Jenni Avins

20 Odd Questions for Waris Ahluwalia, for the Wall Street Journal

The designer and actor on his signature pink suede shoes and chivalry a la Bill Murray

BLUE TRAVELER | Waris Ahluwalia in his Manhattan studio Brandon Schulman for The Wall Street Journal

TEN YEARS AGO, director Wes Anderson gave his friend Waris Ahluwalia the role of an intrepid maritime explorer in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” It turned out to be a prescient bit of casting: Since then, Mr. Ahluwalia, 39, has been unafraid to test all kinds of uncharted waters. Along with acting and jewelry design (under his label House of Waris), he’s created pop-up restaurants, written for the Paris Review and collaborated with a variety of companies, from eyewear label Illesteva to French clothing brand A.P.C.

“The way people experiment with drugs and sexuality, I’ve experimented with careers,” said Mr. Ahluwalia, over a lunch of lamb kebabs and jasmine tea. The Indian-born designer, who moved to New York as a child, said that in his 20s he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He dabbled in various projects and became acquainted with the city’s arts community before launching House of Waris, shortly after “Life Aquatic” wrapped. “It took me a while to find myself,” he said.

Nowadays, the one thing that remains consistent is Mr. Ahluwalia’s appearance. It can be attributed partly to his Sikh faith, which traditionally requires a turban and forbids shaving. His personal twist is an impeccably tailored suit, worn with his custom pink desert boots.

Mr. Ahluwalia’s latest role is real-life merchant of Venice. As brand ambassador for the Luxury Collection hotel group, he has been working with designers and artisans from 14 countries to create House of Waris Rare, a collection of handmade objects to be sold in the newly restored lobby of the Gritti Palace in Venice. The Rare shop, which opened this past week, includes cashmere-and-yak wool scarves by Haider Ackermann, travel backgammon sets from Brooklyn-based design duo Fredericks & Mae, bronze bowls by sculptor Alma Allen and artist Ann Wood’s stuffed owls made with vintage Fortuny fabrics. What unites it all is an emphasis on craftsmanship, but Mr. Ahluwalia is adamant that nothing is meant to be walled away behind glass. “It’s not a cabinet of curiosities,” he said. “They’re all objects for living.”

Clockwise from bottom left: Ann Wood owl; House of Waris pink sapphire necklace; Fredericks & Mae backgammon set; Cary Grant; ‘Pierrot Le Fou’ poster; Custom Esquivel desert boot; Alma Allen bowl (center)F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal (backgammon, bowl, owl,); Getty Images (Grant); Everett Collection (poster)

The one thing I wear every day is: my turban. Mine is always black, but it doesn’t have to be. My uncle matches his to his ties. And I’ll either be in a suit or jeans, or in the summer, linen. I look at men’s fashion as a uniform.

My favorite fashion era is: the 1930s. Cary Grant, Gary Cooper—that era when there was a little bit of pomp and circumstance, and a touch of formality.

The last book I read was: ”In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan. I read a lot of nonfiction.

My signature dish is: dal—Indian lentils. My mom taught me well but I still call her every time and pretend I don’t know how to make it: “Mom, OK I’ve got the onions chopped. What do I do next?”

As a teenager, I wore: lots of heavy metal T-shirts and jeans. And I had these leather cowboy boots that had steel toes with skulls on the toes and sides.

My carry-on suitcase contains: two decks of cards, a bag of almonds, a little notebook—a red Smythson Panama or a Moleskine—a camera, an iPod, pencils and a sharpener.

The best acting direction I ever received was: on the set of “Inside Man.” Spike [Lee] came into the trailer and said, “Just go with it. Improv.” That’s kind of a crazy thing to hear when you’re about to do a scene across from Denzel Washington. I was in makeup, thinking, “What about all that other stuff we talked about? Like the lines?”

One job I’d like to try is: being a cowboy. I like that sort of discipline and focus and the idea of respect.

My favorite film is: well, I don’t think I could ever pick one. “It Happened One Night,” “True Romance,” “My Man Godfrey,” “Pierrot Le Fou” and “Badlands”—these are all at number one.

I start my day with: camomile tea. People generally have it at the end of their day but I need to slow it down in the morning.

The only shoes I wear are: dusty pink desert boots, custom-made by George Esquivel, who was nominated the same year as me for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. He was very sweet to call the style Waris. You can get the Waris in other colors, but in pink? Just for me.

Jewelry is about: an intimate experience and romance. Someone gives jewelry and there’s a bit of romance. If you buy it from a store, the store is trying to romance you. Even when I’m making the jewelry, I have to be romanced.

Being a perfect gentleman means: going back to the idea of tradition. Hold the door for a lady. Wait until a lady is out of the elevator. My favorite thing about Bill Murray is he gets up every time a woman gets up from the table or sits down.

My favorite meal in Venice is: the great steak at the Club del Doge, the restaurant at the Gritti. I also love having a meal at Harry’s Bar. I’m a traditionalist.

The hardest part of a man’s wardrobe is: denim. Guys have trouble with the fit. My go-to jeans are a straight, narrow cut from A.P.C. or BLK DNM.

Doyle Mueser shop in New York Rose Callahan

The perfect way to say thank you: is flowers. I keep it one color. I also love getting flowers—peonies, red or pink.

My closet is: organized by color. The suits are lined up like paint chips. It goes from darks to a lot of blues and then grays.

The best tailor is: wherever I travel. I’ve worked with tailors on Savile Row and in India and Italy. In New York, Doyle Mueser on Christopher Street made me a beautiful blue flannel suit that just fits like an exoskeleton, like armor.

My favorite place to wake up is: anywhere tropical where the window is open and there’s a warm breeze. That’s it.