After a decade as a Harvard-trained architect, Hasna Sal decided to give up dealing with blueprints for houses. Instead, she built a new career in glass art.
It was the right choice.
Last month, Sal, of Overland Park, landed a chance to showcase her handmade jewelry at one of the pinnacles of style, New York Fashion Week. And she’s invited to return for a solo show at the next Fashion Week in February.
Sal, who owns Glass Concepts 360 in Olathe, found that success would take determination, talent — and just a little luck.
Her first coup came while visiting her mother in Mumbai, India. She found a high-end interior design shop, owned by the wives of Bollywood stars, and they agreed to sell her handmade glass sinks.
She felt so energized she decided to make her next stop the Mumbai shop of a designer she admired — Archana Kochhar, who clothes some of the biggest stars in Bollywood and cricket. Sal’s ultimate goal was to ask Kochhar to look at her glass jewelry designs.
“When I saw Archana Kochhar’s boutiques I walked in fingers crossed, hoping I could get her number at least,” Sal said.
Instead, Kochhar herself was in the shop that day.
“It was just a blessing that she happened to be there at the time, so I showed her my work and she said, ‘Hey, would you like to collaborate with me?’” Sal said. “It was a God-given opportunity. I was dumbstruck.”
And Kochhar saw a contemporary artist she could work with.
“When I met Hasna, she was wearing a piece of jewelry which I really liked, and I asked her about it,” Kochhar said in a phone conversation from Mumbai. “I thought that she had the sensibilities of doing something very contemporary and very global, and she was open to ideas.”
On the spot, Kochhar asked Sal to partner with her in a New York Fashion Week production called Maarkah, which took place Sept. 9 and 10 at the Museum of the City of New York.
The two women spent a few months coordinating their 12 designs long distance.
One success led to another, then another. In the weeks since the September show, Sal has been approached by five executive producers about a solo showcase in February’s Fashion Week.
Fashion designers in the West often use their platforms to make political statements, and the East is no different. For Sal, the statement has largely been about empowering women. Paired with Kochhar, that message broadened.
Three years ago, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi handpicked Kochhar, whose career spans two decades, to help with an economic initiative called Make in India.
To promote the Indian textile industry, Kochhar took inspiration for her New York Fashion Week designs from the Varli tribe of western India.
“My focus every time is to put Indian arts on a global silhouette so people all over the world can understand it and appreciate it and, probably through all of our combined efforts, we can save these arts from dying,” Kochhar said.
Sal created her pieces of jewelry to complement the deceptively simple stick drawings of the Varli, which Kochhar replicated on the fabric of the dresses. The black stick figures on a white or neutral background are used to tell stories.
Sal formed her jewelry in geometric designs to reflect the style of the figures the native artisans draw. She crafted delicate clear glass earrings shaped like globes, as well as pyramids of spun glass that resemble thick spider webs. Each one weighs over an ounce. The pyramids are about 6 inches long.
Other designs include large octagonal flower ear cuffs.
“It’s not something that I think you can wear throughout the day, but it’s something that you would wear in the evening,” Sal said.
Even wearing large, glass earrings fits in the arena of empowerment.
“How can you make a woman feel powerful and strong when she wears the jewelry? She has to stand straight; she can’t stoop when she wears it,” Sal said.
Rabab Abdalla, the founder of Fashion Week’s Maarkah event, has a similar mission, aiming to elevate women from underrepresented parts of the world.
Abdalla said that under 2 percent of Fashion Week designers are from the Middle East, North Africa or India. Her production included 15 from those regions.
She also hopes to “dispel the stereotypes that are put out throughout the media. It’s important for me to have the audience experience that culture and the other cultures.”
Sal said she designed her jewelry in this same spirit.
“I felt the concepts that were expressed through the figures were celebration, togetherness, strength through unity,” she said. “It’s connectivity.”