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Two sisters and their different styles

75 pairs of jeans, no handloom please, and dresses with big pockets; sisters Srila and Ila Chatterjee spin wildly different style-scapes

Sisters Srila and Ila Chatterjee at Srila’s South Mumbai home. Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Sisters Srila and Ila Chatterjee at Srila’s South Mumbai home. Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Sisters Srila Chatterjee and Ila Chatterjee Mucadam are pivotal fixtures in Mumbai—operating as they do at the intersection of advertising, film, design and fashion. Chatterjee, the elder of the two, used to helm Highlight Films, which has been an incubator of talent, furthering many a successful career in cinema, fashion, production and set design, for 25 years. But that’s not all. She curated the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in its early years, co-founded blueFROG, the iconic music space, and opened the furniture and textile store Baro with Siddharth Sirohi last year.

Mucadam, who designs clothes and interiors, likes to describe herself as a “full-time mother". Her elder sister says she only pursues her professional interests “when the spirit propels" (there are two other siblings—a sister who lives in Seoul and a brother, in Kolkata).

Mucadam and Chatterjee are known for their highly individual, eclectic styles. Chatterjee has an outré style that involves using the most simple textiles in imaginative ways and eschews brands altogether, while Mucadam flocks to them. Mucadam wears them with her distinctive stamp—whether it’s a handbag or a dress. We met the sisters at Chatterjee’s distinctive rooftop home, bursting with art and colour.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How would you describe your style?

Mucadam: I like no-fuss, spontaneous dressing. My outfit comes together as I am getting ready. I veer towards minimalistic clothes and like to colour-block. I love accessories and my clothes are a backdrop for my accessories. I have started wearing prints and fun colours but, by and large, my wardrobe is very neutral. Beiges, khakis, green—I love earthy colours. I am more grey than black. If I have to choose between two outfits, I would buy the more muted choice. I don’t wear trousers much. I like dresses and wear them in all lengths. I wear the same dress in different ways. Add a belt, remove a belt, throw on a scarf, something that changes it up.

Pieces from Srila’s collection of jewellery.

Chatterjee: Do I have a style? My style is limited by my body! I like things that are original. Even if I had the hottest body on the planet, I would never wear blue jeans. I would never wear a black dress. I can’t bear being generic. I rebel immediately against looking like everyone else. I like clothes that are original. I only wear natural fabrics. I love bright colours. I love Western clothes made with ethnic and handcrafted fabrics. I hate jeans and denim.

Mucadam: I love blue jeans! My current favourite is Frame denim because their jeans are slightly high-waisted.

Ila’s Céline bucket bag.
Ila’s Céline bucket bag.

How many pairs of jeans do you have?

Mucadam: I am still searching for the perfect pair. I have about 75 pairs. Each one is totally different.

What do you wear during the day?

Mucadam: Track pants and a T-shirt which Srila is always blasting me about. I work in a non-glamorous job so I don’t go out in my Sunday best.

Chatterjee: Ila doesn’t have to go to an office every day. One of the hardest things in the world is to get up in the morning and think about what to wear. It’s tedious. I put much more of an effort in my head in the morning about getting dressed than about going out at night because I think of what I am doing, what meetings I have, where I am going, and then I decide. What I wear depends on what the day is like.... I wear tights with a long shirt.... If it’s a day when I am going to be on site, I intentionally wear something with pockets. I have made myself five A-line dresses that are long and have big pockets and it’s just so sensible to work with that. If I am at Baro, then I sometimes wear a sari.

Jacket designed by Ila.

Name some wardrobe favourites.

Mucadam: I have many favourites. I love all my clothes. My Monisha Jaising jersey jacket, which is 20 years old. I have worn it a million times. Not only does it look lovely, I am always asked, where did you get this jacket? I have a black Marni jumpsuit that is now fraying at the edges so I am being miserly about wearing it. Marni is one of my favourite designers.

Chatterjee: My issue is I really can’t buy clothes off the rack. I have an odd body. I have a few James Ferreira dresses that are still going strong after so many years. I don’t think anybody cuts more flatteringly than James. He is a master. I also love the Savio Jon dresses that I bought many years ago. I liked what he did with fabric. It also allowed me to do whatever I wanted with jewellery. Ranji Kelekar, the Goa-based designer, used to make a lot of my clothes too. I have a tailor who makes clothes for me. They are cotton and I wear them for a year and then they are done. I buy a lot of clothes from Ila (who designs informally). When the spirit moves her and she makes clothes, I have the privilege of seeing them first and choosing whatever I want.

Ila’s Monisha Jaisingh vintage jacket.

What role does jewellery play in your style?

Mucadam: I love bracelets and necklaces. I am not such an earrings person. Real jewellery doesn’t interest me. I make my own things, I love putting things together.

Chatterjee: I can wear the same thing and it would look totally different because of the amount of jewellery I am wearing. I love earrings and necklaces. My jewellery runs the gamut from ethnic, with a lot of silver, to folk, to a lot of wild stuff made out of paper and felt.

Ila’s pompom tassel sandals from Bali.

Name a fashion trend you wore and regret.

Mucadam: Remember the 1980s? Plastic earrings, multicoloured bangles on my wrist.

Chatterjee: I don’t follow trends so I don’t know when things change. The only trend in my life has been to do with my size. That changed what I wore.

Necklace from In Good Company.
Necklace from In Good Company.

Do you wear a lot of saris?

Mucadam: I like wearing saris but I don’t have traditional saris. All of my saris are fabrics I have really liked and I bought 5.5m and wore it as a sari. I don’t wear handloom. I prefer more flowy fabrics.

Chatterjee: I love fabrics and design and some of the most beautiful textiles are saris. Growing up in Kolkata, you see lovely fabrics and you learn to appreciate design. About four years ago, I began wearing saris regularly. Then I had this new avatar of working on interiors as well and going to sites and that makes it virtually impossible to work in a sari. Given a chance, I would still wear one. I like wearing them on unexpected occasions, like casual meetings, as in, if earlier I was in shorts, now I will wear a cotton sari.

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