Zubeda Hamid takes a stroll down Khader Nawaz Khan Road, which has transformed from a humble neighbourhood into a citadel of high fashion

The big silver Honda City refused to budge. Nosing itself menacingly forward inch by cautious inch, it was oblivious to the mini snarl it was creating on Khader Nawaz Khan Road.  To the patient motorists waiting behind it, the reason was clear: the big car wanted a parking slot that a Santro was just about to vacate. And on Chennai’s high street, with parking at a premium, not much is more important.

Rows of cars line the half-kilometre stretch on any given day, starting from about 10.30 a.m. Once the legal slots are filled, sheepish motorists begin to park illegally, squeezing in between hedges and gates.

The Rs. 200 fine is not much of a deterrent – an ice-cream scoop at the big Häagen-Dazs at the top of the road, probably costs as much.

Over the last two decades or so, Khader Nawaz Khan Road once occupied solely by large bungalows with pretty gardens, has become the city’s corridor of high fashion and swanky eateries. International brands mingle with local ones; coffee shops and spas vie for space with restaurants and health clubs. Luxury is not new to the road – the man after whom it is named, Khader Nawaz Khan, was a noble in the court of Umdat-ul-Umrah, son of the Nawab of Arcot. As he was a confidential servant of high rank, the land was probably settled on him, historian Sriram V said. “The locality has always been aristocratic. A lot of the area belonged to Andhra zamindars, and many people of high rank had houses nearby,” he said. From classy neighbourhood to swanky retail street then, doesn’t seem all that much of a leap.

A walk down the stretch is both illuminating and somewhat disquieting. Louis Vuitton’s store, its first in the city, gleams amidst construction and debris that surrounds a half-finished building which is set to welcome more brands: Armani, Hugo Boss and Versace.

Tiny tea shacks seem forlorn in front of imposing white facades, cool marble interiors and abstract window displays.It’s the kind of road where one can spend a day, completely furnish a house and fill a wardrobe. Furniture stores, interior decoration stores, clothing, jewellery and accessories stores, Mediterranean restaurants and dessert bars – they’re all within a minute’s walk of each other. Locals though, find the changes somewhat vexing. “The street has become permanently crowded. I moved in here 27 years ago, when it was primarily residential. Now, there are hardly any houses left. Parking is a daily hassle, because infrastructure has not kept pace with development,” said Malvika Mehra, a longtime resident of KNK road, as it is popularly known.

For store managers and fashion aficionados, the last few years have been about large smiles, larger shopping bags and cash registers clicking.

At Clarks, a footwear store towards the tail end of the street, a pair of shoes starts at Rs. 3,000. “We have a niche customer base, and 80 per cent of our customers are women,” said store manager B. Narasinamurthy. Almost all of them knew about the brand and knew exactly what they wanted, he said. “Even a couple of years ago, city residents were not as brand conscious as they are now. But with new brands constantly setting up shop, interest has grown significantly,” he added.

Real estate prices too, are soaring. While the end closest to Nungambakkam High Road has higher overheads and is considered more desirable, parking there is a constant problem, said another store manger.

“Further up the road we may have somewhat less visibility but we have more space to display out products and ample parking space which is vital these days,” he said.

For Avanti Gulado, a 25-year-old who moved to Chennai after her wedding, KNK road is a shopping and dining paradise. “The road has changed even in the one year since I came to the city. It has more brands, more places to shop in and more restaurants for meals,” she said, laughing.

“I love it and I’m here practically every week.”

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