Collage goes against the tide


With Collage turning 15, Lata Madhu says her trick to surviving in fashion’s crowded market is not chasing trends

A shipment of Gauri & Nainika dresses has just arrived at Collage, when I drop by. There are streamlined gowns and brocade pieces, and from founder Lata Madhu’s reaction, all is well. The capsule collection has been designed specially for the multi-brand luxury retail store’s anniversary edit, and the fashion sisters from Delhi are not the only designers to take it up a notch this month in Chennai. Shweta Kapur’s 431-88 ia another. It’s no wonder that when we meet in her compact office, Madhu begins by highlighting the value of relationships.

Some of her designers go back to her first year, from Tarun Tahiliani to Priyadarshini Rao to Manish Arora. The founder has a busy week ahead, preparing for a celebration that will mark 15 years since their launch (see box). The store on Greams Road has been catering to the city elite without drawing much attention to itself. The constant factor is Lata, who is hands -on with everything, from sourcing to marketing. “I’m almost always here; but I don’t impose myself on clients unless they want my take on something,” she says. She prides herself on being old-school.

Coming up
  • Titled ‘Love in Lines’, the architecture-inspired edit (available on November 8 and 9) will feature structured clothing and accessories from 11 Indian labels.
  • “It will be a largely monochrome palette, with techniques like colour blocking and stripes making an appearance,” explains Lata.
  • Also on offer are bucket bags from Rara Avis and accessories from Misho Designs.
  • Accompanying these will be a curated collection of modern Indian paintings and sculptures from Sarla Art Gallery, which will be on sale.
  • Dishes and desserts will be plated up by Mathangi Kumar of The Summer House Eatery.
  • Prices start from ₹5,000 for accessories and go up to ₹40,000 for garments.

Designers are family

This is in stark contrast to her daughter, Sam Madhu, a multi-disciplinary artist who has a strong social media presence. In fact, taking pride of place on the wall behind Lata are two large paintings by her. “She is busy producing music videos [for rapper Raja Kumari], projects for W Hotel, and collaborating with brands [including Adidas and Reebok]... It would require a lot of my energy to keep up,” laughs Lata. Their aesthetics are distinct — Sam’s work is all neon and bold, while Lata prefers demure and understated.

Lata talks of a loyal clientele, the kind who would, at one go, pick up 15 outfits from Rimzim Dadu, or a dozen from péro. “I’m glad we have a large percentage of people who believe in a simple approach to fashion. I don’t believe that a store should feel the need to cater to every aspect of fashion; it should perfect the curation for whatever you choose to stock,” she says.

It is something designers are comfortable with, too. Kiran Uttam Ghosh, who has been associated with the store for over eight years, says, “[Lata] has been very involved; the communication between us is fantastic. One can expect her to be available to brainstorm at any given point in time.” Although the label started off with Indian wear for the Chennai market, over the past year, Kolkata-based Ghosh has also introduced a metallic palette and pleated styles.

A Kiran Uttam Ghosh creation

A Kiran Uttam Ghosh creation  

Payal Khandwala, who came on board about a year back, mentions how well her Mumbai label is doing at the store. “We started off with a limited collection of our pleated garments, since they are easier to move, are very forgiving and size friendly. Now, they stock all our prêt and brocade lines as well,” she says. “Lata either did a good job in creating a market within her audience, or she tapped into an existing market that she felt she could steer towards our clothes.”

In the know

Lata is candid about the fact that she isn’t about chasing trends, but knows what her clients want. “What works in Mumbai and Delhi might not work in Chennai. That is not to say that they are forward or we are backward: we simply choose not to be where the other cities are,” she says. The focus at Collage is on stocking clothes that are built to last — “if you wear the same outfit several times, to me, that is sustainability” — yet, bringing in just enough innovation to whet the customer’s appetite for newness.

A Payal Khandwala creation

A Payal Khandwala creation  

After an e-commerce effort that did not go as expected, Lata has been wary of the space that is already flooded with e-tailers. Pop-ups are a worrisome kind of competition, too, because “customers now tend to pick up five garments at one go, and they are done for the month”. They also have to contend with designers stocking their wares in multiple stores at the same time. “I cannot tell them not to do that or ask for exclusivity, especially in a small market like Chennai. I just ensure that we have a special edit for our store,” she says.

Lata is aware that the next generation of shoppers are very conscious of what they wear. Having a millennial daughter helps. We’re told that Sam points her mother towards brands that she likes and would pick for herself. “Living in Mumbai and interacting with people from the creative community gives me an insight into newer names,” says Sam. Will she take over the reins? “Sam is so much busier than me! And her style of working is different...” says Lata. However, the young artist, who would like to design her own line of streetwear at some point, says that she is looking forward to working with her mother. “We’ll definitely have a project out next year,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 8:42:11 AM |

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