Fashion buyer 101: Elahe's Smrita Shroff on how to not be a fashion victim
While you weren’t paying attention, an iconic Banjara Hills fashion destination from Hyderabad just opened its doors in Kolkata to mark its 20th anniversary. We’re, of course, talking about Elahe, which is one of the most sought-after multi-designer boutiques in the country and has been showcasing the most acclaimed and interesting names in fashion for years now. The Ritchie Road outlet which had its soft launch last week and had none other than Sabyasachi Mukherjee in attendance is not just the first Elahe in the city, but it’s also the second boutique in the country.
The fashion studio first started in 1999, and opened up incredible avenues in terms of luxury fashion shopping in India; today you’ll find some of the most relevant names in its line-up, be it in couture or pret. From Jayanti Reddy’s festive Benarasi karigari, or Amit Aggarwal’s conceptual wear, or labels like Anavila, Anuradha Vakil, Dhruv Kapoor, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The Kolkata store is a dynamic sartorial powerhouse spread across 5,000 square feet, which will give you a fantastic sense of how diverse Indian high fashion really is. We caught up with Smita Shroff, who along with Rajiv Shroff are the minds responsible for the success of Elahe to learn about their plans for the city.
Tell us why you chose Kolkata for Elahe's second outlet in the country?
Kolkata is like a home to me, it's like a homecoming, as I was born and brought up here. But more importantly, it's an untapped market; I feel Kolkata has been known for the sourcing when it comes to fashion. No one's really given a thought to its consumer side, it's such a huge market, it's a city which has been deprived of a well-curated fashion destination.
Elahe just completed 20 years. Can you tell us how it has evolved in two decades?
Our buying patterns have changed the most, according to me; I feel it is very important to understand the customers’ shopping preferences, as it is the pulse of curation. 'I get what I get from my designers,' is not the key to a successful business. Every city is very localised, it has it own market. What sells in Delhi may not sell in Kolkata.
And you have to bring something new to the table for the consumers while retaining the classics. The straight kurta is still in, everybody's wearing it because things come and go, but classics remain. But there is a huge shift in purchasing among the millennials, who I feel are really changing the industry.
Would you say millennials are smarter as a generation, when it comes to their purchasing style?
Oh yes, they are more price-sensitive and sensible, they don't want anything too elaborate which they can't repeat, they are also helping their mums. So, we have to handle the needs of two generations. And I'm on the floor of my stores as well, and this is a really important observation I've made; if a mother wants to buy something, the daughter will say "you will wear it once, why do you want to buy it?" The younger crowd has brought along a major revolution in the buying pattern in the country.
What's the first thing anyone should know about being a fashion buyer today?
Don't be a fashion victim; you have to wear what you love on yourself, and not what others love on you. And also stop following trends, everything is in fashion, there's nothing which is not in fashion. For instance, we are so proud of our old Benarasi weaves, belonging to our mums, and this was the same even 10 years ago, because there are things which don't change. So wear what your skin is comfortable in, don't let people decide what to like.
Tell us about the kind of designers you're focusing on now
You know, there is something very interesting about what we do, since we feature designer collections ranging between Rs 10,000 to 10 lakhs, you have to understand the pricing and what sells in a city, and take your pick. Because curation is king according to me, everybody is offering everything. But you can't confuse the customers, you have to have something for everyone.
If a mother is shopping, she'll get a beautiful Anavila (sustainable fashion label) saree or a Pero (Aneeth Arora’s fusion label) saree. If I wear a straight kurta I'll pick something from Anuradha Vakil's line-up, yet I have brands like Chola and Eka and western contemporary names. You can't just focus on a look, you have to feature a mix of everything, so a mother and her daughter can shop here together. Single designer stores have their own aesthetic, but a multi-designer store has the privilege of going for its own kind of product and they can offer so much more to the clients.
Is there anything about the Indian high fashion space which you wish you could change?
Yes, I think price correction is very important at this point. The designers need to look into their pricing especially because they have to understand that customers have too many choices now; this also makes quality a very crucial aspect. Previously we had 5 designers, so we had lesser options, now there are so many alternatives.
Two women who have the best style in the Indian industry
I think Kiran Rao and Anamika Khanna has great style I think.