Boutiques have become the latest shopping hot-spots in the city

Mention shopping and the next thing that comes to the mind of any Maduraiite is the experience of wading through the crowded Masi streets, carrying heavy kattapais. That’s what we have been doing for decades during Diwali and Pongal or whenever we need new clothes! But now, shopping has changed. It is synonymous with malls and boutiques now. A number of these quaint plush glass façade stores located in posh pockets of the town are the new fashion haute-spots. Women who shopped for saris are picking kurtis and salwars and the traditional textile shops have given way to new age designer boutiques and branded outlets.

The reason for the success of boutiques in a small town like Madurai is mainly said to be the exclusivity that these stores offer. “People look for different taste in products showcased in boutiques compared to what's available in large stores,” says Sujatha of Uttara boutique on Bypass Road. “Boutique is a concept of 'fewer but better' where a purchase is more than just taking home a product. It is about an experience, the options you get to choose from, reliability, quality and customer service and a brand by itself in that sense.”

“These days, people value time as well as money,” opines Sujatha. “Customers who are hard pressed for time find that boutiques have a better hit rate and their shopping is quicker rather than them having to personally browse through a large unsorted range.” Many believe that boutiques offer a personal and customized service on the whole and take care of even minor issues like colours, fittings and alterations, which the textile shops seem to lack.

“There’s a personalised attention and the store personnel knows even the taste of a particular customer and offer valuable suggestions,” says Devaki, a high-school teacher, who boutique-hops regularly. “For instance, I prefer getting the blouses stitched from the same boutique where I bought the sari from. It’s convenient and trust worthy.”

But, what makes boutiques tick in Madurai, which is often tagged a conservative town? “People are not conservative when it comes to clothes, they are just more concerned about what they wear,” says Reshma of UrbanSpice Gallery, who organises shows and expos of designer wears in the city. “You can’t expect a Maduraiite to dress up funky but they are conscious about being fashionable and well-dressed.” She says that impulsive buying is not a trend here yet and people put in a lot of thought before picking up stuff. “They give importance to comfort and look, rather than the style and the price. Also, factors like climate play a major role in the buying decision. Frills and crepes are never the takes of Madurai, except may be in the brief winter months. Whereas, silks are always a hot pick,” points out Reshma.

“Initially, when we started a boutique eight years ago, only the cream of the society shopped with us. Now, our customer base has expanded and the sensibilities of people have improved,” says Faraaz, proprietor of Signature boutique.

Though, everyone feels that there’s a visible change in the fashion sense of the city’s denizens, some say it’s extremely gradual. Ramya, a homemaker-turned-fashion designer says that Madurai is a place where fads catch up faster but also fades away at the same pace. “People are still reluctant to buy expensive crafts like Kalamkari. Only a few who have knowledge about the craft, pick these up,” says Ramya, who gets customised Kalamkari outfits made from tailors in Kalahasti for her customers. “Zardozi, embroidery and chamki works have become a mass craze now. There’s nothing exclusive in them anymore. The only experiment you can make in them is the colours and patterns.” Ramya also supplies merchandise to Anita boutique in Milam’em Mall, which specialises in ethnic saris and salwars. “Designer blouses are my forte. I play around with the silhouette and few people go for such adventure designs,” she says.

Karthick Raja of Anita Boutique says, “Ethnic wear never goes out of fashion in small towns. Here, people prefer dressing a little loud. Bright colours and heavily worked outfits are considered the attention grabbers.”

Other than few distinguished boutiques that position themselves as a niche segment, numerous shops that call themselves boutiques have sprung up in the city. Some boutiques try to break the idea that they house only expensive products. Some call themselves as designer specialists and claim to stock an exclusive line or merchandise. “Boutiques need not be expensive at all. All that matters is how exclusive and unique is your product,” feels Muruganandam, who runs Spurssha boutique in Anna Nagar, for the past three years. “For example, leggings are common. But if you have jeggings, a slight modification of the same form, then people buy it.” “I make sure I don’t pick up similar stuff from the Bombay market. Each piece is different,” he vouches.

Madurai finally appears to be catching up on the fashion radar. And apart from the new brides and young moms, the middle-aged are also picking up kurtis instead of a Kanjiwaram sari!