He appraised her for a few seconds and then whipped out a pair of jeans from among the 6,000-plus folded pairs neatly stacked on shelves along the two lengths of the deep store and said: “Try this.” She walked into the changing room with only that one pair, too polite to ask for options. “I’ll take it,” she said coming out a few minutes later looking mighty pleased with the perfect fit.
I wanted to volunteer for this magic trick too. Unlike my friend who has no rules about the jeans she wears, I’m picky. If my relationship with denim were to be represented by a single pair of jeans it would have to be my first love, Levis 501s. These days I buy my Barely Boot jeans from one store in the US except for the occasional failed experiment like NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans). So I’m not exactly the target customer for unbranded jeans with names like Airways and Hawk.
But this was research. I took my lonesome pair to the white trial room, whose walls were scrawled with handwritten messages: “I’ll never buy jeans anywhere else,” Anusha; “Never bought a pair of jeans so fast!” Tanya; “Never loved my legs more,” P.R. What can I tell you? The buttons are not exactly the best but I’ve already been back to buy my second perfect pair.
Vashi’s House of Jeans is one of Bengaluru’s favourite fashion secrets—when it shut in 2014 because owner Vashi Lakhani decided he had sold jeans for 30 years and he wanted to take it easy—the city wept. “Thank you, Vashi’s. Goodbye and good luck,” Bangalore Mirror said on its front page. “Hips didn’t lie here,” The Hindu informed its readers solemnly. Luckily, all Lakhani and his son Tarun, who has run the store alongside him for 12 years now, ended up doing was getting bored and gaining weight. Six months later they were back with a new name and a new venue.
“There are two types of Sindhis,” Lakhani, 66, tells me when I go back to the store to ask him how exactly his magic worked. “Moneylenders and businessman.” He’s always been in the latter category, selling the world whatever it wanted from 1965-84. He sold suits to American GIs vacationing in Japan during the Vietnam war. In Casablanca, he was a hi-fi and photo equipment salesman. At Nigeria’s go-slow traffic jams, where you can buy almost anything, Lakhani sold pirated English movie video cassettes (Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was by far his most popular movie). At a store in Virginia Beach, US, he sold swimwear in the day and gold jewellery at night. Eventually he came back home to Bengaluru, where his brother had a store that tailored jeans, and Lakhani set up Vashi’s Jean Shack. Back then, it was more a hangout than store. Every Sunday, Lakhani would supply the coffee and dirty jokes. He’s spent the last three decades selling jeans—MC Hammer fit, stretch, flares, boot-cut, straight, low rise, skinny, super skinny, coloured, high rise, torn and boot-cut again. “Although, Indian women still love skinny jeans because they pair them with kurtas,” he says.
“I’ll see you at the wedding,” one lady pops her head into the store to say. “Customers keep inviting me to weddings and housewarmings but I never go,” says Lakhani who, like his 34-year-old son, is at the store seven days a week from 10.30am-8.30pm. If they’ve shut earlier, it’s because they have met their daily target (40-50 pairs on a weekday and 150-200 on the weekend).
“There are a thousand garment stores but people keep coming back here because they recognize us,” says Tarun, adding that at least six stores on the street stock the same jeans. Lakhani has a few theories about why people like his store. He gives all his customers a 10% discount and always keeps the conversation going. “Give them a discount and people will come back to you. I learnt that in Casablanca,” he says. “We never take a tape. We never tell the customer their size. We make you feel at home,” he adds.
You can see the love all over the store. “The only place where the pants fit my arse properly,” says one message on the wall. In addition to good wishes in many languages, including Spanish, Russian, Korean, Italian, Swahili, German, French and Papiamento, Lakhani collects number plates. Each one has a story and a different point of origin (Bahamas, Israel, Aruba, Dubai). A girl from Singapore saw a truck go by and watched as its number plate fell off. A client took a Japanese number plate off his grandmother. Looks like customers would do anything for Vashi’s.
“Once you’ve had the Vashi experience, you can’t buy jeans anywhere else. He has this insane ability to find you the perfect fit,” says Anjoo Aradhya Bahadur, 35, who got her first pair of jeans from Lakhani’s store when she was 5.
About that ability. When I ask Lakhani how he picks the perfect pair, he says he always assesses the customer’s hips, not their waist, adding that everyone in the store is trained to do the same. Adds Tarun: “It’s like looking at a person and guessing their height. The best thing is it’s never shady or awkward.”
Store manager Murugan Chettiar, who has been with Lakhani for 30 years and is better known as One Shot Murugan for this same ability, was once put on the spot by a reporter from a local TV channel. She entered the store with her cameraperson and asked him to prove his reputation on camera. Murugan didn’t disappoint. One shot was all he needed.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani and posts on Instagram as babyjaanramani. Read Priya’s Mint Lounge columns