Welcome to the House of Waris
You may have seen him featured in films along side Jason Schwartzman or Denzel Washington, or you may have even purchased some of his jewlery. If you don't know Waris Ahluwalia, you will soon. Get to know Waris as he talks about his unexpected career paths and all his (insert ethnicty here) friends.
by KYLE MORRISON
Hey Waris, lets just start off light. What did you have for breakfast today?
Nothing so far. I’m considering sunny side up eggs and some banana bread, but the thoughts haven’t formulated into action yet.
Any plans for fashion week?
I’m exhausted. I just landed two days ago from India and just recently Tokyo. I would have much rather landed in a quiet time. I am going to a show at 12 - Yigal Azrouel. My girlfriend is doing a short film backdrop, so I’m going to go to support her.
What were you doing in India?
I was doing production in India. That’s where a large portion of the productions happens.
Let’s get into that. Let’s talk about the jewelry. How did you get into it?
I made some rings for myself. They had diamonds in them. You couldn’t really miss them. They were really supposed to be for a laugh more than anything else.
I was spending to a lot of time in LA, and I walked into a store called Maxfield’s. The sales women said “nice rings” and I said thanks. She said “are they yours?” I said yes. I didn’t know what she meant by that, but then she said “do you want to meet the buyer” and I said yes. Never say no. I didn’t know what they hell to say to a buyer. I didn’t know what I was going to sell them for, if I was going to sell them at all, so that was that. I met with the buyer the following week and they placed an order. And that was the seed of House of Waris.
So first you were making the jewelry yourself?
No, I had them made in the diamond district.
So you design them?
Yes, (making the jewelry) is a whole other craft, a whole other lifetime of skill.
What were you doing before the jewelry?
I don’t really remember life before the jewelry. (Laughs.) Creative projects, working with different companies, with artist, non-profits, connecting people… I spent a few years with a non-profit to take on AIDS in India and South Asia. Lots of projects. Bringing people together to make a little dent. Lots of little projects, some that were completed, some that weren’t. Nothing really stuck with me. I was sort of filtering through lots of ideas and concepts.
So now you are happy with the jewelry and the acting? You’re going to stick with that?
I love it! The jewelry is so complete. I handle every detail of it so it definitely doesn’t leave me bored. I would like it to leave me bored occasionally, but it doesn’t leave me bored at all, between all the traveling and every aspect of it. I design books with a friend of mine who is an incredible artist, Eric Adolfson. He does all the books. We print hardcover linen bound books in India because the printing quality is beautiful there. The boxes are made by this one guy in Delhi, who is an award-winning carpenter. So there are all these different aspects beyond the jewelry, all these aspects beyond the craftsmen that I get to work with who are some of the best craftsmen in India. There are so many levels to it.
You did some jewelry with A.P.C. right?
How did you get in touch with them?
One of the original ideas behind the jewelry was that it was just going to be collaborations - a platform to work with friends. Essentially it’s just metal and stones - raw materials. It’s a chance for me to sit down with friends and say we’ve got these materials - what do you want to make?
Jean (Touitou – founder of APC) was a good friend and he saw one of the collections a few years ago and said, “well why don’t we do something together”, I of course, said, “yes”. Always say yes. None of this stuff is very construed. There aren’t people calling me or setting things up. It’s just friends working together. There aren’t larger corporate hands making decisions. It’s just sitting down with Jean in Paris and saying, “lets do something together”.
I’m very fortunate to have in my life, and in my world, all over the world, incredible creative people who inspire me to keep going, so it’s a chance to work with all of them.
When did you realize you were becoming popular? Any specific point in time?
Oh, I have no idea. It still hasn’t hit me. I’m doing what I love, so I guess when your doing what you love, people appreciate it. And the rest kind of comes easy. Along the way I’m having fun. It’s not just work.
Tell me a little about “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead”
Jordan (Galland – director) sent me the script and said, “it’s totally you.” I didn’t discover jewelry, jewelry discovered me, and I didn’t discover acting. They both came knocking on my door at separate times. It’s just amazing to see what other people see in you. The part is Hugo Pepper. It’s sort of a side comic role. It’s funny that Jordan wrote that and goes “oh, that’s Waris.” It was a blast. It’s a Shakespeare vampire movie. Throughout the whole movie they kept spewing out puns so I was happy to come up with one – it’s a new genre. It’s a “Shampire movie!” (Laughs.)
A lot of times when people refer to you, they mention your ethnicity. Does that ever bug you?
Funny you should say that. It does and it doesn’t. It doesn’t in the sense that I’m happy to be Sikh. It’s a funny religion because it’s one of the world's most visual religions, except its one of the most misunderstood. So I just think that’s absolutely ridiculous. I never signed on for it, and I’m happy to do my part, so in that sense I’m happy to shed some light on the beauty and the simplicity of it.
The second part of it, is that it is in every article. You don’t see it anywhere else, like this is my Jewish friend or my WASP director. After a while doesn’t it get old? Okay, he’s Sikh. They say I’m a Sikh jewelry designer. I’m not a Sikh jewelry designer. I happen to be Sikh. I’m not making religious jewelry.
It doesn’t bug me because I’m not attached to whatever is said and it doesn’t matter. If it promotes the film, it promotes the film. If it promotes the jewelry, it promotes the jewelry. I don’t take anything personally, but when it talks about Wes, it doesn’t say - what is he? I don’t know. They don’t even mention it (Laughs.)
What I’ve decided I’m going to start doing now, is I’m going to start mentioning peoples religions and ethnicities. So if you ask me what it was like working on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I’ll say, “oh, it was great working with that Jewish actor Jake Hoffman” (Laughs). But I wonder, if I start doing that how soon the press will pick it up and ask why does he do that?
Do you or you mangers or agents ever worry about being typecast?
Everybody but me worries about being typecast. My answer is I haven’t been yet. I suppose I would be worried too but I haven’t, so why worry about things until they are an issue. The reality is I don’t have an agent, because they are worried I’m going to get typecast. I said this in another interview and the interviewer misheard me. What I said was "It’s like I’m black in the 50s", and not back. I read the interview, and it said “it’s like I’m back in the 50s.” What does that even mean?
There were no real roles for black actors other than servants and slaves. You know, Negro roles. So if it takes some time, then that is just a natural progress of coming to be accepted.
A lot of people refer to you as cool – what is cool to you?
Just doing what you want. I don’t approach any of the stuff that I do with the mindset “is this going to be cool, or how’s this going to be received”. When I started I had no idea what I was doing but now after 3 years of intense training, basically I have a workshop in India and Rome and I sit there with my craftsmen six days of the week, six months of the year, so I take it very seriously. So regardless of how I see it, the reality is that it’s fine jewelry and everything is crafted by hand with the best materials and the best stones.
It’s just a funny thing. Half my year is spent sitting on the floor working with my craftsmen working on the jewelry, and then the next day I’m off to Tokyo for the Jalouse party for the cover of Jalouse, and then I land here and literally land into fashion week so it’s defiantly a funny mix of worlds.
What are some of the best movies that you have recently seen?
There’s a movie coming out soon called Our City Dreams, and that’s my girlfriend’s film, Chiara Clemente. It’s a film about five women artist living in New York City. It’s a story of an artist trying to make it in New York, but done in the span of 5 different women in different generations. That should come out at the end of the year. Lately, I just watch movies on planes, because I’m on planes a lot so I watch whatever bad movies are on planes. I was here in New York for a few days and I did manage to see Sweeny Todd, and I thought that was incredible. He’s such a pleasure to watch, Johnny Depp. He’ one of the few people I’m excited about not just their past work, but for their future work.
What music do you listen to?
I listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen, a lot of Velvet Underground, a lot of Nico, Ramones, Billy Bragg. I’ve recently fallen in love again with Paul Simon. A lot of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Leadbelly. You know all the new up and coming artists. The last two or three years, I’ve literally been in a bubble, in voluntary, solitary confinement in India. There’s a sharp distinction there and my life in the rest of the world, whether it’s New York or Paris or London. I’m just in my own little bubble. You’ve got to make priorities - are you going to keep up? I hear names of bands that everyone’s talking about but now I’m content with Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen and maybe later I’ll catch up.
What are your favorite things right now? What are you excited about?
All my freakin’ friends! Jordan, I’ve known for a while and this is his first movie. Donald and The Virgins, they’re just blowing up. All these people are just creating and making unabashedly and that’s what is doing it for me.
Check out Waris online at www.houseofwaris.com.