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India's iconic fashion store Mélange gets a makeover

The multi-designer store is now home to Varanasi's heritage textile brand, Dharki

The Dharki store in Mélange
The Dharki store in Mélange

Dharki, a luxury handloom textile brand from Varanasi, has a new address: India's iconic store Mélange in Mumbai.

Once a colonial building on Mumbai’s Altamont Road that served as a service centre for Bush Radio, the structure was turned into a multi-designer store by entrepreneur Sangita Sinh Kathiwada in 1993. She had curated the store for 30 years, making space for designers who worked with natural fabrics, among others. It eventually became the launchpad for several designers, including Narendra Kumar, Aki Narula, and Priyadarshini Rao. It was one of the early stores to stock Sabyasachi Mukherjee. 

Kathiwada has now come on board as the artistic director of the Dharki, founded by designer Brijesh Gupta.

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Talking about his brand, Gupta says, “I grew up in the heart of the finest timeless craftsmanship (Banaras, or Varanasi). Dharki is an ode to tradition intertwined with the elegance of modern design philosophy. The journey began with a deep appreciation for the artistry of handloom weaving that has woven communities together for generations.” Besides Varanasi, the brand works with artisans in Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, to create a range of saris, odhanas and dupattas. For its current collection, the brand has introduced patterns and textures which were earlier unseen in traditional jacquard weaving.

Sangita Sinh Kathiwada hopes that having a brick-and-mortar retail space will hopefully help the brand reach a wider audience, in addition to its online reach. “Earlier, India was inspired by the West. Now, India is the hotbed of creativity and ideas. It’s a wonderful time to be in the Indian fashion industry,” she says. “Shoppers are now so spoilt for choice that they have varied loyalties. It is tougher for brands to retain loyal customers.” 

To offer a new experience with Dharki, the Mélange store has been entirely refurbished to match the label’s identity. “The entire feel embraces an era gone by, with shades of taupe, Indian rose and chalk. An interplay of textures including wood, copper and silk creates an even lusher feel. The interior design was inspired by my nani’s (maternal grandmother's) cupboards from the haveli she grew up in, in central India. I then went on to design my entire dressing room at my home in Mumbai with the same cabinetry that has inspired the display of Dharki’s textiles,” says Sangita Sinh Kathiwada. 

Gupta believes the key to seamlessly presenting traditional motifs lies in striking a balance of homage and innovation. "In the reinterpretation process, I often experiment with scale, colour and composition. Enlarging or abstracting traditional motifs can lend a bold modern edge, while a muted or unconventional colour palette can contemporize its appearance. This play with visual elements ensures that the designs don’t replicate the past but evolve into something new and relevant,” says the designer.

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.

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