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Lounge Preview: Kindred Spirits

Maithili Ahluwalia of Bungalow 8 brings a slice of Sri Lankan fashion to India

Maithili Ahluwalia (left) and Annika Fernando.
Maithili Ahluwalia (left) and Annika Fernando.

It’s not just a surface fit. It’s an ideological fit," says Maithili Ahluwalia, at her south Bombay concept store, Bungalow 8, about how she found “the Fernandos" and managed to get them over to Mumbai.

The Fernandos are a Sri Lanka-based family with a string of properties that define hip Colombo: home store Paradise Road, the Gallery Café and Bentota Villa, both designed by famous modernist architect Geoffrey Bawa, and Tintagel hotel, among others. These have all been set up by Udayshanth Fernando, the family patriarch, who has established a modest empire with a distinct design bent over the last three decades. Annika Fernando, his daughter, runs a concept store called PR from where she retails her own clothing brand, Maus, defined by an effortlessly chic quality, and curates other designers’ works.

Now, Ahluwalia has collaborated with Annika for a three-day pop-up at Bungalow 8, presenting a collection of 200-plus pieces—clothing, accessories, footwear and jewellery—by seven Sri Lankan designers.

Batik is a prominent theme for the clothing. Designer Sonali Dharmawardena’s statement skirts give a glamour makeover to traditional Batik. “No two pieces are the same," points out Annika. Dresses by Kanchana Thalpawila’s label KT Brown flare beautifully and are crafted in such a way that there is only a single seam. “Kanchana is fiercely passionate about the traditional dumbara weaving of Sri Lanka," adds Annika. KÛR by Sri Lankan designer Kasuni Rathnasuriya presents lovely beeralu lacework, combined with Batik. There’s also handcrafted jewellery—box clutches in solid brass, statement cuffs with botanical motifs—by Saskia Fernando, Annika’s sister. And there’s Maus, which showed at the latest Colombo Fashion Week.

An earthy colour palette with minimal embellishments, and geometry offset by abstract Batik patterns, all with a tropical undercurrent—the collection at Bungalow 8 is representative of emerging Sri Lankan fashion. “It’s a very exciting time for design in Sri Lanka. Someone like Kanchana is insistent on using clothing as a means of expressing identity. Or consider how brands all over the world play up the story of being ethical. All of Sonali’s (Dharmawardena) work is produced by differently-abled women. But it’s not part of her story. She never puts a tag saying this was made by a differently-abled woman. There’s a confidence and individuality among designers that’s coming through," says Annika.

Now, Ahluwalia has collaborated with Annika for a three-day pop-up at Bungalow 8, presenting a collection of 200-plus pieces.

Ahluwalia says that’s one of the reasons why she felt so strongly drawn to the Fernandos. “When I experienced the whole Fernando story during my visits to Colombo, I felt here is a brand taking tradition, history, the local, current context and giving it an up-to-date, contemporary relevance. We live in a world where every individual voice gets bought over by conglomerates and is then present in every single airport shop in the world, so it’s refreshing to find a singular family with a strong, independent voice that they have preserved. That’s really what resonated immediately, because that’s what we hope we are as well at Bungalow 8".

The Bungalow 8 store, which moved from its older Colaba location to the Wankhede Stadium location two years ago, is a unique space. It has a stepped ceiling architecture since it’s within the Wankhede stadium premises. The interior has been done up in chatai and jute, and it puts together an eclectic mix of folk and tribal motifs set among minimal, modern lines. With help from designer Isla Maria “Loulou" van Damme, it has been reinvented for the three-day exhibit “to evoke a tropical forest, a very Sri Lankan association". Bungalow 8 has also tied up with Jhaveri Contemporary, an art and photo gallery in Walkeshwar, and borrowed rare photographs by Sri Lankan photographer Lionel Wendt, to exhibit at the event (Wendt is known for his stunning black and white portraits of Sri Lankan men, shot in the 1960s).

Annika and Ahluwalia complete each other’s sentences and reinforce each other’s perspectives. “This is not a trunk show with leftovers from Annika’s store that have now come to mine. There are collections designed especially for this show," says Ahluwalia. Annika adds: “It’s not just two people who think it’s fun to play in fashion. It’s about loving what you do and working doggedly to continue that identity." The pop-up is on till Sunday, 11am-8pm at Bungalow 8, inside Wankhede Stadium, off Marine Drive, Mumbai. Prices, from Rs5,000-50,000.

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