Sangita Sinh Kathiwada, mother to the 15-year-old Mumbai-based fashion store Melange, keeps a closet that is as stylish as her store. She seems equally at ease in an heirloom sari as she does in outfits by avant garde Japanese designers.
We visited her south Mumbai home for a peek into her plush, wood-dominated walk-in wardrobe, which is more like a boudoir, with her clothes, dressing table and bath area.
Kathiwada’s keen eye for aesthetics has made even this space elegant. She has separated her jewel-hued saris and bright Indian clothes by sandwiching her rather substantial collection of blacks in between. Handbags are neatly arranged in the top section of her long cabinets, while a separate unit houses her large collection of shoes. A reflective black panel with antique-looking pegs holds her chunky beaded necklaces. Trunks collected from all over the world adorn the top of the storage space, and when the petite fashionista wants to reach the higher shelves, she uses a carved wooden antique stool she bought in Hong Kong. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How would you describe your style?
Adventurous, edgy, experimental, eccentric.
What do you wear to work, and on an evening out?
In the office, you won’t see me in a power suit. I believe power comes from within, not from clothing. I sometimes wear a mix of Indian and Western clothes to work. Mostly, I opt for an easy look such as wide Spanish-style trousers with a short tee and wrap-around jersey jacket.
Out of the ordinary: Sangita Sinh Kathiwada loves black and dislikes bling. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
For the evening, I like to try varied styles, but one thing you would never see me in is bling. I would probably wear a plain, straight black tunic dress by Comme des Garcons. Though it may seem like a simple black dress to many people, I love it because of the fabric and the great cut. I add on one strong, sculptured accessory such as a bracelet or necklace by Alexis Bittar, who makes these large, statement pieces from lucite. And I would probably wear my favourite Ferragamos—they’re a pair of soft boots with a small heel. They are as comfortable as a pair of socks.
Any advice on experimenting with formal Indian wear?
Try wearing a beautiful Western-style corset with a lehenga (skirt) and an embroidered odhni (wrap). Add on some Western jewellery in diamonds or pearls, not kundan. That helps to offset the Indian elements. I personally wear lots of saris and prefer lehengas and odhnis at traditional weddings.
What type of saris are your favourite?
Oh, I wear all sorts. Cottons, handlooms such as Maheshwaris, Chanderi, Orissa and Sambalpuri. I also love chiffons and wear them in the true Rajput way—with a beautiful real zari border.
I also love to experiment with blouses. Depending on my mood and the weather, I’ll wear them long, short, backless or with long sleeves.
Do you have a fashion obsession?
Shoes. If I could dress from top to toe in shoes, I would. But to get more specific, it’s boots that I really love. I’ve been wearing them since I was 14. I had them made for me by these Chinese military shoemakers when I was at school in Indore. I sat with them and designed and styled a pair of black boots. I really loved them, however uncomfortable they were. I wore them to my convent school, with my thigh-high school uniform, in beige and white, with a maroon tie. Of course, the uniform was supposed to be knee length, but mine wasn’t. One day I got noticed and was detained.
Do you have any skeletons in your closet?
At least a hundred. I have a lot of shawls that I’ve bought but never used. I also got a red dress from Rajesh Pratap Singh which I’ve worn for just half an hour. I’m just not a red dress person.
One of a kind: Ankle-length boots dominate Kathiwada’s shoe closet
Who are your favourite brands or designers?
Savio Jon, Varun Sardana, Gaurav Gupta and Zubair Kirmani. What I like about them is that they’re all a little hatke, different from the rest. They have an individual sense of style and you can tell their clothes apart. With those bridal designers, you can’t tell one from the other.
What is your favourite family heirloom?
A beautiful Cartier watch in the shape of an elephant, attached to a cord, which is to be worn around the neck. I’ve had it ever since I got married. It was gifted by the maharaja of Porbunder to my husband, the yuvraj of Kathiwada, who in turn gifted it to me. It’s my favourite piece of jewellery, the craftsmanship is just breathtaking.
What is the best piece of fashion advice your mother gave you?
Never overdo it. I follow it to this day.
Which cities do you like to shop in?
Well the thing is, I don’t blindly follow brands. I talk to people at museums and galleries when I travel and ask for recommendations of shops to buy clothes. I’m not interested in going to shops that have the same clothes all over the world. I have to find that one extra thing that no one else has. I visit the Dover Street Market in London for Comme des Garcons, which I love. In Los Angeles, I go to La Brea Avenue for its vintage shopping and hip new stores and the Meatpacking District in New York. I don’t hit the branded stores on Champs-Élysées, but go to the small, unusual stores on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Milan also has a lot of small, cutting-edge designers.