Tracing the journey of Mélange through founder Sangita Kathiwada’s eyes is like sifting through the archives of Indian fashion. A fixture among the country’s fashion elite, the store has stood on Mumbai’s Altamont Road, surviving the ebb and flow of an evolving market for the past 25 years. Besides being a launchpad for a number of Indian designers, the store, through its careful curation, has always worked towards giving Indian fashion a cohesive identity.
To celebrate Mélange’s silver jubilee in fashion, Kathiwada has curated an exhibit titled ‘Past Continuous’, which serves as a time capsule, journeying back to the birth of the space in the early ’90s, and covering all that it has accomplished since. As you enter the store, you find yourself among archival material, photographs, old garments that were stocked at Mélange, and heartfelt notes from people who have shared a long-standing relationship with the store. Design houses including Raw Mango, Abraham & Thakore, Payal Khandwala and Pero, have also contributed their version of a Mélange memory for the exhibit.
Walking down the memory lane
When Kathiwada launched Mélange in 1993, the concept of a multi-designer store was fairly new. The biggest challenge, she recounts, was aligning an army of talented young designers in a commercial business set up. “I came from a business family, already exposed to the set up of running a business, whereas the designers were new and so was the system.” It was business and education simultaneously. To ensure the designers were functioning at market’s pace, Kathiwada would send out samples created in-house to help guide the designers on the latest sell-able trends.
Mélange has been a launchpad for designers such as Rahul Mishra, Sanjay Garg, Anavila Mishra, and Priyadarshini Rao, and the store has always chosen names it represents, carefully “I always looked for eccentricity. I loved a designer’s risk-taking ability,” says Kathiwada.
She specifically recalls Ramesh Nair, currently creative director of French luxury trunk brand, Moynat. Then a young designer from Kerala who had forayed into fashion and was one of the first few designers to be housed at Mélange, Kathiwada says she was impressed with how he introduced his collection to her all those years ago. Nair summed up his entire collection in a letter being showcased at the exhibition. Another designer who launched his career at Mélange was Sabyasachi. “He used work with my aunt in Kolkata and she told me to stock his collection in the store. I requested her to send me a set of his creations to have a look at. I got 12 sets of white kurtas with white salwars and stunning mirror-work handbags. Everything sold out in two days,” Kathiwada reminisces.
As an extension of what was stocked in the store, Kathiwada also staged fashion shows, each a state-of-the-art affair. In 1994, the store celebrated its first anniversary at the Royal Opera House, which opened after 30 years to Mélange’s khadi fashion show. Ramesh Nair and Hemant Trivedi were part of this showcase, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan walked the ramp, and the red velvet seats of the auditorium were draped in white khadi. The idea of the show was to promote going back to the roots, and fashion as being the best medium to do it.
Sustainability at core
Mélange was also one of the first stores in the country to focus on sustainability. Not only did it stock designers who experimented with organic materials and created pieces made in khadi, silk and 100 percent organic cotton, but the store also used recycled paper , wood that was obtained from the railway dockyard, and had a strict no-plastic policy. It was concepts like this which attracted not just Bollywood stars such as Sonam Kapoor, Rahul Bose and Ranbir Kapoor to become patrons, but also the likes of Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, Tina Ambani, and Neerja Birla.
For Kathiwada, the future lies in the convergence of fashion, human rights and exploring different modes of sustainability. “I want to create a bigger dialogue with the industry, a more meaningful conversation. Mélange is not just to launch a designer or a collection,” she says.