Anniversary special: Noted couturiers and jewellers from Bengaluru take us through the highlights of the past 10 years and let us in on what they expect going forward
How can a sari store, though boasting a rich legacy of over 600 years and a client list including the likes of Deepika Padukone, continue to stay relevant in a space that is anything other than bridal or occasion wear? Just ask K Radharaman, the force behind The House of Angadi, which today has numerous verticals under its name, such as design label Advaya and the recently launched pret brand Alamelu, besides stores such as Angadi Galleria, Angadi Heritage and Angadi Silks. “Bengaluru has not seen a major shift in terms of its fascination for handloom, because we have always been very discerning in that sense. Our love affair with handloom and hand-woven fabrics is not new,” says Radharaman, who opened his first store, The House of Angadi, in 2001 in Jayanagar, a neighbourhood that was not the most conventional of choices.
“People told me I was making a mistake and urged me to open on MG Road or Commercial Street. But I told them that if the product is good, people will travel. And I have been proven right. People did travel and continue to do so,” he tells us, adding, “We were the largest store of that nature in that area. There was no real retail activity there. We had to get a special license to function and thankfully the BDA authority in charge of that area was a very helpful gentleman by the name Jayakar Jerome. And everything went according to plan. You could say that was what kicked off the transformation of Jayanagar from a quiet residential area to the commercial hub it is today.”
The textile expert has been a permanent resident of Bengaluru for 20 years, but in the early 2000s, the city was still new for him. He was yet to grow accustomed to its laid back nature, slow pace and simplicity. “I happened to visit Mallya Hospital for a routine check up and I saw this elderly gentleman walking up to the entrance of the hospital along with another younger man, who looked like he was there just to help. As he approached, I realised it was then Chief Minister SM Krishna. Now, for me, who had moved here from Chennai, this was inconceivable. Ministers in TN would not travel without a cavalcade. The simplicity of this prominent politician struck me as what Bengaluru was all about. It sort of captured the spirit of the city for me,” enthuses the man who introduced the country to the linen Kanjeevaram in 2010, and adds, “This is true of many prominent Bangaloreans, such as Sudha Murthy, who are towering when it comes to achievements but are so humble, affable and down to earth. I think we focus on doing rather than talking about it.”
The legendary designer’s passion for her craft comes through in the way she talks about how the industry has transformed since 2010. And it’s not all positive. Deepika, whose label was born in late 1998, is perhaps one of the earliest designers to pioneer Indian weaves such as khadi cotton, Patola and Pochampally ikat, and wild silks such as eri and muga. But she is dismayed by the way things have unfolded in the last 10 years. “Even about 15 years ago, people took a lot of care with the way they dressed. Bangaloreans were sophisticated, elegant and understated. Nowadays, it’s hard to see people who are fashionably turned out." she says.
In 2010, Deepika’s career was at its peak but she decided to step back. Instead of working the fashion week circuit, she was interested in investing her time on experimenting with weaves that she had always longed to work with and on perfecting her craft. “I grew up in many ways in 2010. I realised I was totally burnt out. I felt that I didn’t need to do the fashion weeks, which was almost like producing a movie. So I stepped out of the limelight, but continued to focus on textiles and my business,” she explains. Today, business is thriving. Bridal orders continue to pour in despite the pandemic and her pret line, which is now available online, is still finding many takers. “Business is picking up, but I wish brides would stop asking me to create outfits out of net and load it with embroidery. I love embroidery too, but it should have a purpose. It shouldn’t overpower the rest of the outfit. Also, we have perfectly gorgeous handwoven silks. It is beyond me where this fascination for net stems from,” she says.
When asked what she misses most about the Bengaluru of 10 years ago, she says, “It was a time when the city was known for designers who each had a distinct aesthetic. Now, everyone follows a cookie- cutter approach to their work. And I hope that changes," she says, signing off.
Sounak Sen Barat
Luxury label House of Three’s Sounak Sen Barat firmly believes that in many ways, it was and continues to be in Bengaluru that what India wears is decided. “There are two parts to the fashion industry. One is the unorganised sector of entrepreneurial designers who have their own labels. The other is the organised mass market fashion retail industry that feeds the clothing needs of 1.4 billion people. Bengaluru has always been the pioneer in the latter. I came here in 2001 to work at Madura Garments. That was when markets were opening up, and a platform of home-made brands had sprung up — Madura with brands like Louis Phillipe, Van Heusen and Allen Solly and Arvind with Levi’s and Lee among others. This was the hub that decided, designed and manufactured what India wore,” says Sounak who launched his label in 2008, after eight years of working at Van Heusen Woman, as the creative director.
And yet, the city has never been bursting at the seams with celebrated fashion designers like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or even Hyderabad. However, shares Sounak, a decade ago and even earlier, we had a select set of designers, who were niche, knew exactly what they wanted and whose aesthetics found them acclaim both in India and beyond our borders. “There was Sanchita (Ajjampur) who had had a glorious career in Europe, working with the most prestigious luxury fashion houses over two decades before making Bengaluru her home. Young Raj Shroff was a fresh and bright designer who had already made his mark both locally and nationally. There was Anshu and Jason with their sustainable label Small Shop. Flamboyant Viraj (Manoviraj Khosla) was pretty much the king of fashion. He along with Deepika Govind were important senior board members with the FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India), which ensured that Bengaluru was well represented at the national level. Things were quieter and softer then,” he recalls, adding, “The perception of fashion then was all about glamour in some form or the other. Today, the approach is more democratised, more accessible and more mindful than it used to be.”
The pandemic has been a great leveller and Sounak’s label also felt the pinch, but he and his team were quick to make necessary changes and move forward. “We relooked at what we sourced, who from, what we made of it and how we made it and we changed our pricing strategy to a make ourselves more accessible. Going forward, designer labels will be forced to shift to online e-commerce platforms of their own, which in the long run will ensure a healthy industry that would have ironed out multiple existing issues and practices of an unorganised sector,” he says in conclusion.
It’s been over 10 years now since Michelle Salins moved to Bengaluru and exactly a decade since she launched her label. Though she moved out of the city a few years back, she returned in 2019 and continues to run her fashion label with the same enthusiasm and energy she did when she started out.
There was a time when she was synonymous with bridal wear in Bengaluru, but what most people didn’t know was that she was also retailing across the US at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and had dressed the likes of model and TV personality Tyra Banks, singer Pink, actor and model Carmen Electra, and entertainment journalist Giuliana Rancic.
We catch Michelle on a busy day (the pandemic does not seem to have slowed her down), but she is happy to chat in between meetings. “I started the label with sheer passion. Creating something is also about exploring its potential and I wanted to be able to dress different people, sizes and body shapes,” says Michelle, who trained to be an interior designer but switched to fashion after she took up an internship with a bridal designer in New York.
In 2010, when her business was just taking off, Bengaluru’s social set, the kind that didn’t bat an eyelid to stock their closets with bespoke outfits, was still colour shy. But Michelle was having none of it. “I love working with prints and colour and in 2010, Bengaluru was not ready for the boldness of colour blocking and loud prints. We had to often cajole customers and get them to try things on. When they saw the results, they always came back for more! It was a tough but beautiful process,” she recalls.
Cut to 2020, and Michelle has added to her repertoire, activewear and athleisure with her new label, Mimi. “Launching a completely new product line at this time has been challenging, but we kept our chin up, ideated, strategised and added more designs to our portfolio. We are constantly researching fabrics and techniques, and this gave us the opportunity to look deeper,” shares Michelle.
Talking about what to expect from the future, she says, “Fashion is going to face new challenges and we have to approach the next year with a strategic mindset to strengthen our performance especially with the digital acceleration that is happening globally with the pandemic.”
It was at a time when gold was synonymous with traditional wear that Pallavi Foley decided to do the unthinkable. She used the precious metal to create unique, contemporary designs that were anything but traditional and this saw people waking up to its endless possibilities.
“There is a quote by Pablo Picasso, “Everything you can imagine is real,” which summarises my design process. I am fearless when it comes to design and let my mind wander far. I find my inspiration everywhere — in books, movies, paintings, and even in my daughter’s constant chatter. Though every experience in my life somehow finds its way into the jewels that I design, travel, however, always has a peculiar drug-like impact on me. Every time I travel, I feel like a bit of me changes forever,” begins Pallavi, who started her career with Tanishq before setting up her own label.
From designing tiaras for the Miss India pageants, to creating a line in black-and-white diamonds that define ‘the journey of a diamond’ and her most recent prayer pendants which include prayers from various religions, her readiness to take risks, push the boundaries and keep experimenting are a few factors that have kept her label relevant to this day.
“Bengaluru has always followed the ‘less is more’ approach to dressing and I think this has worked in my favour too,” she says and adds that one of the major changes she has seen in the last 10 years is a growing demand for well-crafted, tasteful pieces. “Jewellery is a fashion accessory, however, it is also about investment and I have only seen an increase in the number of clients wanting to buy jewels that are designed well and crafted with perfection. Even during the pandemic, apart from the lockdown period, we haven’t seen any major changes in shopping patterns,” she shares.