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Switch to Bungalow 8 in Mumbai and though it may be large and contemporary, there's a similar sense of independence and freedom from the tried and tested.
Switch to Bungalow 8 in Mumbai and though it may be large and contemporary, there's a similar sense of independence and freedom from the tried and tested. This is the motto that Maithili Ahluwalia, the woman behind the hugely-succesful store, lives by. It is modern and edgy, but minus the tyranny of clichés like 'pink is the new black' or why an autumn-winter collection is incomplete without straight trousers that sets it apart. Ahluwalia says she feels blessed that she has managed to interpret fashion on her own terms.
Garg and Ahluwalia are two prominent examples of a growing tribe of indie fashion promoters in India. What began in a small but determined way with Mumbai's Melange in the late Nineties (run by fashion entrepreneur Sangita Sinh Kathiwada) and later got a contemporary shot in the arm from Priya Kishore's Bombay Electric (now six years old) is now a visible movement. It may not be formally called indie fashion but like independent documentary films, new Hindi cinema, indie musicians who sing, produce and market their own music or the character artiste who often delivers a punchier performance than the star, this, too, is a contrarian movement. It attracts artisanal-minded designers who are willing to pay the price of walking the alternative path. They neither create nor favour what's known as commercial fashion — sexy, fitted, synthetic, over-embellished with logos sticking out. You won't find them participating at fashion weeks because they have freed themselves from the pressure to create for "editorial and media".
Ahluwalia says fashion weeks are not her destination as a fashion buyer. She uses words like non-conformist, independent and alternative to articulate her position. "There is a mismatch of vision. The Indian market is looking for something intimate, smaller and special — a unique voice which is what my customers come to me for," she says. Her store works as a tool box to fashion a distinctive look. Similarly, Garg's Raw Mango has not only made him a recognisable name amongst the glitterati and the heritage-conscious, but also makes him a mentor to a new generation of Chanderi weavers. Garg's dilemmas are as intense as his convictions that have kept him away from mainstream fashion. He wonders, whether the growth of a design label must be mapped through the number of retail destinations or visibility through shows and advertisements. "I am not even sure whether I want to become 'big' in the conventional sense of the term. I want to learn how to be consistent instead of changing with seasons and occasions," he says.