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Sense of self over sense of style

A Chlo dress, a Patola that resembles a Nintendo game, earrings made by her father in the 1970s: gallerist Priya Jhaveri favours subtle style with a dash of quirk

Priya Jhaveri, co-founder, Jhaveri Contemporary Gallery. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Priya Jhaveri, co-founder, Jhaveri Contemporary Gallery. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The passion for art began at home. Gallerist Priya Jhaveri’s parents were “obsessive collectors" of beautiful things, including modern art and antiquities, textiles, jewellery and ornaments. “They travelled widely, always including us in their visits to artist studios and galleries, and encouraged a study of the humanities," says Jhaveri.

Since 2010, an apartment on Walkeshwar Road in South Mumbai, designed by Bijoy Jain, has been converted into Jhaveri Contemporary, a gallery showing artists across generations. Priya’s older sister, the London-based Amrita Jhaveri, manages the relationships with the estates they represent as a gallery. In Mumbai, Priya works closely with the gallery’s international artists, producing, promoting, managing exhibitions and negotiating sales, while overseeing daily operations.

The 41-year-old modern history and Spanish major from Oberlin College, US, has worked with an environmental law firm in San Francisco, collaborated with writer and film-maker Bishakha Datta’s non-profit organization Point of View (POV) in India, co-authored a book, Unzipped: Women And Men In Prostitution Speak Out and worked as editor and project manager on books on Indian art and architecture at India Book House, before joining the art consultancy set up by her sister that evolved into the gallery.

Shoes by You Khanga. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The gallery showcases a wide range of artists, both veteran and avant garde—currently on show is experimental film-maker Shambhavi Kaul’s work—and it forms a reference for Jhaveri’s individualistic sensibility and aesthetic values.

Priya gravitates towards understated elegance with a touch of quirk. She is dressed in Western attire for the most part. “I adore saris but I can’t tie my own sari!" she says. She has a practical approach to dressing: You are likely to find her in flats, and sporting a white Swatch Skin watch. She avoids “high-maintenance clothes" for her work life, and opts for functional ready-to-wear for travel abroad, accounting for the local climate and long days at fairs. But there is always an accessory, like the chunky ivory wedding chudis she wears to add a touch of colour, or jewellery from sister Nandita Jhaveri’s eponymous line.

You might struggle to recognize the brands she wears, for she shops at local boutiques abroad for anything that catches her eye, like the You Khanga closed-toe flats (an Italian brand that works with African prints). A classic blue Acne Studios shirt is a staple and a Stella Jean dress a fun favourite, with basics from Uniqlo and Zara. In India, she tends to pick up items from Bodice, Amba, Vraj:bhoomi (for brogues) and close friend Maithili Ahluwalia’s Bungalow 8. It’s all so subtle, you wouldn’t even realize she is wearing a Chloé dress. You believe her when she quips about her personal style, “I’ve not given it much thought, so perhaps it’s effortless."

A Stella Jean dress and a tuxedo jumpsuit from Bungalow 8. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Lounge caught up with her for an interview. Edited excerpts:

How would you describe your personal style?

I do know that style eclipses the best of wardrobes, presupposing a certain authenticity: Find comfort in your own skin, and the rest will follow. I tend to veer towards a more classic look. I’m not hugely adventurous and, depending on my mood, I can pick things that are elegant, androgynous, lazy even: I’d love to leave home in a pretty kaftan and chappals with a silver necklace thrown on.

Are you attracted to a specific palette or cuts?

I gravitate towards classic cuts set apart by irregular detailing. I enjoy striking colours—orange, turquoise, sky blue, emerald—and, on occasion, patterns and prints that are graphic, playful or more delicate. I appreciate clothing made using natural dyes and fabrics and the use of traditional weaves reinvented in contemporary design.

Do you believe that a sense of style is important?

Not as much as a sense of self. But if we’re thinking of style more broadly, in terms of attitude and comportment, then yes it is.

Is there any weight to the saying: style/dressing is an art form?

It can be, absolutely, just like the best of television can, or a piece of writing, music, architecture or dance.

Describe your preferred outfits for work, evening and a casual setting.

Lots of dresses with silver jewellery (also jewellery made with materials like coral, stone, glass) and sandals for work. If I’m working at an art fair, I add skirts and jumpsuits, with heels on the first three days and flat shoes on the last two when comfort trumps vanity. In a casual setting, I adore roomy trousers in Khadi by Runaway Bicycle.

Vintage agate and diamond earrings designed by her father Dinesh Jhaveri in the 1970s. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Describe your three best style acquisitions.

A Patola sari for its flawless double-Ikat weave. Brilliantly handcrafted, it resembles a Nintendo game with its graphic pattern sporting animals and hybrid creatures. Earrings designed by my father, Dinesh Jhaveri, in the 1970s, for their inventive use of materials like wood and crystal alongside diamonds and gold. And a classic Boucheron watch with interchangeable leather straps in multiple colours for its timeless design.

When it comes to art and fashion, do you believe in acquiring timeless pieces or the flavour of the moment?

The challenge is knowing whether the “flavour of the moment" will be timeless or, equally, whether you need it to be timeless. In collecting art, my judgement sits somewhere between instinct and knowledge. It is important to make informed decisions. Supporting an artist can often be reward enough, as can an impulsive bout of retail therapy.

How important is sensibility and can you define it? Can it be acquired or is it inherent?

Sadly, I can’t define it. Its importance, however, is hard to over-exaggerate. Given that sensibility covers everything that not only makes sense but also makes beauty out of the daily rough and tumble of our lives. In a different mode: I don’t think sensibility is a value that is central to art or style any more. Most artists today respond to literary or political values. Prelapsarian aesthetic pleasures have given way to more theoretical approaches.

When it comes to style, who or what inspires you?

Artist Amrita Sher-Gil, irreverence, The Sopranos, the novels of Philip Roth, the people I love and the laughter of old friends.

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