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Get over online shopping

11 Jun , 2018  

Stand-alone luxury stores will spoil you silly with their opulent spaces, exquisite collection and hospitality fit for royalty

 

Deepali Nandwani

 

Remember the time when everyone was talking about the death of the stand-alone store? Expensive real estate, especially in the luxury segment, the shifting consumer focus to online retail and new technology threatened the very existence of a luxury boutique store, which, to an entire generation of shoppers, was more than just a mere space to pick up accessories or clothes.

The buzz is that retail never really died; it is reinventing itself in the age of digital disruption. Dilmad Ahmed, CEO, Retail Property Trends, a real estate consultancy firm based in Delhi, says that what is dead is boring retail. “Many stores shut shop in 2017,” he says. “But many opened their doors at the end of 2017 and in early 2018. The ones that have shut shop are the kind that had been sailing in the sea of mediocrity and sameness for a long time.”

Boutique stores are like Aladdin’s caves; you never know what you will find within the treasures they accumulate. We tracked a few stores that have either opened up or reinvented, moved and found new footing over the last few months.

Among them is The Silver Room, an expansive boutique by the grand old man of Indian luxury, Dilip Doshi. This is the gentleman who first brought Mont Blanc to India, when the country hadn’t even woken up to the word ‘luxury’. Located on the second floor of The Trident Hotel Galleria at Nariman Point, the store is dedicated to things beyond silver. Adil Ahmad of The Palace Collection designed it to resemble a palatial living room. It stocks Greggio, a luxurious Italian silver brand dating back to 1882, but also crystal glassware from Moser, which is almost 160 years old, indulgent handcrafted Globe-Trotter luggage, and the Linari fragrance range, sold in pretty glass flacons made from the finest French glass.

 

The Silver Room is an expansive boutique dedicated to luxurious home décor items beyond silver

The Silver Room is an expansive boutique dedicated to luxurious home décor items beyond silver

 

Doshi believes that “luxury can only be best experienced at a physical store, which reflects the beauty of the handcrafted products that they choose to sell in The Silver Room”.

In Mumbai itself, Studio Malabar, which opened earlier this year, stretches over 2,000 sq ft of ground-floor space in a beautiful old building near Chowpatty beach. Its patrons will remember it simply as the Malabar Boutique of the Taj Mahal Palace. This was a store set up by Lady Hamilton, who moved to Mumbai from Canada just after Partition and fell in love with the city and its sprawling coastline. She set up a store that sold everything exquisite, from silk furnishings to handmade furniture. Today, the store is owned and run by Sarita Goswamy, Dimple Ahuja and Anand Ahuja, who worked for years under Mrs Hamilton.

“While our focus and quality is the same, we have reinvented ourselves by moving to Chowpatty, where we attract a younger buyer and several walk-in clients. Many of them are foreign visitors who stay in luxury hotels such as The Oberoi and The St. Regis, besides our regular patrons of interior designers and residents of South Mumbai,” says Goswamy.

 

Studio Malabar recently moved to Chowpatty to reach out to a younger clientele, and houses unusual artefacts

Studio Malabar recently moved to Chowpatty to reach out to a younger clientele, and houses unusual artefacts

 

The store is a patina of beautiful objects: hand-crafted silk, sublime cotton and muslin furnishings, beautifully restored furniture from different parts of India, embellished silk evening bags and refurbished antiques including wooden chests, study tables, coffee tables and chairs, besides their range of hand-crafted chandeliers. At the store, silk fabric drapes the wooden chests; there are old-world chairs and unusual artefacts, home accessories and bronze sculptures that make shopping here such a pleasure. I loved feeling the silk of the table runner and the bling of the little sequins on a cushion, the gleam of the brass head sculpture and running my fingers on the grains of the wooden cabinet—experiences I would have missed if I wasn’t in an actual store.

At the other end of the spectrum is Vaishnavipratima, an eclectic home store run by interior designer Vaishnavipratima Kodakalla. The store occupies a warehouse space in Sun Mills Compound, Lower Parel, and resembles the studio of a product and furniture designer rather than just another home store.

Here, I browsed through tan leather chairs with slouchy seats, embellished mirrors, painted and intricately designed furniture and other knick-knacks that caught my eye, like a boat that has been converted into a wall cabinet. Kodakalla custom-makes the wideranging furniture pieces, while the accessories are curated from a host of sources across India.

 

Vaishnavipratima is designed to feel like a product and furniture design studio

Vaishnavipratima is designed to feel like a product and furniture design studio

 

The proof that physical retail is on its way to a revival can be also seen at the trendy new shopping address that has popped up at Jodhpur’s recently revitalised Toorji ka Jhalra stepwell, which was restored under JDH: Urban Regeneration Project. Old havelis and buildings have been revitalised to include fashionable stores. Here, brands like Jaipur-based RASA, sells everything from evening wear to home furnishings; Andraab, offers an exquisite range of shawls, scarves, stoles and spreads; and Nicobar, the breezy sibling of the storied Good Earth, brings its version of tropical, travel and beach island-inspired living and dressing to the desert of Jodhpur.

 

Nicobar has brought its breezy, beach-inspired style to the desert of Jodhpur

Nicobar has brought its breezy, beach-inspired style to the desert of Jodhpur

 

The recently opened Good Earth ‘Moonhouse’ Boutique in Jodhpur resembles a souk along the Silk Route rather than a modern store, with its gifts and Sufi-inspired collectibles a tribute to Jodhpur’s famous World Spirit Festival held each February. You can shop for wall murals peppered with Rumi quotes and flowing white lehengas inspired by the garments of the whirling dervishes, besides their range of furniture, fashion, homeware and accessories.

Last year, I visited one of Delhi’s newest opening, the Ekaya store in Defence Colony set up by the Shahs, a prominent Varanasi family dealing in the famous Benarasi weaves and saris. Ekaya was as modern as you could get with a display of traditional weaves. Minimal interiors and a modern display held gossamer silk saris, delicate lehengas and beautiful dupattas. Ekaya also collaborates with designers to present their version of the Benarasi weave in the form of lehengas, saris and scarves. Ekaya has been exporting their fabrics internationally, but for them, the store was a means to reach out to a whole new generation of buyers in an ambience that is both luxurious and reminiscent of the times when women, with other ladies of the family, spent hours poring over reams of textiles and yards of saris to choose the ones that made their bridal dreams come alive.

 

Good Earth Jodhpur resembles a souk along the Silk Route

Good Earth Jodhpur resembles a souk along the Silk Route

 

A shared cultural experience and the joy of browsing through carefully curated collections are just some of the experiences that luxury stores are now trying to recreate, in their own contemporary way.

 

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