It is around this time of the year—just before Dussehra, Diwali and the looming wedding season—that the operations of a cramped 16ft-long room in a bylane of Greater Kailash-I’s M-block market in New Delhi require additional store hands. Close to 120 sari blouses are ordered every day at “the designer blouse shop” Eve’s. Most are delivered within 10 days. This is the blouse tailoring shop of a woman’s dreams.
Four years ago, the space was declared too small for the store’s growing clientele. Eve’s now has an additional “showroom” right in the heart of M-block market, close to a KFC outlet, and above two diamond stores. Every blouse you ever saw on actor Katrina Kaif is here on a mannequin.
Ring master: Vineet Kumar at the Eve’s showroom in Delhi. In the background, a customer surveys the latest designs. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
For those who still think of a blouse as a utilitarian garment fashioned from the fabric torn off a sari, there are placards dispensing education on wire-cut, butterfly-style, and princes-cut blouses. “If you have a small bust and are not Confident of Carrying off a Sari,” says one, “the best option for you is a Padded Blouse.” The designs either promise to “make him go ga ga” or “make him start at you” (sic). At the showroom, there is a blouse magically held up by one bejewelled ring, one that’s made entirely of faux pearls and one that’s constructed from so many strips of coloured brocade that you could lose track counting. The most elaborate one on display is a blouse made with crystals on champagne-coloured chiffon and tulle. It costs Rs 10,000. A sign says credit cards are welcome.
In New Delhi, far from the rich weaving traditions of the west, south and east India, the sari is not an ethnic idiom worn customarily to family functions and religious occasions. Here in north India, the sari is a fashion statement, and the blouse, its subject.
Vineet Kumar, whom everyone simply calls Master, knows this only too well, and this is what his business thrives on. His father, Santosh, started Eve’s in 1968. He had moved from Dehradun to Delhi and assisted a tailor in Karol Bagh for a few years. Blouse tailoring was a new and attractive market. Many Punjabi women were just getting out of their salwars and learning how to drape a sari. As late as the 1980s, Eve’s was the only blouse tailoring shop on that block. Now, there are close to 10—all bunched around Eve’s. They have shimmery blouses in de rigueur colours of silver, pale gold and red displayed on hangers. The homogeneity of the shops is baffling. They all look like Eve’s. They even advertise the same starting prices: Rs 600 for a basic blouse.
Vineet, 34, tells us he was coerced into joining the business when he was 17 under the guise of learning accounts. “I really wanted to do other things,” he says. After his father died, he took over as the master or head tailor, and he is now dressed for the part, with a pair of glasses perched on his nose and a measuring tape around his neck. He learnt how to measure a woman flatteringly and create individualistic designs by observing his father at work. Soon, he was hooked. “It’s very creative,” he says. “And rewarding. You see, these women, they trust me with their life’s most important occasions.”
Vineet hit the socio-sartorial pulse of the city with one ingenious flourish: the mother-in-law blouse. This is a risque, backless blouse that comes with add-on Velcro strips. You put on the strips when your mother-in-law is around and metamorphose into the good daughter-in-law.
An early triumph for Eve’s was the discovery of the padded blouse, which continues to be a best-seller. Around 10 years ago, Vineet recalls, he came across padded swimsuits on the streets of Janpath. He bought a couple, removed the foam cups used to accentuate a woman’s breasts, and stitched them into a blouse. A happy customer recommended these to her friends, and Vineet had more orders. He, however, didn’t know where to buy the cups. “I started buying the swimsuits, taking out the cups and throwing the rest out,” says Vineet, laughing. “These were cheap swimsuits from Bangkok, so I was still making a profit.”
Because of the continuing popularity of its padded blouses, Eve’s now has a dedicated supplier of foam cups. They come from the Govindpuri area, not too far from Greater Kailash—both hard and soft, in various shapes and thicknesses. For the woman who wants more, Eve’s also offers a double padding option.
While we’re there, Vineet is battling with a teenage customer who wants her blouse a little tighter than his measuring tape goes. Vineet quietly refuses, and the girl and her mother launch into an argument. “Sexy aur vulgar ke beech 4mm ka difference hai (There’s a difference of just 4mm between sexy and vulgar),” he tells me later.
Vineet says that while he is inspired by the fabric a customer brings—whether she is from Daryaganj, Mumbai or Toronto—he creates designs based on what would work for her. Eve’s has customers ranging from teenage girls to women in their 60s. And some ask for outlandish things. “Look, I cannot change a woman’s figure. But I try and reach a middle ground. I like the customer to think they got what they wanted.”
Storm in a D-cup: (from top) Zircon-string blouse, Rs 6,500; the most expensive at Eve’s is a crystal-studded chiffon and tulle blouse, Rs 10,000; and the ‘Katrina’, Rs 4,500.
Over the years, Vineet has appropriated Western dress and lingerie cuts for his designs. The balconette or demi bra, for instance, is coquettishly renamed the butterfly blouse—it comes with sheer, slightly flared sleeves. But despite the Ekta Kapoor soap opera vibe of the place, there prevails a sense of humour. We see a mother-in-law blouse made in the Indian cricket team’s jersey colour. It says “I love Sehwag”. It allows you to hide your love for Virender Sehwag if the need should arise.
Vineet is available at the showroom five days a week, from 3pm. Two junior tailors take orders in tandem. To keep working hours in check, Eve’s encourages advance appointments and caps orders at five blouses per customer.
Still, says Vineet, “In season, I can be here till 1am taking orders.”
On Saturdays, out of deference for where they started off, Vineet sits at the small shop in the bylane. “Old customers like to come there,” he says. “Some of them can’t climb the stairs to the two-storeyed one.”
What every woman wants, no matter where she comes from or how old she is, is “kuch alag (something different)”, says Vineet. “That’s the first thing they say when they come. That’s why it’s difficult to tell you what’s popular. If you want something popular, you don’t come to Eve’s.”
The most creative Vineet ever got was with a blouse he designed for his wife for their wedding reception. It was a see-through blouse with around 300 diamante and velvet flowers in the right places.
If a white cotton blouse is all you need, though, Vineet will make you the best white cotton blouse you ever wore (but he will look at you with some disappointment).
While he might inform you that zircon-studded rings are hot property as embellishments this season, he’d be more than happy to design a blouse around that birthmark on your back you don’t like. At Eve’s, it’s all about you. What woman could refuse?