Style notes from Colombo — Sri Lankan design showcase in Mumbai

Anuk by Samaadhi Weerasinghe is one of the eight labels that will be on display at the pop-up

Anuk by Samaadhi Weerasinghe is one of the eight labels that will be on display at the pop-up   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The month-long PR pop-up by Annika Fernando, hosted at Samyukta Nair’s Clove boutique in Mumbai, features eight labels from the island nation

In fashion, they say, timing is everything. After the devastating Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, tourism plummeted. The country needed a morale boost. Since visitors are not yet returning in big numbers, two enterprising young women have decided to shine a light on the country’s burgeoning design scene. ‘Heart of Sri Lanka’ is a month-long pop-up in Mumbai, curated by Annika Fernando of Colombo boutique, PR, and hosted by Samyukta Nair at Clove, her charmingly compact Colaba boutique.

The exhibit, which opened on June 14, includes eight emerging and established Sri Lankan jewellery and clothing designers. Among the labels are Sonali Dharmawardena, whose signature silk Batik prints have a cult following; Anuk by Samaadhi Weerasinghe, with their silk slip dresses; MAUS, Fernando’s own brand; KÛR by Kasuni Rathnasuriya, which uses Sri Lankan lace; swim and lingerie brand La Pard by Dinushi Pamanuwa; Lois London by Radhika Perera-Hernandez; as well as jewellery brands Papillon du thé, and Cher by Chevonne.

Born into the biz

Fernando, whose family owns hotels, restaurants and the famed Paradise Road store in Colombo, is a recognised tastemaker; her store carries an eclectic collection of designers from the island nation as well as brands from India. The half Sri Lankan, half European 40-year-old recalls the sombre mood after the bombings. “I am a business owner. People — staff, designers — depend on me. My mission was, if people are not coming to Colombo, I will go to them. India was a natural step because I have so many friends and connections here. Our climates are similar, so the pieces are relevant to Mumbai. And Samyukta was the perfect host — the plan was confirmed in a day,” she says.

For Nair, 33, who runs restaurants in India, as well as the Michelin-starred restaurant Jamavar in London, and is a scion of the Leela hotel group, it was like coming full circle. Her maternal grandfather, Madhavan Kutty, had been India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka in the 1970s and her mother had spent her childhood in Colombo. She herself first visited the island as a six-year-old in the early 90s. Many years later, during a visit in June 2017, a chance encounter with Fernando led to their friendship. When Nair launched Clove — a concept store that stocks Indian home wear, jewellery, clothing and gifting — later that year, the two exchanged retail notes. After this year’s April attacks in Colombo, they were spurred to collaborate.

Nair (left) and Fernando wish to garner local design and build a community of like-minded individuals.

Nair (left) and Fernando wish to garner local design and build a community of like-minded individuals.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“When we discussed the edit, I told Annika I want it to be a supremely accessible offering in terms of pricing, silhouettes and material,” explains Nair. For their young customer base, there are loose, unstructured outfits but also feminine ones with lace. About 150 one-of-a-kind pieces, ranging in price from ₹6,000 to ₹30,000 are on display, including shirts, trousers and dresses in cottons, silk, satin-silk and linens. The experience is akin to rummaging through a closet and finding something for everyone.

Indoor island

For the pop-up, Clove has been transformed into a verdant tropical gateway. The large centre table holds a crate piled high with bananas, guavas and other local fruit. Palm leaves are suspended from the ceiling, lending the store a lush island vibe. In keeping with the Sri Lankan theme, on opening day, guests were served jackfruit and mutton patties.

The two retailers have much in common, with Nair going so far as to calling Fernando her Sri Lankan avatar. “Our families are so similar: we both have hotels, restaurants, interior design and retail stores,” she points out. They also share similar aesthetics. Both wish to garner local design and to build a community of like-minded individuals.

At PR, there is an emerging talent programme called Rising Star, where a new designer is provided one rack and one window for three months to display a capsule collection. Currently, the space is occupied by Botani.que by Lithma Ekanayake.

Nair, too, is attempting to provide young designers a space in which to show their wares. Earlier this year, she did a collaboration with Harvard-trained architect Rooshad Shroff and the fashion label Saaksha & Kinni.

June is a tricky month, what with the onset of the monsoon and a general lull in Mumbai. “Yes, it’s a difficult time, but it’s also under-served. It’s an opportunity for people to get out of their homes,” Nair notes. And if that means supporting our neighbours in the region, it’s reason enough.

Clove x PR is on till June 30, at Churchill Chambers, Alana Road, Colaba, Mumbai. From 11 am to 8 pm. 02222021470

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 1:18:14 AM |

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