Waris Ahluwalia Talks Gold, Scarves and CFDA

waris ahluwalia
Photo: Austin Irving
Designer Waris Ahluwalia.

Jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia is having a moment. Granted, he's not a household name yet, but the year is young.

Though many know him for his roles in offbeat but popular films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and I Am Love, Ahluwalia has been gaining style cred with the fashion set courtesy of his luxuriously gem-laden jewels for nearly a decade.

Back in 2002, a buyer from Maxfield in Los Angeles ordered the self-designed rings Waris was wearing. A decade later and he's garnered accolades for both his personal style and designs: Vanity Fair placed him on its International Best Dressed List in 2010; earlier this year, British GQ named him one of the Best-Dressed International Men.

And did we mention his teahouse? Waris opened a pop-up tea spot under the High Line in Manhattan for a few weeks in October 2010.

The modern-day Renaissance man—who was born in Punjab, India, and moved to New York when he was 5—took a few moments to talk to FashionEtc about his Fall collection, his new scarves, and his favorite material: gold.

Let's talk about the collection. Was there a specific theme behind the jewels this season?

Every collection comes with a letter­—a letter I write—to you or to whomever's reading. I always felt that's the theme, that's my feeling toward the collection. There's a lot in the letter.

Are you sourcing the materials from India or all over?

All over. The production is done primarily in Thailand and India, depending on what the pieces are, what the design is. That's how I decide what gets made where. A lot of the stones, any of the colored stones, are mostly coming from India. Every stone goes to India to get cut.

What brought the scarves on?

It made sense as the next medium to tell the story. They're handcrafted, so the cashmere is hand-loomed, hand-embroidered or block-printed or batik-printed or hand-dyed. So the recurrent theme for all those things is "hand," right? It's the hand that's making the jewelry, it's the hand that's making the scarves. It's no different.

These are the pieces you hand down in the family.

I primarily work in forever. [smiles]


Photo courtesy of House of Waris

The ruby plumage pendant from Fall 2011, $7,200

Do you have a preferred material you work in?


Do you like to do American gold?

I'm not ethnically tied to any sort of look, just more how it's made and what is it. I have an inner connection to gold in the sense that we as a human race have always been attracted to gold. Before there was oil, there was gold. Right now all we care about is oil, and that's the resource that we're after, but before it was God, glory and gold. So it's in our blood, more so than our greed and thirst for oil.

You're not going for God and glory?

[laughs] I'm going for all three. I only know how to go for all three, my personal crusades. To me, this goes back to the inspiration every season, which is the same every season: history and love. That's what the stories are about. It's about the search for understanding both. Those are the inspirations but I claim no understanding of either.

Who is your customer?

It's anyone who wants something beautiful. It's downtown, but we've got uptown clients as well. I think it was British Vogue that said it's "the collection that's for Beverley Hills moms and rockers" at the same time.

You straddle a lot of worlds and have been called a dilettante. How do you deal with that?

It's just natural. I don't do anything unless it's natural. I don't do anything unless I'm enjoying it. That's my weakness. If I'm not enjoying it I'm not doing it. There's truth to my work in that I'm doing it because I love it. I fell into jewelry but there are so many aspects to it—the jewelry, the packaging, the event, everything. I produce the events whether they're here or Paris or London.


Photo courtesy of House of Waris

The Black Flame ring from Fall 2011, $2,400

You said you fell into jewelry—how so?

I was doing like 10 projects and this was one of them. This is the one that had more depth, this is the one that had more interest, this is the one that led me to India, where I spent the last five years, six months out of the year, dealing with not just my craftsmen but the guy that makes the wooden boxes. It's not just about fashion. I could give a rat's ass about fashion. This has led me to the farthest corners of the world to get this stuff made and the farthest corners of the world into my own history.

One of the things I read is that you're inspired by travel.

I like an open adventure but I don't like being a tourist. I love some sort of purpose, so wherever I am, I visit craftsmen. I'm curious about how things are made and where they're made and who makes them the best. Travel is a big part of what I do, but I'm a New Yorker. That's the only ethnicity I feel most comfortable with.

You were raised in New York?

I was raised in New York. That's my ethnicity. But other than that I'm as comfortable in New York as I am in L.A. or Paris or Jaipur or Tokyo.

Do you ever use a muse when you create?

It's about the search for that muse. There are muses that have been in my life, and it's about the search for that one muse.

Do you think at some point you might do RTW or clothing?

I don't see it. If something happens and lightning strikes … but I don't think it's something that falls under House of Waris. I don't think RTW falls under House of Waris.

Would you ever do a line of bags?

Yet to be determined. Yet to be determined.


Photo courtesy of House of Waris

Handmade scarves by House of Waris, $1,295

Have you found that people try to label you—you're an actor or a jeweler …

I think they're comfortable now with actor-jeweler. I think the scarf thing is going to throw them off. [laughs]

Well, people like labels.

Which is fine, I don't really care. I understand people need labels: name, what they do. But I'm just going to continue making it more difficult for them to do that as we introduce more categories. And so: jeweler-scarf-maker-blank-blank-blank.

How has the experience been at the CFDA Incubator space?

It's been great.

The camaraderie, I heard, is amazing.

That was my most difficult thing, because I've always been a lone wolf.

But I see you at events and you're always surrounded by people.

I mean, with where I position the brand, it's always on its own. There's a lone wolf feeling internally. But the brands here [in the Incubator] are great, and more than the brands here, the people are great. I've had wonderful friendships that have come from here. I'm very close to Bibhu [Mohapatra]; my mom is very close to Bibhu.

House of Waris is available at Barneys New York, Maxfield, Colette, and more. See House of Waris for a complete list of stores.