Fashion flashback: Melange reaches milestone 25

When we walk into Mélange, a store that every SoBo fashionista worth her high heels would know, it looks like a maze of woodwork with beautiful clothes in every corner. While the store might look different, owner Sangita Kathiwada, who is busy setting up an art and fashion installation to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the store, doesn’t look a year older.

Setting the trend

When Kathiwada opened Mélange in 1993, the concept of a multi-designer store was not common in the city. And one that would only sell garments made from khadi, cotton, linen and other natural fabrics without doses of heavy embroidery on them was even more uncommon. But Kathiwada wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement but simply presenting her own way of clean living.

“My grandmother used to tell me that when I was a baby, they would just give me a fabric when I would cry and I would play with it for hours without a tear. Sustainable fashion for me is not a fad, which many design houses follow today just as a business model, that’s just the way I live, it’s a personal belief system. It’s not just fashion. Like we used to have fashion shows in heritage buildings like The Royal Opera House, the Convocation Hall at Mumbai University, or the Framjee Cawasjee building – we need to sustain everything that we have inherited. The shows were a mode to use fashion to send a message and gain attention to things that are of value but are often ignored,” says Kathiwada.

This system sure seems to be working for her, as she stylishly pulls off a Wendell Rodricks skirt, which has been with her for 22 years. We take a step back when she tells us that she is 60, something she credits to her practise of yoga and tai chi. “We even did a show once at the store where I had dancers present a tai chi performance in our clothes to show that they you can even dance in them,” she adds. In the past, she has worked with performing artistes like Daksha Sheth and Astad Deboo for her presentations.

Fashion flashback: Melange reaches milestone 25

Integral style

It was this creative dialogue, presented via the medium of fashion, that attracted people from diverse backgrounds to the store. From the old money families of Napean Sea Road, Carmichael Road and Altamount Road who would shop through the day followed by lunch at Thacker’s, textile artistes from Japan, filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, to theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, for whom a special ramp was built at the store. Mélange also pulled in actors such as Jaya Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia and Shabana Azmi, as there weren’t any designer stores in the suburbs back then. This now has stopped though says Kathiwada after the boutique boom in areas like Bandra and Juhu. “Manish [Malhotra] would often come to get inspired by the non-embroidered pieces. He had picked a garment from here and teamed it for a costume for Rangeela,” says Kathiwada.

Colonial past

The store which is the basement of a beautiful colonial building, has an interesting past too. When Kathiwada purchased the property, it was used as a service centre for Bush Radio. The store had yellow walls, cabins and vinyl flooring, all of which were stripped to reveal the original stonework, and flat bricks from Nashik hard to find today. “I had seen hundreds of places without character and had decided to open a store outside Mumbai. When I got a call for this, I came in my dressing gown as I had no hope. There was a garbage dump outside, but when I entered, I immediately knew this was it. It was originally designed to be a wine cellar for the building,” says Kathiwada who shares that she signed her cheque for the deposit there and then.

Fashion flashback: Melange reaches milestone 25

Back then, Kathiwada was working with craftsmen from Sri Lanka, England and Bikaner, on jewellery restoration and wanted the store to be an academic space for jewellery. By the time she set up the store, she didn’t have any money left to put up the jewellery, she tells us with a laugh. But what followed was equally fulfilling for her, as they sold out in the first three days of opening.Kathiwada worked with designers from the first batch of NIFT back then. Melange also served as a launch pad in Mumbai for designers like Narendra Kumar, Ramesh Nair, Hidden Harmony, Sujit Mukherjee, Aki Narula, Saviojon, Priyadarshini Rao, and even Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

Bucking the tide

But is the business still the same as what it used to be, we ask her. “Yes, online shopping has affected our audience, especially with the younger generation who doesn’t have the time to come to a store or would rather buy 10 garments from international high street labels. But our loyal old clients will never shop online, without touching the fabric. This is not a scalable model [they had six branches across India at one time]. But business is still good. I am not doing this because I have money, a business must earn too. One should always do things you like, and like things that you have to do.”

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2021 11:17:40 PM |

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