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Curating tastes

SHALINI SHAH
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TABLE FOR TWO Kavita Bhartia on clothes that others like and food that she does

All GraceKavita Bhartia at Basil & Thyme inside Santushti Shopping Complex in New DelhiPhoto: Shanker Chakravarty
All GraceKavita Bhartia at Basil & Thyme inside Santushti Shopping Complex in New DelhiPhoto: Shanker Chakravarty

It’s 3 p.m., that small afternoon window when no one’s really hungry. At Basil & Thyme inside Santushti Shopping Complex in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri, though, afternoon shoppers keep milling in. Situated a few doors away from the restaurant is Ogaan, one of the four in the Capital. (There are two more in Mumbai.) Ogaan is Kavita Bhartia’s baby; the first store was started more than two decades ago in Hauz Khas Village, which continues to be the flagship. Since then, even when many new spaces and concepts have come up in brick-and-mortar and online retail, the multi-label store continues to be a much sought after one for designers veteran and new, a presence in the store often a parameter of a label’s reputation.

Over a cup of spiced tea at Basil & Thyme, Kavita, whose eponymous label is known for a relaxed Indo-Western aesthetic that incorporates local crafts, recalls the store opening in 1989. “It was actually the second store of its kind in India, the first multi-brand store to promote Indian designers in Delhi. NIFT had just opened a year back, so it was really the right moment. People were travelling a lot and they wanted quality and design. It was the right opportunity, and I’m glad I got it. When I opened it we stocked Rohit Khosla, Tarun Tahiliani, Madhu Jain, Shahab Durazi... I remember we had a show outside the store and live performers from Rajasthan. It was inaugurated by Jaya Bachchan. I’ve never looked back since, because I think it was the need of the hour. People were tired of going to the local durzi …”

While the Hauz Khas Village store specialises in Indian festive, and the Emporio store in festive and fusion (including designers such as print specialist Niki Mahajan and Jaipur-based designer Nidhi Tholia who works extensively with gota), the store in Santushti leans towards more contemporary, younger labels, like Amrich, known for bandhini, and Sanchita. “We’ve come such a long way. From working with 10 designers we’re now working with 50.”

Curating pieces and labels that find space on the store’s shelves must obviously mean keeping a close eye on customer preferences.

As she prods you to eat the feta salad she piles on your plate — while delicately nibbling at the lettuce on her own — she laughs. “There’s been such a change! At that time we used to do a whole lot of big clothes… voluminous kurtas and all. People wanted to hide their bodies. But the biggest change is now they want more structured garments. People have become slimmer, they’re more experimental, more comfortable with their bodies. The kurtas have evolved. From ‘tents’ then to now being so Westernised and streamlined, enhancing the body instead of hiding it…”

Personal favourites among designer labels range from Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons (“I think I specially like the Japanese designers... free-flowing clothes that are easy to wear, easy to pick out and pull on, easy to travel with”) to Payal Pratap, Sunita Shankar, Anamika Khanna, and Sabyasachi closer home (“His new prêt line is very unusual and very beautifully styled”).

Ask her if she’s a foodie, and Kavita replies, “Who doesn’t like good food! So much is now available in India.” La Piazza at Hyatt Regency, 360 at The Oberoi, Ritu Dalmia’s Diva count as favourite eating-out places. “360 is multi-cuisine, but I think they’ve done a good job with everything. Whether it’s Japanese, Italian or Indian, they have a lot of choice.”

She’s also particularly fond of Hauz Khas Village co-dweller Elma’s. “I love the whole décor. It’s like being in someone’s home — a comfortable environment, comfort food. I love going there, it relaxes me.” (With her daughter set to open a café above Ogaan this August-September, the bustling food scene in HKV will see another entrant.) The quiches at Basil & Thyme are nice as well, says Kavita, picking up a piece of melba toast.

SHALINI SHAH

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