‘My child does nothing on a vacation, and that is alright’

Published: Conde Nast Traveller India, August 23, 2017
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What use is a holiday if all you do is chase itineraries?

What-to-do-with-kids-on-vacation-866x487Illustration via Conde Nast Traveller: macy75/Getty Images

When a well-meaning but slightly bitchy mother asked me, ‘What did you do on the holiday?’, I tried to explain the multiple dimensions of ‘nothing’ and ‘absolutely nothing’ without launching into a philosophical explanation. But ‘nothing’ somehow isn’t good enough, it isn’t satisfying. Can a EUR25,000 holiday be justified with ‘nothing’ to show for it besides a couple of fridge magnets and boarding pass stubs?

Having survived trips with some serious holiday Nazis, my husband and I have decided that we are not cut out for vacations ruled by checklists. And with cultivated practice, neither is our nearly-seven-year-old daughter Samaira. When she was a year-and-a-half, we spent a fortnight on a beach in Goa to a rhythm driven entirely by mood, with regular meals, books and showers thrown in. We stayed put at the hotel, without venturing anywhere—not even to that seafood shack everyone was ‘peri-peri-ing’ about. But, we returned home entirely refreshed and with the perfect tan—neither of which should be taken lightly.

After a hectic city life filled with the kiddie social circus of playdates, BFF parties, birthday bashes and NRI visits (all of which require the perfect tan) I’ve realised that the only holiday to write home about is the one with no agenda. The one where you do nothing.

<It’s more than that though, it’s our inherent attitude towards learning. The belief that only within rigid boundaries do we achieve; but I counter, only with a lack of boundaries do we have the space to create.> And so, from experience, I suggest ways to do ‘nothing’ rather effectively:

Age 2: On the grass by the lake, Salzburg
We walked the same roads often, strolling and taking in the beauty of the landscape, creating a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar city. We stumbled upon a playground right by the lake, with an old tyre for a swing. Parking our stroller there, we watched her play for hours, jumping and crawling, swinging and singing. Not wanting to put a time limit on freedom, we walked over to the town and brought back a picnic lunch in a nondescript paper bag. We sat on the embankment, lay on the grass and caught the few rays of sunshine on a cloudy afternoon. She felt like a child out of an Enid Blyton book, minus the pet. Sandwiches, cheese, lemonade, chocolate. Ducks that came to be fed. Memories that contain the joy of play that is not timebound, set to the music of the hills.

Age 3: The home life, Suburban America
A month in the States, and there was no ‘plan’. It was as simple as (or as much as) exploring the local preschool summer activities, playing games in the backyard, tending to the organic garden with her own watering can, going grocery shopping, walking in the woods, checking out the local strawberry festival and the butterfly farm, playing mini-golf, bicycling down leafy lanes, helping make meals, loading the dishwasher… Somehow they all served to foster spirit and maturity that Disney world cannot.

From the latter, you may enjoy the rides (that take an hour’s wait to get onto), bring back the toys and pleasant memories, but it’s a world of incredible make-believe. But by exposing them to a real-life environment that fosters independence in day-to-day skills, you allow them to explore a backyard filled with stories and mysteries of the imagination.

Age 4: People watching, Lisbon
In the long hours of summer, cafes on those cobbled streets were bursting with an eclectic mix of people. It seemed a shame to bypass the moment and rush off to the next place on the itinerary. Strong coffee, luscious berry tarts and people make for the perfect mix. We talked about a local shop that we liked, the street artist that appeared unable to take a bathroom break as he stood in the sweltering heat slathered with silver paint. We watched the birds swoop by and peck at tea-cake crumbles. We observed the American family that wore pearls and boat shoes together, and the Asian one that stared at their mobile phones together.

We tried to explain to our daughter why the two men—one scruffy and rather unwashed, and the other boho-chic—were holding hands, whispering sweet nothings and about to kiss. We thought of ways to tackle questions about marriage and babies with enough truth and enough circumspection. We watched her throw pennies into the water fountain, and talked about the significance and history of the buildings. People came and went, and we watched others who watched, taking a leaf out of the book of the best old-world artists and writers. We talked, mused, we stayed silent. Thoughts were built, explored and connected to new ones.

Age 5: Gallery observations, Budapest
A small travelling exhibit of a retrospective of Picasso’s art drew us in. We thought we could jet in and out quickly. I kept the folks waiting in the cafe as I took my daughter to check it out. She washed her hands off Picasso fairly quickly, but decided that Hungarian art deserved a bit more attention. War-torn moments, installations and gigantic abstract canvases caught her eye, and we spent five hours inside the National Gallery, where I had planned to spend 15 minutes. Children seem to have more interest in modern or abstract art than figurative art, perhaps. The lack of form allows them to draw from their imagination, which figurative art would perhaps limit them from doing. Sitting on those gallery benches, feeling like a moment out of The Thomas Crown Affair, helped rest my tired limbs and let her mind roam free.

Age 6: Cruise control, The Adriatic Sea
Every morning we would wake with anticipation of a new bit of land that would magically appear before us. Discovering a different country each day was an exciting experience, but cruises can be as hectic or peaceful as you would like them to be. With daily ports of call do you jam yourself in the routine of getting out, exploring and returning only to start the process all over again the next day? As we watched the hordes of travellers line up to ‘see’ the town and all its neighbouring heritage spots, we took a call—to not join them. We would begin with a leisurely breakfast on a nearly-empty ship, chatting with the crew that hailed from all parts of the world. Eventually, we would step out for a couple of hours to grab a light lunch or coffee in the town, drawing the locals into a conversation and keeping an eye out for an authentic home-grown boutique that stood out from the mass of chain stores.

Way before departure time, we would turn back, giving my daughter downtime in the balcony to sketch the day’s observations (while we Instagrammed), before the others arrived exhausted but replete with stories to tell back home. We had no stories; just flights of fancy, moods of a town captured through its locals and tourists, little streets or a Church explored. She had a point, after all, when she observed, ‘Mamma, all the ‘old towns’ look the same’.

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Preview of Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017: Notes from the atelier

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Published in Mint Lounge

As the Lakme Fashion Week takes off in Mumbai today, here are five designers to look out for and the causes they express through their collections

Eco warrior: Chola by Sohaya Mishra

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Mumbai-based Mishra has worked with a monochrome palette, which she feels “leaves space for thoughtful interpretation and encourages conversations on the beauty of contrast”. “Black and white, two opposing forces yet complementary, work together to bring balance, inherent to the concept of sustainability,” she says in an email interview. This dualism is woven into her dialogue on sustainability. For the collection, Mishra is working with Recca, a recycled cotton fabric sourced from Tamil Nadu’s Anandi Enterprises, an organization that supplies organic cotton. The collection consists of recycled twills in herringbone and check weaves. The recycled cotton is soft and is different in texture from the light weight organic cotton she has used previously. The movement is forged by a social media initiative, run with the hashtag ‘#RestartFashion’, intended to educate consumers about the consequences of fast fashion and benefits of using post-consumer waste.

Master of the weave: Sanjay Garg, Raw Mango

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Delhi-based Garg’s latest collection, “Angels” or “Cloud People”, opens Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) this season, with an off-site showcase at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai. It highlights the softness of white with delicate chikankari on Bengal mulzardozi and handwoven brocade. “The angel motif adds a new vocabulary to chikankari, which traditionally features florals and paisley motifs. In this case, it was about questioning the use of chikankari, as almost everything seen today is a diluted derivative. The chikan work in this collection is incredibly fine and delicate.” Garg recommends viewing the garments closely to examine the insides and details. What you’re likely to discover is soft feathers and clouds of angels in flight.

Bender of Norms: Anaam by Sumiran Kabir Sharma

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Delhi-based Sumiran Kabir Sharma’s collection is inspired by Sonagachi, the red light district in Kolkata. “Our collection, ‘Sonagachi’, represents an unstoppable, unbeatable army of warriors from the infamous district, those who march headfirst in flowy uniforms. Fierce, nameless, ageless, genderless silhouettes representing the collective strength and a call for identity, respect and recognition,” says Sharma. He goes for a representative colour palette with grey, black and earthy browns. The material used is suiting fabric, which is conventionally menswear fabric used for uniforms or corporate clothing. Drapes and patterns co-exist to form unique silhouettes, dotted with epaulettes and stitch detailing. He asks that you “come prepared to view it with equality and acceptance”.

Nostalgia artist: Eká by Rina Singh

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Inspired by old, discarded sketchbooks and undone artworks, Delhi-based designer Rina Singh’s theme embraces unfinished techniques. She creates a patchwork of artisanal, aged textiles, in a subtle aesthetic of Gandhian India. “I like to use the feeling of familiarity as opposed to sharp, untouched starched clothes. I like to present the clothes with a feeling of being washed and touched by hand, almost like it has been a part of your wardrobe already,” says Singh in an email interview. She looked to late artist Amrita Sher-Gil for inspiration, and also reached out to activist-author Arundhati Roy and artist Mithu Sen, to ask them questions about their choices and mementos in clothing.

In this collection, you will find monotones of nude with washed-down teal, indigo and blush pink. Faded shades of cement, iron and charcoal “lend a sepia-tinted veneer”. Visualize unfinished floral motifs on jamdani silk wool, block-printed textiles in art mosaic, and embroidery in unspun wool, silk and cotton yarns.

Upcycling advocate: Doodlage by Kriti Tula

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Delhi-based Doodlage started with the idea of being able to use scraps from the garment industry and to work around fabric defects to create limited-edition collections. Tula has collaborated with Conserve India, a Delhi-based organization that re-purposes used polybags, discarded seat belts and tyre tubes. They will present together on the second day of the five-day event of LFW; the day is dedicated to themes of sustainability. “Upcycling industrial waste is the central idea of our brand. Each garment is created using industrial scraps, defected fabric and end-of-the-line fabrics which are all a part of pre-consumer waste that often end up in massive quantities of landfill,” says Tula. The collection for LFW, “Dreams and Dystopia”, addresses the chaos and distress in current political and social situations. “What we need is a call to action. To find the strength to push for change and to go beyond likes and shares on social media,” she says.

Deep tones of navy, maroon, sap green are combined with light under-tones of pastel blue and steel grey. “A layer of patchwork and prints representing complex city grids is superimposed with whimsical floral details,” says the designer. Doodlage employs slogans as part of its fashion vocabulary. “Clothing is a means of self-expression and slogans allow you to be more vocal and expressive,” says Tula, of the typographic design employed in her fashion line.

Timeless in Le Sentier: Bulgari’s watch atelier in Switzerland

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Published in Verve Magazine, July 2017
Additional text added to this post from original. Images by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh from her live instagram feed (Jan 2017).

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It is a mind-numbingly cold morning. We are the first call — before daybreak — on the coach taking us into snow-clad Swiss mountains to the Italian brand’s watchmaking atelier. Bulgari is best known for its jewellery (Elizabeth Taylor was a long-standing fan) and luxury goods including fragrances and leather accessories, and hotels. It is the brand’s incredible watchmaking journey, however, that is the focal point of discussion between the journalists of various countries today.

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Pascal Brandt

Upon arrival, we disembark at Le Sentier, a town tucked away from the world. Pascal Brandt’s passion (and attention to detail) is deeply evident as he greets us. The communications director for the Bulgari watch division has a background in journalism, and having previously worked with other watch brands like Vacheron Constantin and Panerai, he immediately comments on the watch on my wrist.

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The first Bulgari watches were made in the ’20s, but it was only at the end of the ’70s that the firm presented its first important collection. Following the success of the Bulgari Roma launched in 1975, the Bulgari Bulgari watch was created, a model that is now considered a classic and an icon, and continues to be one of Bulgari’s bestsellers.

The brand has come a long way, horologically speaking, since it founded the company, Bulgari Time, in Neuchâtel (the heart of Swiss horology) in 1982. Today Bulgari’s range of watches include several lines of classic, sporty, complicated and precious timepieces. For instance, 2014 saw the launch of the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, the thinnest tourbillon movement ever made — creating a world record.

Guido Terreni, the gregarious managing director of Bulgari Watches, said to me at the Baselworld watch fair two years ago, “To be credible in luxury, you have to be credible in terms of style and craftsmanship both. That’s why we have developed the know-how internally. After all, the ladies are buying competence!” To that effect, Manufacture Bulgari fully masters the production of the mechanical watch movements ranging from grand complications to the ultra-thin hand-wound calibres, as well as the standard Solotempo self-winding base movements. Production of the external elements — metal cases, bracelets, high-end dials — is also done internally. The Manufacture’s vertical integration strategy — evidenced by a string of acquisitions from 2000 to 2007 — has enabled the brand to progressively secure the skills required to make a complete watch, catapulting Bulgari into the cluster of elite watch manufacturers.

The 350-plus workforce is spread over four sites in the Jura mountains: Le Sentier (which we are visiting) for the grand complication, ultra-thin Finissimo movements and the production and assembly of the Solotempo calibre; the Saignelégier facility for the gold and steel cases and bracelets production; La Chaux-de-Fonds for the manufacturing of high-end dials. Assembly and the final controls on the watch are at Neuchâtel, which continues to be the seat of the operations. What ties all the facilities together is the drive to succeed and the quest for perfection. After all, the journey to watchmaking success for Bulgari has been uphill; and now that they are at a remarkable height, it’s not one they will surrender easily.

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As we look out from the large windows of the Le Sentier facility in Vallée de Joux, it’s lonely and quiet. The kind of place that permits you to hear your thoughts, to explore silence and musical notes in précisément. Besides the variety of ‘classical’ sophisticated complications such as the tourbillon and the perpetual calendar for instance, Bulgari is at the top of its class in its ability to craft the whole range of highly acclaimed chiming watches. Its expertise is evident as we stand watching master craftsmen at work in the manufacture de haute horlogerie’s dedicated chiming workshop.

Each watch component is assembled (with up to 1,000 components), adjusted and decorated entirely by hand: it takes around one year for the master artisans to complete a single grand complication timepiece. We meet Bulgari’s John Sheridan, the industry’s youngest watchmaker to work on minute repeaters, which require incredible skill and knowledge by virtue of their extreme technical demands. Bulgari has four of the 12 minute-repeater specialists that exist in Switzerland — who need at least 20 years of experience. For Bulgari, as Brandt puts it, the Swiss high watchmaking tradition is in the hands of one Irishman, two Frenchmen and one Portuguese!

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You can’t help chuckling at the calendars on the wall — they are in the form of moonphases. The facility includes the technical office, the hotbed of the research and development of movement-related projects, and the production office where the complicated (and super-complicated) watches are produced. They are working on everything from pre-ordered pieces to a futuristic five-year plan, including some top-secret stuff that we may (or may not) have seen.

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As we head back, driving into sunnier skies, and stop for stunning photo ops at the frozen lake just outside our lunch spot, Bellevue Le Rocheray, we take a moment to admire the calm that is spread out around us. In that coolness of spirit, lethargy doesn’t prevail; rather the sounds of perfection sing through the hills. Bulgari as a watchmaker believes in quality assurance over quality control. The inspection is carried out not only of the final piece but also at three specific stages: during the creative phase, after each individual component is made, and during assembly. Every stage in the production process is monitored both by the watchmaker himself and by the quality assurance inspectors, who check functions and compliance with rigid quality parameters.

Bellevue Le Rocheray is a buzzing chalet tucked away into the secluded hills. Post the comprehensive walk-through of the facilities, the meal is leisurely, abrim with warm Italian hospitality. The wine is flowing and our vegetarian needs are particularly satisfied. The conversation on the table has shown Brandt, much like the core watchmaking team we have interacted with at the previous Baselworld fairs, to be witty, erudite and honest. I pose a question about the ‘Bulgari Diagono’ prototype with the ‘vault’ facility (the big moment from Baselworld 2015). While it has got held up in trying to get worldwide banks on board, we hope that some version of it may be in the market in the future.

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Falguni Kapadia, Sitanshi Talati-Parikh, Pascal Brandt

Terreni had said: “We are the only brand that thinks about technique and design simultaneously, we are not selling to watch freaks; we are selling to people who know what luxury is about and can recognise the authenticity of an idea and the craftsmanship in the watch. I love idea generation, to see the design grow, to see the prototype become true…but your emotion is the true reward of all this work. I don’t look for ‘I like’, or ‘I don’t like’; I look for ‘Wow’.”

Admittedly, now, having seen it with our own eyes, a Bulgari timepiece is the happy marriage of Italian creativity and Swiss technical craftsmanship. It speaks for itself that although last year saw the luxury industry on shaky ground, Bulgari finished the fiscal year, as Brandt puts it, “on a very, very good note!” After all, the Octo Finissimo minute repeaters (in their extra-thin collection) launched last year were all sold out. Brandt says simply, encompassing the enormity of what they do to be successful: “All the pieces are very wearable”. (Read my Baselworld 2015 interview with Guido and Fabrizio here.)

Payal Khandwala: Out of the Closet

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Published in Mint Lounge July 8, 2017
(Text edited from original). Photograph by Abhijit Bhatlekar

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Her brand-new cat interjects his way playfully into many parts of our conversation, and artist-turned-designer Payal Khandwala deals with the situation with the same composure that she would any other area of her life. Khandwala draws from her vivacious artist’s palette for the eponymous clothing line she first showcased in March 2012, 10 years after she moved back from New York to Mumbai.

Khandwala went to New York to study fine arts at the Parsons School of Design in 1995 and then worked with menswear designer Sandy Dalal in the US.

Unable to find clothes that she liked, and sensing the potential market for a prêt line, she decided to move from canvas to fabric. The line has taken on a life of its own: She started by retailing at Good Earth and now has two stores in Mumbai, and is stocked in multiple stores in four metros.

Khandwala, 43, has repeatedly made it to best-dressed lists for her individual sense of style, which is bold-hued, sleek and non-fussy. Her eyes are always made up dramatically, her petite frame is enveloped in colourful drapes, trousers and antique silver accessories. But what she wears best is her grounded attitude to life and style. After all, she is the one who popularized lehngas with pockets for women.

payal1-k6vG--621x414@LiveMintColour-coordinated brocade saris.

The saris in her wardrobe are grouped and hung in order of colour shades and sometimes, she says, she will just “undo it to avoid becoming a slave to that kind of discipline”. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Should we be surprised that your living spaces are minimalist and muted?
I am very practical; I don’t like fuss and clutter. Not only is it the way I design, it’s also the way I live. While I like accents of colour, I want the environment to be neutral. Besides, I can’t wear and be around colour simultaneously!

How different is your look now from your New York avatar?
As a student I didn’t have any money, but New York is full of flea markets and vintage stores. I was more bohemian: pairing jeans with a top, shawl or kaftan. I became more minimalistic when I began making clothes for myself, and with age, perhaps. I don’t want too much of either sophistication or free-spiritedness.

cat-k6vG--621x414@LiveMintDistressed jeans from Hong Kong.

You’ve struggled to find lowers that worked for you, how did you figure them out?
I love jeans because they stand the test of time (she’s “obsessed” with a pale pair from a mall in Hong Kong that is loose-fitting, distressed and bootleg). I always found everything else more formal, while high-street options are largely trend-based. So now if I want to wear a particular kind of pant (she counts the palazzo as a staple), I just make it.

Anything from “back then” that makes you cringe?
You won’t see me wearing colourful patent leather wedges or fluorescent colours. I disliked the 1980s and 1990s. It was the worst time for fashion. I did it then and it was a disaster. I have learnt my lesson.

Didn’t you have a love affair with saris?
I took two Abraham & Thakore cotton saris with me to New York, but it became a lot easier when I moved back to Mumbai, because of the weather. Being a part of the art circle, or maybe as a reaction to having been away so long, I began wearing saris more frequently, pairing them with tank tops or jackets that I procured from Vietnam, Cambodia or Istanbul. I easily have more than 80 saris (none of which are from my mother), including 50- to 70-year-old vintage brocade saris, and lehngas woven with pure gold thread, and an early Sabyasachi.

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Silver necklace from Istanbul.

Tell us about your eclectic jewellery collection.
I have a lot of silver jewellery: I wore it with saris for my wedding. I’ve not bought anything in ages, because there is very little of the genuine kind in circulation—they just make pieces that look antique. I’ve picked up stuff from Rajasthan (Jaipur and Udaipur), Istanbul and, earlier, from Amrapali. I am also fond of necklaces that are like thin discs made out of coconut or vinyl put together and tribal, Maasai-style pieces. I’m currently in love with flower-shaped leather rings that I picked out in multiple shades from a little Spanish store, Tierra (now shut down), in New York.

shoes-k6vG--621x414@LiveMintA pair of indigo brogues from Miz Mooz, New York

Do you believe in a “look”?
If you have a distinct sense of style, it will automatically come with a “look”. Any decision you make—if it comes from a place that is not external or trend-driven—is based on your personality. For instance, I’m an informal person. I will go to a restaurant and cross my legs and sit; so you will very rarely see me wearing anything that is short and tight.

Which is more important, fashion or style?
Style, of course! And that makes you question the male gaze. In much the way that Coco Chanel was trying to do by questioning the need for women to wear corsets—because there were men designing for women, with their idea of what a girl should look like. I feel now there is finally some conversation about this.

purple-k6vg-414x621livemint.jpgReversible handwoven jacket from Payal Khandwala.

What do you believe is key to making, wearing and choosing clothes?
It is simply a matter of taste that will connect all three. And while I know colour is what everyone responds to, the bedrock of a good outfit (for anybody of any size and shape) is proportion. It’s like assuming that a long skinny rectangle can be equal to a square. As you “cover up” with clothes, you are cheating: Perhaps three people in the world have a body that looks perfectly proportionate. The rest of us are stuck with bits and bobs and the lines we’ve earned and stretch marks we have fought for.

Payal’s colour wheel
Khandwala gives us her markers for special occasions

Brunch: Think beyond white. It works, but it’s predictable. I recommend citrine or coral.

Cocktail: Don’t feel compelled to pick black, go with a deeper bold colour. I’m partial to jewel colours, so sapphire blue, emerald green, perhaps with a hint of metallic.

Romantic date: Pick a colour that is an extension of your personality. This is probably the best time to be at your most comfortable. If you’re bold, I would recommend crimson; free spirits can try chartreuse; if you lean towards shyness, then powder blue, silver, or blush rose.

When in doubt: Neutrals like charcoal, black, navy, indigo and white work in most situations, so when unsure, turn to one of these shades. Whichever colour you pick, the key is to wear it with confidence.

Discovering Design: Alexandre Peraldi for Baume and Mercier Watches

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Published Vervemagazine.in July 3, 2017

Alexandre Peraldi has a fluid sense of fashion. He is passionate about ‘balance’ and is inspired by ‘everything and absolutely anything.’ Perhaps it is suggestive of the creativity that helps him keep the clock ticking at Swiss watchmaker Baume & Mercier (B&M), a brand that was founded in 1830. He’s been with the Richemont Group (a Switzerland-based company that owns some of the best luxury brands in jewellery, watches and writing instruments) since 1988, which incidentally is also when B&M joined the group. B&M are known for their sporty, classical watches in the ‘affordable’ mid-range luxury watch segment. Popular B&M lines include the Clifton Club – vintage watches based on the brand’s offerings from the mid 20th century, the minimalistic Classima, and Linea for women with interchangeable straps.

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Excerpts from an interview with the Baume & Mercier design director:

12 years at Cartier, 16 years at B&M. What has the journey been like?
“Patient. I’d like to use the line of the musician who said that, to be a good one, you have to learn classical music for 10 years and after that, you will be able to play jazz. I learnt ‘classical’ design at Cartier and I moved to Baume et Mercier to ‘play jazz’. It has been a very exciting journey.”

You believe in a fine balance with the tension of imbalance – how do you bring those two elements together to get that perfect jazz note?
“It’s difficult. First of all, it’s teamwork. At B&M, we try to design with the marketing, industry and design teams together. Being affordable is a very important constraint while being a great opportunity. You are obliged to go further in your design, to improve upon it and to be able at the end to find the best solution, with the best quality, with the best price. At Cartier, we designed directly and it reaches production without price constraint.

The other constraint is the aesthetics –  we try to stay classic with no extravagance. And yet, we have to find that touch of originality. Elements in design give this kind of balance between elegance, affordability and timelessness.”

Do you still sketch by hand?
“Yes. Less and less. I just engaged with two new designers, and it was very important that they are able to design by hand. When you have an idea in mind and when you work in a team, to explain something, you take a pen and like that… (sketches for Verve). If you don’t practice a lot, you lose your ability to design. We just spoke about inspiration – in the past, when I saw something, I always had a notebook to sketch in. Now, I have a phone to take a picture. While, now I can take a lot of pictures, later I may look at the picture and wonder why I took it – which wouldn’t happen if I were sketching what caught my eye.”

Does one design for the brand or for the market?
“The brand is nothing without the market. At the end, we have to be successful. We have to fit the needs of different markets, which is difficult. We are an old international brand and we have our own DNA. But, we have to adapt this design to the reality. So, we have to be aware of the competitors – not to follow them but to try to understand this market. The nightmare for us is that we don’t have our own boutique, so we can’t get direct feedback from the customer. Now, with social media, it will be a little bit easier because when the people don’t like something, they say it. (But when they like something, they don’t say it!)”

What is the future of the wristwatch?
“I don’t know! I am not really pessimistic. It’s an old story in watchmaking, that we (watchmakers) continue to exist, albeit, differently. Let’s take a parallel of the car. In the past, cars were all the same. The only change we had for years was the front-wheel drive and automatic transmission, and now you have electric or driverless cars. But a car with the motor, engine, wheels and doors will continue to exist; and I think it will be the same for the watch.
Perhaps we would change some details within the watch: the movement, connection or connectivity. The first step is the Apple Watch, but it’s not the final step. We didn’t imagine it in science fiction, but now everything is possible. When you see Star Wars, it is not the future. It is now. It will not be the role of the designer to change the watch, but of the innovator, who may come up with new materials, perhaps.”

What should an Indian buyer know about a B&M watch before buying it?
“They should know that it’s a very comfortable watch.
1. It fits the wrist well. It’s a sports watch, but you can wear it with anything. If someone says to me, ‘I forget the time while wearing your watch’, then my work is done.
2. The second comfort is that of aesthetic appeal. We are a classic, elegant brand. We are not aggressive or extravagant. We pay attention to details that would make a difference to the wearer.
3. And the third comfort is that of the wallet. We have to be affordable.”

 

Have The Bag And Eat It Too!

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Published in Mint Lounge, Saturday May 27, 2017
(Additional images and content used for this post)

If you eat meat, stop reading now. If you are often accused of being a grass-eater, carry on. The eureka moment, when you realize that if you don’t eat it, you shouldn’t wear it, is accompanied by a sense of sartorial discomfort. In India, while designers flirt with the idea of cruelty-free fashion, it’s not all-encompassing. Satin clutches and beaded pouches aside, where do you find the sophisticated bag, the kind with fashion lineage and net worth, the bag that speaks a million dollars with a slight flash of its label? Where do you find a bag that isn’t nouveau riche and one which shows that you care? It may sound noble, but saying no to leather isn’t glamorous when your options are polyurethane.

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Stella McCartney’s #FalabellaBox in wicker.

In 2001, Stella McCartney, a life-long vegetarian and a supporter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, took her lifestyle choice and made it a sustainable business. The British designer doesn’t use leather or fur in any of her high-end fashion products. They are cool, edgy and modern and keep the good politics alive, one animal at a time. It actually mimics leather so beautifully that you wouldn’t know the difference, unless your eye picks out the giveaway trademark metal edging (and really, with that price tag, it will keep society from judging you on the basis of your bag).

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Matt & Nat’s ‘Parallel’ Handbag, worn as a briefcase or cross-body bag.

While McCartney’s classic Falabella handbag (distinguished by a braided chain detail) packs a punch, the Canadian company, Matt & Nat (Materials and Nature), came as a complete eye-opener. When it arrived in the mail (after the whole customs shindig), the vegan bag itself was sleek and functional, but what the “live-beautifully” product said was that the lining was made with 100% recycled plastic bottles (clocked at approximately 21 bottles per bag). The label is made from recycled cork, the price tag moonlights as a bookmark. They have introduced recycled bicycle tyres in their collection and on Earth day, their Instagram post noted that they have recycled over three million plastic bottles to create the linings of their bags. Unlike cheaper man-made materials, this bag lasts until you tire of it, without any difference in texture or appearance.

While their site does not publicize it, the founders are of Indian origin: Inder Bedi launched the company in 1995 after moving to Montreal to go to university and attempted to go vegan. He found his options limited, so he set out to become a game changer. Five years later, Manny Kohli, another passionate vegan, joined him, and is currently president and chief executive officer. Their office lives by the philosophy, including having monthly vegan potluck meals.

 

Gunas bag and wallet.

Take another instance of vegetarian-turned-vegan Sugandh Agrawal, who grew up in India and now lives in New York. Her experience with raw hide, while interning at a local handbag design firm that specialized in exotic skin handbags and shoes, led her to start her own line of vegan fashion wear, Gunas.

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Grain’s stirrup tote bag.

Unlike man-made leather, ahimsa leather, which has become a topic of serious discussion in India over the last few years, is made from the hide of dead animals. Grain, started by Avinash Bhalerao in 2014, offers unisex bags. While no certification is provided, they work with 30-year-old tanneries that recycle the skin of dead animals into leather, which is the closest you can get to the real thing, without actually harming the animal.

Brands like Guess are dipping into the man-made leather initiatives—but it wouldn’t be amiss to begin thinking about sustainability, and going all the way while you are at it. It is a process of transition, as model Renee Peters explains on Ethica, an ethical fashion blog: “The hardest thing about going completely green has been doing it while being a member of the fashion industry and wanting to express my personal style. I have to work harder at curating my own look….” Go ahead, make a difference, one bag at a time. There is #NoRheson to say no.

 

Stella McCartney’s Falabella wallets and bags made from eco alter-nappa and the oversized Stella Popper. 

Where To Find It:
Stella McCartney
Matt and Nat
Angela Roi
Gunas
Freedom of Animals
Ethica
Modavanti
Rheson

Skirting The Issue: Is the future of fashion ungendered?

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Published in Mint Lounge, Saturday May 13, 2017 (Future of Design special edition).
(Additional images added below for this blog post)

We have had women in tuxedos and men in skirts. But the new ‘genderless’ direction in the global fashion world might further dissolve the idea of binary identities

designskirt-k2mC--621x414@LiveMintAn image from ‘Vogue India’s’ May issue, guest-edited by Mario Testino. The editorial, titled ‘Role Play’, attempts to ‘challenge gender with fashion’. Photo: Courtesy Mario Testino for Vogue India/May 2017

Earlier this week, Emma Watson received the first gender-neutral award for Best Actor (Beauty And The Beast) at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. “It says something about how we perceive the human experience,” she said. The award was presented by Asia Kate Dillon, who plays TV’s first gender non-binary character (Taylor, on Billions).

Like other recent events, this added to the ongoing conversation on gender-fluidity.

For a culture like ours, with its thrust on uber masculinity and coy femininity, reconciling to this phenomenon may be shocking, but not impossible. While one knows androgyny to be the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, ambiguity in gender could be a lifestyle, sexual or style choice.

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Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have identified themselves as pansexual, but perhaps it is young actor-rapper Jaden Smith’s bold outlook that has fired up the imagination. Will Smith’s son is seen wearing a skirt as part of Louis Vuitton’s Series 4 (Spring/Summer 2016) campaign about a heroine and the multiple facets to her personality. The brand’s creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, believes Smith “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo”.

Androgynous roots

le-smoking-3Le Smoking, Yves Saint Laurent by Helmut Newton

Worldwide, sartorial acceptance tipped when the founders of two path-breaking French haute couture houses, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, gave women trousers and tuxedos in the early and mid- 20th century, respectively. Many male music legends have flirted with everything from make-up and heels to ruffles and florals, but it was David Bowie (in his sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona) and Prince (in his flamboyant Purple Rain-era) who cut the sartorial cord with their seminal style statements. More recently, American hip hop artiste Young Thug wore a dress for his album cover, while British footballer David Beckham has been spotted in nail paint and a sarong.

Historically, pre-colonial India saw no issue in dressing up its men, particularly royalty; the traditional male outfits of Gujarat and Rajasthan are adorned with colours, mirrors and gathers, while drapes like shawls, anarkalis, lungis, kurtas, salwars and churidars have been a long-standing part of India’s unisex fashion grammar. Even as the idea trickles down—Tridha, a school in Mumbai, has genderless uniforms (a short kurta students can wear with lowers of their choice)—in a country that lends exaggerated importance to binary sexuality, fashion is setting a new pace for a forward-thinking society.

Beyond binaries

Rajesh Pratap Singh - low res option 2A model wearing Rajesh Pratap Singh.

Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, who has an affinity towards androgyny, finds the audience for unisex clothing limited. “As women found independence and emancipation once again in India, wearing men’s clothing is considered stylish in most urban areas, but it doesn’t hold true for most parts of the country,” he points out.

What is true though is that modern silhouettes for the local landscape increasingly tend to be sleeker, deconstructed or fluid, shaped according to will, body type and occasion. From anarkalis to dhoti pants, from cholis to shirt-blouses, we have made a shift in styles, and increased the functional element of formal wear. But are women able to take the leap to wearing perhaps a tuxedo to an Indian wedding? Mumbai-based designer Payal Khandwala, whose lines for women are largely anti-fit, says: “It (gender-fluid dressing) will be a parallel movement. The bright side is that it makes us question the male gaze we have taken for granted and re-examine our preoccupation with ‘pretty’ and ‘hyper-sexualized’ clothing for women.”

Unisex clothing creates ambiguity towards age, shape and size, naturally defying the restrictions imposed, stereotypes perpetuated and social comment invited by accentuating and fitted garments. While many designers locally have nailed the anti-fit trend, there have been attempts, such as the “Ungendered” clothing line released online last year by Zara, that faced flak for its unimaginative designs. Unisex outfits shouldn’t be drab, shapeless or colourless—rather, they should be a celebration of clothing that is chic while being free of conservative parameters.

38_RoryA model wearing Gucci.

Women in menswear may be de rigueur, but men in women’s clothing is certainly up for exploration. A key designer of genderless fashion, J.W. Anderson’s Fall 2013 collection sent a male model on the runway in ruffled shorts and knee-high boots, showing off muscular, hairy legs. Singer Pharrell Williams, who likes Chanel necklaces, has starred in the couture house’s Gabrielle bag campaign this year. International luxury brands like Gucci (whose fluid vision under creative director Alessandro Michele has been touted as inspired and sound) have “genderless” models—those without an associated gender—on the runway, also unifying men’s and women’s fashion weeks. Michele stated last year, “It’s the way I see the world today.”

It was a “fluid-packed” fall 2016, with Burberry harking back to Bowie-esque ruffled shirts for men and military-style jackets (also seen in Givenchy’s campaign) for women, along with gender-neutral trench coats.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 2.34.33 PMA model wearing J.W. Anderson.

Bungalow 8 founder Maithili Ahluwalia is unimpressed by men in skirts. “It is not a natural evolution, it is fashion. A man’s body is structured differently and it is a bit limiting to think that what works for one may work for the other. It should be a mindset over a sartorial choice, not a surface-level relationship with fashion. Would a man wear gender-fluid clothing to work, particularly if he works in a bank?” she asks. Possibly, if he is anything like actor Ranveer Singh, who has turned red-carpet dressing on its head with his penchant for aggressive experimentation—of course, creative professions do allow for more sartorial freedom.

Delhi designer Ujjawal Dubey, founder of label Antar-Agni, whose styles are “androgynous and flattering to both the sexes, avoiding stark lines and labels between genders”, believes India is primed for change. So does Sumiran Kabir Sharma, whose new label Anaam is said to “dissolve all stereotypes”. Sharma works as “a silhouette generation artist, not focusing on the physical and the biological part of the human body that defines gender”. According to him, going genderless is not a passing phase—“it is definitely the future of fashion”.

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A model in an Anaam piece.

Kolkata-based designer Kallol Datta, who started out making (and wearing) gender-neutral clothing, is now moving towards “sexless clothing, where there is no acknowledgement of gender”. “I’ve favoured all-enveloping shapes and certain proportions when layering pieces of clothing…there is a blurring of lines with these shapes.”

Going genderless

If the male gaze changes, so may the female gaze. In Tokyo, following the explosive trend of “genderless kei” (kei means style), “genderless boys” have appeared on the scene since 2015. The popular Japanese idols tend to be slim-bodied, with dyed hair, make-up and nail polish, coloured contact lenses, and attention-grabbing outfits. They are not necessarily gay or trying to be like women, they are rejecting gender norms and establishing a new yardstick of style. It’s likely inspired by the Korean term ulzzang (“best face”), a common beauty standard for both men and women derived from the “flawless” K-Pop idols.

In America, Marilyn Manson’s genderless Mechanical Animals cover set the tone years ago but today, gender-neutral models like Rain Dove have gained supermodel status. Dove’s Instagram page says: “I’m not a Boy. I’m not a Girl either. I am I.” And further, “Sometimes I like lace panties. Sometimes I like briefs. It’s my body…. And I’ll cover it however I damn please.”

Today, numerous designers worldwide offer unisex lines of clothing, and stores like Selfridges in London stock an “Agender Fashion Without Definition” collection across three storeys, suggesting that the trend is more than that—it’s a new way of life.

Fashion should cater seamlessly to one’s individuality, without leaning towards homogeneity. Khandwala agrees: “At its core, what one wears must be a democratic decision that comes from a place of honesty and self-evaluation. The impetus cannot be external and certainly not because it is a fashion movement.”

Is the potential dissolution of gender a fantasy of the future or a reality of today? As predefined roles get blurry, so does the way we dress. And we should find our voice in that freedom. Worldwide, as socio-politico-religious mindsets get narrower, perhaps it is fashion’s lot to expressively push back as the non-conformist and heterogenous “genderless uniform” of a truly inclusive and free-spirited society where it is, literally, best face forward.

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How we got here

A brief sartorial history of the blurring of gender lines

1938 Photo Schall at La PausaCoco Chanel

1910s: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel changed women’s relationships with their bodies and ways of life by introducing them to trousers and jersey sportswear.

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Katharine Hepburn

1930s: Katharine Hepburn’s path-breaking attachment to men’s shirts bought secretly from the back of New York’s Brooks Brothers store and Marlene Dietrich’s seminal moment kissing a woman on screen while wearing a bow tie and top hat.

1960s: Yves Saint Laurent’s (muse Violeta Sanchez) “Le Smoking” tuxedo suit for women pioneered the modern-day power suit; Mick Jagger performed in Hyde Park in a white “man’s dress” designed by Mr Fish.

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David Bowie

1970s: Patti Smith’s obvious androgyny, Jane Fonda’s bold red-carpet moments and David Bowie’s sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona triggered cultural shifts.

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Grace Jones

1980s: Feminine Prince and masculine Grace Jones set the tone for blurry gender lines. Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s ambiguous collections set the tone for the future.

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Marilyn Manson ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover

2000s: Marilyn Manson appeared genderless on the ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover.

Past Forward: Abha Narain Lambah

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Published in Verve Magazine, Design edition, May 2017
Photograph (Abha Narain Lambah) by Shubham Lodha

You’ve looked wistfully, over the years, at India’s only surviving opera house, wishing for the beautiful baroque structure with a blend of local and international architectural styles to be restored to its former glory. Abha Narain Lambah popped out a wand and breathed new life into it, like she has done with numerous buildings in the country. Magic can’t reckon with bureaucracy, but this soft-spoken lady with nerves of steel has managed to pull off many a coup.

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Armed with a master’s degree in architectural conservation from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, she’s clocked in over two decades of experience in the field. Her diligence in research, respectfulness of history, and faithfulness to detail in restoration has led to her being awarded the Sanskriti Award, Eisenhower Fellowship, and the Attingham Trust and Charles Wallace fellowship and being nominated by ArcVision among the top 20 women architects globally in 2016.

Perhaps the 46-year old’s nomadic journey has led to a practical, inclusive attitude to her work. “I am a bit of a gypsy because I don’t think I’ve stayed in any city for more than five years — my father was in a transferable government job. I grew up in many towns, including Kolkata and Delhi. The longest I have been anywhere — now 22 years — is Mumbai, which I consider home. People say the city is crowded and congested, messy and chaotic; but I think there’s a very intrinsic system that works here and at the core of it is a very warm magical world. Every place in the country has a different sensibility, vibe and history. My grandfather in Srinagar lived in an ancient beautiful timber-framed house, and I remember taking a boat down the Jhelum and looking at all the lovely palaces of the Dogra rulers, so this sense of history, of old building ageing with grace, just grew with me as a child and I think that’s what has continued in my work as well.”

Excerpts from a conversation with Narain Lambah….

How did architectural conservation become important to you?
I was studying architecture and was drawn to urban issues that had to do with an interface between the old and the new. I was very keen to learn from American architect Joseph Allen Stein, who designed all the iconic buildings in Delhi like the India International Centre, Ford Foundation and India Habitat Centre. Working in his studio for two years, I began understanding that a lot of design and good architecture has to respond to the context — often historical context. That led me to explore conservation. I believe contextual design is something that is very important, which we haven’t yet mastered in India.

What’s your take on (the lack of) maintaining this architectural balance in Mumbai?
The sad part is that we have beautiful buildings and historical legacy in Mumbai, but our planners (and especially our politicians) haven’t been very sensitive, so there is unplanned growth in pockets. For example, when the mills were demolished, Charles Correa had a great idea for pooling in all the open spaces — we could have had one the size of Central Park in Parel; and because of a really narrow vision, they chopped it off into parcels, so we lost an unbelievable opportunity for the city. And I hope it doesn’t happen again with the eastern waterfront development. We need to look at everything holistically, which somehow gets sacrificed at the altar of political requirements or short- term goals.

We tend to bask in the end result, what’s the process of getting to it?
A lot of time goes in! I started working on the Royal Opera House in 2008 and we opened the building in 2016. Money was an issue, because there are no government funds or incentives for heritage buildings that are privately owned. It was listed among the 100 endangered monuments in the world by the World Monuments Fund, and then when it came to funding it, there was absolutely zero support. It is not economically feasible today to run a theatre or a cinema hall so it was a leap of faith. The whole team and my clients (the owners) took a huge risk, but with a conviction that it’s too precious a building to let go! Then there was red tape and it took numerous years to get permissions. The challenges should have been structural repairs, interior restoration and things like getting the sound and acoustics right or putting in air conditioning in a building that didn’t even have fans to begin with…. But it’s richly rewarding once it’s done.

 

What about Bikaner House, Delhi? What was the story there?
Bikaner (House) was amazing, thanks to a chief minister with a sense of clarity and crystal-clear decision-making! Vasundhara Raje said, ‘I want Bikaner House to be the calling card for Rajasthan in Delhi’. She gave us nine months to get our act together, to get the building in shape. We were working with the government, and the same kind of engineers and contractors that are typical, but since she was so clear of the final vision for the project, everything just fell into place. Now we are working on the first floor of the same building, it’s going to get expanded and there will be a little cafe and a bookshop.

Which project is closest to your heart?
I think one of my favourite projects of all time has been the 15th-century Maitreya Buddha temple that I worked on in Basgo, Ladakh (which earned her firm an award of excellence from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for conservation). It was a hard project, lasting three years, with repeated trips while my daughter was very young. It was in a small remote village, without electricity, running water, or lavatories…. A current project I am excited about is working on the Teen Murti House — the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, in Delhi, because it is such a beautiful stately building.

How relevant is heritage today?
“We are losing it too fast! My mother took me to Kanchipuram when I was 10, because she loved buying sarees from the loom, direct from the weaver. I remember it as a magical town with streets of verandahs, timber columns and sloping tiled roofs. Last year I was appointed by the government of India as the city anchor for Kanchipuram, and when I went back I was devastated, because the temple survived, but all those streets and those beautiful rows of houses are replaced by Alucobond and concrete and horrible new buildings. We already lost such a valuable part of our heritage and if now we—this generation—doesn’t do something about it, we won’t have anything left to save in the next few decades.”

What do you consider ‘Indianness’?
‘Indianness’ is not homogenous, it is not a single being, it is like a multi-layered curry with 20 different spices and wafting flavours; you get a note of cinnamon, a hint of clove; you discover later on your palate an aftertaste of asafoetida…and for me that is India. It’s multi-cultured, intense, layered, sometimes conflicting, sometimes contradictory but it is not one single unified whole. For all the chaos, there is still a system in it, there’s a meaning to it.

What does design mean to you?
It is something that is intrinsic — a distillation of a whole lot of feelings and moods. When you try and confuse it with too many things it gets lost. It balances form, functions, aesthetics and yet remains intuitive, because it can’t be put on, acquired or faked.

How do you focus and filter out the noise?
Filtering is as important as listening. When I am approaching a conservation project it’s very important to first establish what the design intent of the original architect was. To keep a certain modesty in your own work and also be true to the spirit of place, while maintaining  context — whether it is the geographical, design or material context of that particular site — in a harmonious balance with your own judgement as a designer.

 

Is some of it based on investigation?
Conservation is forensic in its techniques. We have to rely on paint scraps to figure out the oldest layer and original colour, for instance. You have to keep yourself open to looking for clues. In the Royal Opera House, we had no idea balconies existed when we began the project. Research uncovered old photographs which had those balconies, so we removed the art deco panelling and behind it we found skeletal structural members. Rifling through things in the basement, we found the little cherub and a little plaster cast that originally belonged to that balcony, and from that we were able to just piece things together.

You’ve been invited to deliver the Geoffrey Bawa memorial lecture in Sri Lanka….
I feel overwhelmed and humbled. He (Bawa), Joseph Stein and Charles Correa were the most iconic South Asian architects. Woman architects don’t get acknowledged, and even otherwise it’s such an honour. That’s my latest high, so I am going to just soak it in, and promise myself a week in Sri Lanka, living in Geoffrey Bawa’s house and meditating!

Do you feel a sense of achievement?
I just feel a sense of responsibility. I’ve never had a large vision or a master plan — one project led to another, and frustration about a project not moving along led me to something else while waiting; so that’s how my career has found its trajectory.

When will you rest on your laurels?
I don’t want to. I think architects should die with their boots on — or at least at the drafting table! It’s a career where the rewards are very slow; by the time others have retired, you peak as an architect. I worked with Stein in his studio when he was in his eighties, I have seen Correa working till he turned 80 and I don’t want to retire, I want to just work on the projects that will feed my soul.

A Rebel Spirit: Suhani Pittie

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Published: Verve Magazine, April 2017
Image Credit (Suhani Pittie): Nishat Fatima

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“To be a pioneer means to champion the authority of your own thoughts…your own creative imagination. To bring every genius idea forward. To be precise, but to also allow spontaneity.” Suhani Pittie’s words describe work that may — and should — lead to diverse opinions; for something to be fresh and path-breaking, it must create discomfort. Hyderabad-based Pittie’s jewellery does just that. She describes it as “luxurious but melancholic” and when you hold one of her designs in your hand, you understand exactly what she means. It’s delicate but strong, fine but chunky; it’s bold and yet has elements of the traditional, all the while being “respectful of India, its craft and heritage”.

The label that began formally in 2005 can be considered a trailblazer for its welding of the modern and the conventional but, more importantly, for growing into a self-sufficient business catering to Indians the world over. There is a flagship store in Hyderabad, an online shopping portal on suhanipittie.com (besides being available in offline retail outlets like Ensemble and Aza across the country, and abroad, commissioned by the Museum of Arts and Design) and a new line ‘Dooi by SP’ on Myntra, while also undertaking corporate and festive gifting, wedding lines (which include jewellery for the bride, gifts and decor) and bespoke pieces. And if that isn’t enough, Pittie has also partnered with a technology company which works on a CSR model in the renewable energy space in rural India, called socialsolar.in.

Kolkata-born Pittie’s career choice can be traced back to a rudimentary moment — when she punctured a piece of old silver and bent it; a relative wore it around their neck and someone said, “That’s magic!” Pittie recalls, “When I started, it was an open ground. With my love for India stemmed this deep desire to show new, innovative possibilities of age-old craft and, via that, to explore my own talent. I had never intended to get into this field. Today, it’s no more about me. I want to build a remarkable company, generate more employment, expand skill sets amongst rural women, and raise the standard of living of all our employees, to ensure that they can afford to send their children to school. I’m reaching out to a bigger universe — en route to building something unique…a company with a great product and a warm heart….” What’s striking is what she counts as her greatest achievement. Her first karigar is still working with her today.

Pittie began, as many creative souls do, on a whim, not armed with knowledge or market analysis. “I was new to Hyderabad. I hired one worker. I made 12 pieces with very little capital. And everything got sold. How do you work with metal, when you don’t know how to do it yourself?” As she struggled to find a foothold in a competitive industry, she read every book on the tools and manufacturing of silver. Even today, when 20 to 25 unique pieces are sampled daily, Pittie believes the brand is exactly what it started out as. “Unapologetically individualistic. There is heart in every piece. Non-conforming, yet adhering to values. Destabilising yet disciplined. Beautiful yet rebellious. Paradoxical, really.” And she continues to put a lot of herself in her work: “My jewellery is very reflective of my personal journey at that moment of time. The silence of metal surfaces in tandem with the rebelliousness of design.”

Despite having a corporate structure with departments and managers, projections and targets, Pittie takes a distinctive and free-spirited approach to design. “I execute everything in this department. It’s very emotive — what I’m feeling at the moment, what’s moved me. It could be turbulent. It could be romantic.” Once the thoughts and initial sketches are in, she begins collaborating with her production manager to work out their feasibility. “I was expecting alarm — the day I told him that we are going to make our own metal because I want ‘greyish silver’. But he looked at me and said, ‘That’s what we always do. We invent, no, ma’am?’” She works with a vast range of materials: copper, silver, steel, brass, thermocol (styrofoam), Bakelite and acrylic, to name a few. “I’m not schooled in this field. So it has become my playground…. It was not frivolous when it started and it isn’t frivolous now. The aim has always been to be brave and soar.”

Pittie is the youngest of three artistically-inclined sisters — Kolkata-based fashion designer Anamika Khanna, known to have modernised traditional Indian garments, and Mumbai-based Suruchi Choksi, an abstract artist. “The age gap is tremendous (ten and seven respectively). We didn’t get much time together. I spent all my time outside the house — I was head girl at my school and into extracurricular activities: elocution, debate, quiz, dance, football….” Pittie, who’s been vegan for 20 years, is a graduate in Indian classical music, and was once in a band. Despite her petite frame, she describes herself as “tough” and finds comfort in a “personal, unpretentious” home that has “a lot of books, monster trucks and only beanbags to sit on”.

By those who know her, 36-year-old Pittie, who works in tandem with her husband Stouvant Pittie (a director with the company), has been described as childlike in her irrepressible affinity for a fairy-tale world that soaks up imagination and spits out creativity. You can tell, because she fangirls over Harry Potter — “J.K. Rowling made me believe it was possible even when it seemed impossible. I’m definitely a Gryffindor, but I want to be like Luna Lovegood — so pure and wise.” And then, the woman who believes in magic has a reading list that is steeped in reality. She hasn’t missed a single edition of Time magazine for 14 years, and pours through The Economic Times daily, is interested in public leaders, economics and administration, is currently on Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age, and watches American entrepreneurial reality show Shark Tank. Pittie, despite the success, admits that she “can’t slow down”. She thrives on “razor-sharp focus” (undiluted by social media), enjoys her own company and of those whom she describes as progressive. “People with unique ideas and clarity. Who debate and challenge. And I’m blessed to have some in my life. It keeps the machine going.”

Suhani Speak

“The current non-precious jewellery market in India is seeing something incredible and unprecedented. It’s also a circle really. Customers need more options, hence are more accepting. That encourages more individuals to take the risk and get into the field. Jewellery, which held ‘locker sentiment’, is now being seen more for composition value and its voice. It’s a great time to be in the industry: challenging but so much more welcoming! More products, more experiments and diverse raw material have been entering the market. Non-precious jewellery could be such a strong dialogue of now, for now.”

“My buyer is aged from 17 to 72. They are women, from every part of the country, who are not afraid to wear their values like a badge.”

“I have never been a victim of trends, and I don’t desire for my clients to ever be. I want to give them memories, stories, beauty and vulnerability. I don’t want to give them ‘objects’ of today. I want my pieces to be purveyors of pure design and at the same time a narrative of the times we live in.”

“You are emphasising your own expression, your own ideals and inspirations and you are designing the future. Your humble attempts can change the landscape of an industry. To be propelled by love and beauty and instances and events around the world and to physically craft them into tangibility…that is extreme responsibility.”

“Kolkata and Hyderabad both inspire me. They have such strong cultural influences and heritage. Kolkata inculcates in you discipline. It encourages you to debate at 5.30 a.m. next to the chai-wallah. Hyderabad is such a beautiful cosmos of old and new. There is so much tehzeeb in the culture, language. It teaches you to respect. So much of what I am is because of these two cities.”

“I have a brooch which is a miniature grandfather’s clock that I really treasure. It’s all minakari work, complete with a cuckoo bird that pops out when wound. Besides the design, it’s also technically superb. It boggles your mind that without machines such marvels could be made. There are some brooches I have which are made of the tiniest mosaic pieces (0.5 mm by 0.5 mm). The patience the artist must have had!”

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“Our show, Nowhere People (LFW 2016, focused on the plight of refugees), broke me and pulled me together on many levels. To take a painful topic and show jewellery that was distressed and broken, yet wearable and beautiful…. To have connected to the vulnerability of this paradox in a parallel world, with the audience, where they hugged me and cried…. To take a poem by Kenyan poet Warsan Shire Home, and translate each syllable of it into metal, that was, I would say humbly, my greatest moment.”

On Time For Chaplin

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Published: Verve Magazine, March 2017

How Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter is carrying forward his legacy…

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The bright red of her sophisticated outfit sits sharply against her skin, and is offset nicely by her pulled-back dark hair; her height is unnerving as she rises to greet you with her trademark wide smile. Carmen Chaplin’s bloodline packs a punch — besides being the granddaughter of comic actor, film-maker and composer Charlie Chaplin (and on the maternal side French artist Patrick Betaudier), she is also the great-granddaughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and daughter of actor Michael Chaplin and artist Patricia Betaudier. There are aunts and cousins in the movie industry, who run the gamut between Doctor Zhivago and Game of Thrones. But for this family, you can tell that it’s not show business, it’s art. As she says, ‘It’s in your DNA to love films.’ She made her acting debut in 1991 and has since appeared in nearly two dozen movies including All About The Benjamins (2002), besides directing a short, Tryst in Paname (2012).

Itching to get out of school, she simultaneously started attending acting classes and modelling at the age of 16. As a child, she would act in, direct and co-write plays (with her sister). In The Greatest Moments of our Time, a short film by Jaeger-LeCoultre, she says, ‘I love every part of the process of directing. In a way, it’s much fuller for me. I find the process of writing very painful, but it’s one of the most satisfying things when you get a script together’. When she was around eight years old, she made short films with her sisters and friends with a Super 8 camera. ‘Film sets are a lot like staying a child, because you get to pretend that you are creating a world that doesn’t exist, you get to play like you did when you were a child. You don’t have to focus on any other realities of life — you just focus on telling the story.’ Excerpts from the interview below:

How much does legacy count in creativity?
“I think we’re always looking to what has been done to create new things and I think it’s always been the case — you always inspire yourself with something someone else has done. So, it’s a part of art.”

Is it difficult entering a creative field that’s been previously dominated by legends in the family?
“Yes, and I think that’s why I didn’t start directing in my 20s…even though as a child it was something that I was really interested in. I guess it was daunting. But I wasn’t very conscious about it until I began directing. Then I thought, oh, why didn’t I start earlier? Because comparison is just something that will make you stagnate in life and paralyse you; and if you’re free of that, then you’re free to create.”

What does art mean to you?
“That’s a very big question. (Laughs.) I guess it means a lot because my mother is a painter and my grandfather was a film-maker. On my mother’s side, too, my grandfather was a painter. My father writes. I have a lot of artists in my family, so…maybe it’s a way of living, but also something that makes your life more beautiful.”

Can luxury and art meet?
“Definitely. I think they meet in all artistic mediums; but, in some ways, they pollute art and in other ways, art needs that side of things, too. Sometimes you feel it’s just become so commercial that you don’t know where the art is. And the same with cinema or with luxury brands. But at the same time, it’s a continuous act of balance.”

You’ve been a ‘friend’ of the Jaeger-LeCoultre brand — we see the Rendez-vous in yellow gold on your wrist….
“The association feels very natural even though I didn’t know much about watches before collaborating with them. I find them to be a luxury brand on a very human level, and I love their love for cinema. I enjoy wearing their old watches from the ’20s and ’30s. People have such a passion for watches, including the people who make them — in that sense it’s similar to making movies — you need people who are extremely talented at one very specific thing.”

What was your first experience with fine watchmaking?
“There was one Jaeger-LeCoultre watch (Memovox) that was given by the Swiss government when my grandfather moved there. (He was forced into exile from the United States, for alleged communist sympathies.) My grandmother gave it to my father when he was a teenager, and my father gave it to my mother when they got married. When I met with the brand, in one of our conversations, we spoke about this watch and then had the idea of making a film together.” (A Time For Everything, which features not just the watch, but Carmen’s mother and daughter as well.)

Tell us about Bombay Nights….
“Oh, that’s a film I wrote and really wanted to direct. Before my pregnancy, it was my passion project! Then I had my daughter. My partner is Indian and my daughter is half Indian — I thought that it would be the easiest thing to make as a first feature. But Mumbai is such a hyperactive city and it’s so different from the way my daughter is used to living, that I then felt it would be better for me to make a movie in Europe before I made one in India.”

Are you familiar with India?
“I’ve been to India three or four times: to Kerala, Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and Jaipur. I love India. I think it’s a very exciting place to be and a world apart from Europe — all your visions of life and death are so different in India. I was always struck by how death is kind of a part of life. In Europe, we hide people who are dead. I remember seeing processions in Mumbai with the dead just wrapped in white cloths and their faces being shown. It just felt like it was a much healthier view — something that isn’t as taboo. So, lots of things are very inspiring…just to be confronted with a culture that’s so different. At the same time, because of my daughter, I hear a lot of Hindi. It isn’t my culture, but it’s one that’s becoming more familiar to me.”

Have you watched any Indian movies?
“I’ve seen some old Indian movies by Satyajit Ray and some Bollywood films. My daughter likes the latter, particularly those from the ’70s and ’80s — she loves the dancing and singing. I find them fun, but they have an element that to me seems kitsch because I didn’t grow up with them. I prefer the more independent Indian cinema….”