Maharajah Modern

By Carol Tisch Photography by Dan-Ryan Photography, Taschen Books, Great Escapes, Mary McCulley July 31, 2011

The Western world has gone Bollywood. America’s ubiquitously beige homes are suddenly dripping in jewel tones. Ladies in black are no longer the fashion elite of Paris and Milan; they’ve been replaced by scarlet women dressed head to toe in spice-market colors—fuchsia, orange and red derived from the same Indian saffron, cinnamon, paprika and cayenne coveted millennia ago by Silk Road traders. Even jewelry is bigger, bolder and more brilliantly colored than it’s been in generations.

Fashion pundits posit many explanations. They say we’re tired of self-imposed spending restraint and the collective fear of self-adornment that’s prevailed since the economy went sour. The colors and exquisite workmanship of Indian textiles, jewelry and crafts make us happy. They feed our wanderlust at a time when travel is dicey.

But there’s more to the story. India’s young Turks of design are now leading fashion and interior decorating trends rather than following. The same exquisite aesthetic that created the Taj Mahal and the jewels of Mughal emperors now inspires cutting-edge couture by Indian and Western designers.

Journey with us as we tour the exotic, regal and Bohemian iterations of new India style.


Indian Ujwala sculpture by Viya Home

A contemporary Indian Ujwala sculpture by Viya Home is rendered in hand-beaten metal ($2,935) and available through The Stephanie Odegard Collection,, (800) 670-8836.

Marc Jacobs’ one-shoulder silk jumpsuit

Evoking the wondrous draping techniques used to wrap Indian saris, Marc Jacobs’ one-shoulder silk jumpsuit ($2,100) is a study in modern Boho style, set against a group of tourists at the Taj Mahal wearing their traditional garb in a riot of colorful, diaphanous silk. Saks Fifth Avenue,, 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 364-5300.

Palettes Fit for a Maharajah

Fit for a Maharajah, the intense palette of this exquisitely layered room illustrates the influence of Mughal style across the Indian subcontinent and from the Middle East to Morocco.

Oh, Hippie Day

Bohemian goes haute in sensual silks, exotic textures and acid colors.

Indian Hippie BeadsSpice markets and bazaars are a heady source of inspiration for modern Indian style in everything from rugs to the newest generation of hippie beads. The avant-garde New Delhi couturier Manish Arora, whose clothes are worn by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, designed this Truly in Love pendant ($180) and necklace ($205), right, for his Hearts collection for Swarovski Crystallized stores.

Peshar Magic CarpetsMagic carpets bare their spiritual souls in acid-laced gemstone colors. Renowned architect David Easton’s original Peshawar carpet design captures the sensuous tones of historic ikat textiles, above top, and in the latest decorating craze, vintage rugs, above, are repurposed by over-dyeing them in brilliant hues. Simply to dye for! Order at Rugs As Art,, 6650 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 921-1900.


Palatial PleasurePalatial Pleasure The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur, was conceived as a traditional Indian palace in the Mewar architectural style of Rajasthan. On a recent trip, guests escorted by Admiral Travel of Sarasota luxuriated in rooms that open directly to their own private swimming pool.


Rambagh Palace Polo groundsSport of kingsThe storied Rambagh Palace, now owned by Taj Hotels, was the residence of the Maharajah of Jaipur, who played the same polo grounds that guests experience today.

Rocks of the Raj

A royal obsession, historic Indian jewelry inspires modern couture.

Gem Palace

The famously pink city of Jaipur is home to two world-renowned palaces: the Rambagh Palace Hotel (residence of Jaipur’s Royalty until 1957), and the Gem Palace, a legendary jewelry house run by the storied Kasliwal brothers. The history of both buildings intertwines, since the Kasliwal family served as jewelers to India’s royal court for centuries. It’s also been the go-to source for royals as diverse as Jackie O, Mick Jagger, Prince Charles, Nicole Kidman and Lady Di.

Maharaja Jewels collection (Barkha ruby necklace with turquoise, top right); Bejeweled works of art by French designer Marie-Helene de Taillac (Pink Ring, Swarovski crystal maharajah necklaces)Fast-forward to the spectacular fine jewelry of designer Amrita Singh, whose Maharaja Jewels collection draws inspiration from gems created during the Mughal Dynasty. Beloved by celebs from Anne Hathaway to Jennifer Lopez, she’s known for rose-cut diamonds and gorgeous gemstones that recall designs of the period. (Barkha ruby necklace with turquoise, top right, $20,000,

Bejeweled works of art by French designer Marie-Helene de Taillac are sourced at Gem Palace, the muse for her renowned nouveau Indian aesthetic. Distinguished by oversized briolette-cut gems in startling candy colors, Taillac’s jewelry, like the pink spinel ring shown ($2,800), is sold at Barney’s and her own eponymous boutiques worldwide. And not to be outdone, Judith Leiber just introduced an over-the-top line of Indian-inspired Swarovski crystal maharajah necklaces ($1,295), above right, available at Envie,, 1411 First St., (941) 366-7027.

Violet Reigns

The color of the Seventh Chakra explodes in enlightened new designs.

Agra rugs in violet to purple, at Rugs As Art

Illuminated designer collections reference all tones of violet, which in Hindu represents the seventh or Crown Chakra, the body’s coordination center and universal source of energy. Look for renewed interest in amethyst gemstones and in reproductions of the world-famous Agra rugs in violet to purple, top, at Rugs As Art,, 6650 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 921-1900. 


Shimmering violet silk was the muse for a jalabiya, above, created by Dubai-based fashion house Kansi for Swarovski’s Jawaher (jewel in Arabic) exhibition and fashion show in London. The unique program advocates designs for modern Arabic women that successfully merge Islamic tradition and glamorous state-of-the-art couture.

Anda DressBerlin-based Merch Mashiah does quirky yet elegant dresses in a rainbow of gemstone shades from ruby to amethyst. His mysterious signature pleats distinguish the glamorous Anda dress ($1,090), left, at Dream Weaver Collection,, 364 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota (941) 388-1974.

In his award-winning furniture line, interior design icon Christopher Guy adorns a modern-day throne in lavender offset with hand-carved silver-leafed lotus trellis, left.



Island IntrigueOccupying an entire island, the Lake Palace hotel of Udaipur played a key role in the 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy.

Lake Palace hotel of Udaipur

East Meets West

Fashions for the home update traditional motifs with a modern aesthetic.

Chandelier, by CX DesignChandeliers and sconces recall the romantic flicker of Indian lanterns more convincingly with Scavo glass, the design community’s new darling. The word Scavo translates to “excavated” in Italian, and these lights mimic the crusty finish of unearthed artifacts. This stunning chandelier, top right, by CX Design ($1,950) is hand-crafted by master glass blowers in Murano into centuries-old shapes and frosted gemstone colors. Light Up Your Life,, 1620 N. Tamiami Trail, (941) 330-0442.

Thibaut’s off-white Anita Damask wallpaper ($50/single roll) and coordinating fabric ($75/yard).Dazzling lotus and flame motifs, both revered symbols in Indian mythology, translate beautifully to cool transitional interiors in Thibaut’s off-white Anita Damask wallpaper ($50/single roll) and coordinating fabric ($75/yard). The look is opulent yet subtle. The Wallpaper Store, 7368 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 924-3640.

Ottoman - Anne Folsom Smith Interior Design of SarasotaHistory repeats itself, and the ottoman is back in regal Silk Route splendor. Introduced to Europe in the late 18th century, ottomans originated in Turkey, which was the center of the Ottoman Empire from the late 13th century until 1922. Noted interior designer Barry Dixon’s ottomans for Tomlinson Erwin-Lambeth boast buzz-worthy jewel tones and nail head motifs from Indian teardrops to lotus flowers. Designer Fabiola Softas of Anne Folsom Smith Interior Design of Sarasota is keen on the customizable collection. “Clients love that we can personalize them with any shape, size or nail head treatment they want,” Softas says.


Modern MughalModern Mughal Just as Mughal emperors encouraged the arts, designer Vikram Goyal is raising the stature of Indian metal crafts with works of contemporary art. His New Delhi-based Viya Home nurtures local artisans toward self-sustainability as they employ ancient techniques to sculpt mystical and meditative planters, tables, candelabra and more. Available through designers in the U.S. at

Filed under
Show Comments