Paisleys, Chintz, Makara Marble: ‘Inspired by India’ Explores the Contributions of a Single Country to Luxury

Since the 1st century, India has been inspiring fashion, jewellery and lifestyle world over. Its massive contributions have made the world what it is, though not many know about the deep-settling role of India. ‘Inspired by India’, an impressive coffee table book, highlights those contributions, while enhancing the experience through spectacular visuals.

By: Soumya Jain Agarwal

Posted on: October 6, 2022

“Look at that sari. It’s like a spiral. I found spirals everywhere in India. The material is like a cocoon wrapped around a secret.”

Francoise Gilot, a French painter, art critic and author, who is now 100 years old and a one-time muse of Pablo Picasso, said these words. For me, these words not only talk about the sari. These words resonated for India as well. Because isn’t that what India is to locals and outsiders alike? A secret. With the myriad cultures, religions, thoughts, perceptions, customs, and ideals we hold close to our heart, India is quite hard to unravel in one go. It’s a poem, a story, that you have to read again and again, in different phases of your life, to fully grasp the meaning of. 

Inspired by India Roli Books

I read these words, that go deeper than the surface, in ‘Inspired by India: How India Transformed Design Globally’. A beautiful, magnificent tome published by Roli Books, author Phyllida Jay goes into incredible details of what India has given to the world. 

The book takes you seamlessly from 1st century to today, talking about how India has contributed to global fashion, design, home textiles, architecture, jewellery and economy. It talks about how exports from India, of clothing, furniture, tea, prints, and more, were ‘exotic’, and hence seen as a mark of ‘high culture’ when adopted by other people globally. 

Indians were quick to adapt their designs to suit different markets – and that has contributed much to the success of India till today.

Chintz jacket Inspired by India Roli Books

Women’s chintz jacket, 1750. This fitted jacket was cut to display the sumptuous chintz imported from the Coromandel Coast to full effect. In the Netherlands in the 18th century, chintz jackets were popular for daily use and worn as part of traditional costume. © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Seen as a land of ‘sensual excess’, India has stirred the imagination of the western world time and again – whether it was the masquerade balls of 1950s where revelers donned India inspired costumes, the British royal ladies who wrapped themselves in Kashmir shawls for official portraits, or designers like Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld who have taken references from India time and again to create elaborate fashion statements.

Fashion and textile inspired from India was not just used for its beautiful design, but for the deep symbolism it stirred. An example is the Peacock Dress worn by Mary Victoria Leiter Curzon, the then Vicerine of India, for the 1903 Durbar celebrating the coronation of Edward VII. The gold cloth of the dress was made hand-embroidered with golden peacock feathers, using the Zardozi technique, at the Kishan Chand workshop in New Delhi in India. Each feather was given a green ‘eye’, which was a green wing of the scarab beetle. Once embroidered, the cloth was sent to Paris-based couturier Charles Frederick Worth to be fashioned into a streamlined, breathtaking gown. 

Mick Jagger Inspired by India Roli Books

At a Rolling Stones press conference, Mick Jagger wears a red and white paisley jacket. © Getty Images.

The Durbar celebration was hosted at Diwan-i-Khas at the Red Fort, which once housed Emperor Shah Jahan’s peacock throne. Hence the dress. It was not just made in India, but it also ‘replaced’ the peacock throne on the evening of the ball – a “darkly sartorial sign of imperial possession” – as said by the author in the book. 

Indians were quick to adapt their designs to suit different markets – and that has contributed much to the success of India till today. India is no longer in the backyard, but in the front and center as embroidery houses like Chanakya and Vastrakala continue to wow the ramp with needles. 

Cartier Bazubandh Inspired by India Roli Books

This bazubandh made from platinum and old-cut diamonds was the first upper-arm bracelet executed by Cartier, 1922. The three rings set with diamonds allow the wearer to fasten the bracelet around the upper arm. It may also be worn as a pendant, brooch or corsage ornament. © Cartier.

It is well-known that international jewellery houses came to India to buy stones, get them cut and polished, and to also create jewels for the maharajas. What is lesser known is the role of Ambaji V. Shinde in the international jewellery industry. A prominent, mould-breaking jewellery designer, Ambaji V. Shinde joined Harry Winston in 1962, and worked for the brand for four decades, helping them create jewellery that not just utilized his incredible design sense, but also helped the American house learn minute techniques of jewellery making, thus ascending the brand to what it is today. 

India has kept its traditions intact, as the world continues to be fascinated by not just the sari, but turbans, banyan, pyjamas and more. From Elsa Schiaparelli’s innovative sari dresses in 1930s to Boucheron’s Jodhpur necklace made with marble to Etro’s lifelong devotion to the Indian paisley, each page in ‘Inspired by India’ is a wealth of fascinating information. Things you might have heard, and so many that you didn’t. Apart from just the casual relay of information, Ms. Jay manages to impart a thought-provoking analysis behind that massive trade of design, fabric, gems and ideas from India. 

Seen as a land of ‘sensual excess’, India has stirred the imagination of the western world time and again

Cartier panther ring Inspired by India Roli Books

This 2007 yellow diamond ring by Cartier shows an Indian tiger reposing as though on a tree branch. This ring is entirely pave-set interspersed with onyx stripes and marquise-cut emerald eyes. © Cartier.

Priya Kapoor’s photo direction and editing helps to create a visually enchanting experience where you immerse yourself into the magical land of India. The beautiful imagery helps to bring alive the myth of India, turning it into an enthralling reality. It’s not an afternoon read. It’s a lifelong exploration into the delicacy and mystic of India. 


Published by Roli Books, Hardcover, 256 pages

Available on and

*All images provided by Roli Books

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