Suneet moved into this perfect bachelor’s pad from a palatial seven-bedroom home in Gurgaon. When his mother decided to live closer to her friends in Friends Colony, the designer relocated to be close to her. “When I moved from my much larger home in Gurgaon, I had a lot more stuff in terms of furniture, which I gave away to friends and family. I now buy less and less. I am happy loving what I have.”
The painting on the living room wall is by Sunil Padwal. The tan leather ‘Barcelona’ chair sits in front of a violin sculpture by Frank Tordjmann. The carpet is antique Persian.
The hallway leading to the bedroom has two photos of Indian supermodels, and are part of an early collection of pictures taken by Prabuddha Dasgupta and Bharat Sikka. The large breglass-and-gold-leaf- painted bust is by Ravindra Reddy.
One corner of the living room has a square black- lacquered table from Vietnam. The tall, narrow prayer console table from Sri Lanka stands in front of a painting that Varma discovered at a flea market in Bangkok. The antique chair belonged to Varma’s family.
The 200-year-old Tibetan red handpainted cupboard was purchased by Varma from a Delhi dealer; the beige marble bowl atop it is inlaid with pietra dura and is from a palace in Hyderabad; the painting is a hand-singed lithograph self-portrait by Picasso.
The large red-lacquered cupboard is an antique with original hardware from Shanghai and serves as a bar.
The master bedroom features a king-sized teak wood bed. The kilims are antiques bought over the years in Europe and India. The charcoal-on-paper on top of the bed is by Sunil Babu, a fellow teacher at NIFT. The photograph of model Malaika Arora Khan is by Prabuddha Dasgupta. The handpainted decorative installation to the left is a Tibetan door.
The bathroom attached to the master bedroom has a large mirrored wall with a ceramic basin and wooden shelves; the skeleton chair is a Michael Aram classic.
The guest bedroom has a large king- sized teak wood bed with side tables to match. The contemporary blue painting is by K Ravi. The kilim is from Iran and the photograph is by Bharat Sikka. The silver pebble lamps are from Oma. The stone sculpture is an antique bought in Varanasi.
The large red oil-on-canvas on one of the living room walls is by Hemi Bawa, and was gifted to Varma. The church altarpiece and hand- carved candle stands on the console date back to the early 1900s; both are from a church in Kochi. The 88-year- old sofa was upholstered in brown to complement the rest of the furnishings. The black-lacquer-and-onyx table is by Raseel Gujral and the stainless steel bowls are by Michael Aram.