Sanjay Garg has just returned to Delhi after opening his biggest store in the country, in Chennai. Named Malligai (Tamil for jasmine), the 5,400 sq.ft store lives inside an Art Deco white bungalow off Cenotaph Road, showcasing the designer’s dedication to the textile traditions of India.
With walls painted an elegant white, the 1960s building marries the Raw Mango’s “ever-evolving style” and its original elements.
As Adityan Melekalam, the creative visual director at Raw Mango who played a crucial role in the design of the building that once belonged to a family, says, “We wanted to create a space that was inspired by the geo-cultural context of the building/ region though not dictated by it. Raw Mango's spaces do not have a 'style' that they subscribe to. They usually evolve to contain different styles and approaches, which are often decided by the structure they're occupying.” He adds: “In this case, the structure or style of the house had nothing to do with traditional architecture of the region. It was a bungalow built in a vernacular-ised version of Art Deco. There are several elements in the original structure that we retained or built upon. A few, however, were imposed as we were trying to break away from recreating the space as is. We did repeat some elements and approaches from the previous stores, like playing with material combinations and proportions.”
Garg informs that the furniture was designed and produced in-house.
We spoke with Garg to understand why he chose Chennai as his fifth store, his future plans and what keeps him going. Edited excerpts:
Why this particular building in Chennai?
I just fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. It’s a beautiful structure.
Was Chennai always on the cards?
Well, I definitely wanted Raw Mango stores in at least seven cities. We are figuring out the rest. Everything has happened with time… I didn't even know that I'll be a brand one day. I always thought of myself as an activist who was going to fix a problem.
Handloom. It was looked down upon as this behenji sari…as something only a certain class of people could wear. That perception used to hurt me a lot. And I have never liked the word "traditional”. I believe sari is a garment that can work in many beautiful ways. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell the world that something that’s so old can also be so modern and relevant for years to come.
Were you always so passionate about handloom?
I think me and my siblings always had this thing in ourselves that we wanted to do something that brings a change in the country. We come from a Hindi background and we were brought up with this thought that we need to make India better in some way. Like my sister, she’s working with indigenous food right now. She's visiting villages across India and documenting different varieties of food people eat. She’s found some 50 flowers that are edible. There's so much in this country we don’t yet know about, we are still discovering; it’s just amazing.
You mentioned that pandemic was good for business. Could you tell us how your customer has evolved in the past two-three years?
I think more people are celebrating saris now. They have realised that they can wear it anywhere they go. We are seeing more younger girls coming to us. Also, when it comes to wedding clothes, now women are making the decision that they want to wear a sari on their big day instead of the family making a decision for them. So, there's definitely growth there.
Any plans for Raw Mango to open an international store?
Not right now. I think I have a lot of work to do here first.