17 Ideas for Guilt-free Parenting in 2017

Enough with the self-judgement and guilt trips! Take these 17 vows to make parenting easier on yourself and your kids this year.

family-silhouette_2Guilt is the most pervasive and treacherous side effect of urban parenting. If you work outside of the house, you feel guilty for not being there with a big smile and a hot meal for your kids when they come back from school. If you work at home (and housework is work), you feel guilty for not using your amazing talents and going out there and making money when your growing brood’s expenses are growing faster than them. Guilt if you don’t buy an iPhone for your offspring’s birthday. Guilt if you go out on a date night with your spouse without the kids. Guilt if you go on a work trip abroad and have to leave them with your mom. We collect guilt like air miles every year – and it’s just as useless because they expire before you can do anything with them.

Well, it’s the year to let go. Guilt is a drain on your energy and has no proven benefit. Take these 17 vows in 2017.

  1. Thou shall prioritize

Avoid guilt by being clear about your priorities. Work, children, spouse, parents, housework, friends, relatives, bills, fitness, relaxation, entertainment – write down all things that demand your attention, and then prioritize them according to their importance to you. The same list won’t work for everyone; we must all make our own choices. A coffee with an old friend who is in town after years, or your kid’s school play? A tantrum-throwing kid yelling on the phone, or your boss glaring at you during a board meeting in office? Old parents who demand you visit them, or a cranky spouse who wants to go out for a movie? A well-deserved spa appointment, or lunch with the family? Life is full of difficult decisions but we make it easier by knowing our priorities and then sticking to them.

  1. Thou shall plan in advance

This is a simple way to avoid last-minute rush and never-ending guilt. Lay out the ironed school uniforms and check if all the ingredients for the tiffin box are ready the night before. Synchronise a calendar of school events and social evenings with your spouse on Google. Let your boss know you have a parent-teacher meeting the coming week. Think of parenting like a free time-management workshop – well, alright, it’s actually more expensive. So make it count.

  1. Thou shall not compare

We suffer when reality does not match up to our high expectations. Setting high standards of yourself is fine (sometimes) but it’s a recipe for disaster if you constantly compare your loved ones and life situation with others. Do everyone a favour and lower the bar. Who says your son must be the top scorer in class, or your spouse be the best-looking at a party? Who says your home must be spanking clean 24 hours a day like your neighbour’s, or your nailpolish be perfectly unchipped at all times like Mrs Kumar? Your life is beautiful exactly the way it is.

  1. Thou shall delegate and outsource

This isn’t just meant for the HR department at office; it’s also sound logic for overworked and unpaid parents. If you’re struggling to cope with parenthood, ask for help. Rope in helpers, parents, relatives, friends, in-laws – anyone you trust your kids with. Use phone apps to keep track of stuff, and use your bank’s electronic-clearing system to pay all bills automatically when they are due. Our to-do lists are long but the days are short. There’s no need to manage everything manually.

  1. Thou shall keep in touch with your friends

Friends take a backseat in your life once you have kids. But a lunch or drink out with the buddies once in a while is a great way to de-stress, unwind and release all that pent-up frustration you can’t share with anyone else. Plan in advance and keep in touch. Your family will appreciate your good mood when you return.

  1. Thou shall invest in thyself

Eating leftovers instead of cooking fresh meals; self-medicating instead of visiting a doctor; taking the car instead of walking to the market; staying up late watching TV even when you have to rise early. Avoid. New-age parenting should come with safety instructions like airplanes: Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Your mental and physical health is important: you can’t care effectively for others if you don’t care for yourself first. Besides, your kids won’t learn from what you say but what you do. Be a healthy role model.

  1. Thou shall not play passive-aggressive games

Admit it, you do this all the time with your kids, spouse and parents – basically, the people who are most important to you. Saying, “Of course I’m fine,” when you’re actually not. Giving the silent treatment and refusing to engage. Doing something badly so that you aren’t asked to do it again. Pushing things to the last minute so that the other person does it in exasperation. Stop it – it’s only making things worse. Speak up about your needs, be honest about your feelings, and nip issues in the bud.

  1. Thou shall love

Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda was once asked by a concerned mother: “How do I deal with my difficult teenager?” His answer was: “Three ways: love, love, love.” This is actually the essence of guilt-free parenting. Think with love, speak with love, and act with love. As long as you have those basics right, trust the universe to take care of the rest.

  1. Thou shall not complain

Speaking of Buddhist wisdom, they say every time we complain, we dig a hole in our bucket of good fortune. Mother-in-law woes? Teething child? Low bank balance? Look around you and say thanks for what you have instead of grumbling about what you don’t. Things will begin to look up instantly, and you can spare your loved ones your grumpy face at the same time.

  1. Thou shall cuddle more often

Hugs boost oxytocin levels, which help heal feelings of loneliness and anger. They also boost serotonin, which elevates our mood and relaxes tense muscles. Hugging and kissing your children builds trust, communication and strengthens everyone’s immune system. It’s the best and healthiest perk of parenting – why not make the most of it?

  1. Thou shall not blame your spouse

Yes, we heard you screaming cusswords at your husband during childbirth. You probably continue to curse one another 12 years down the line. But it’s no use because one of you still has to wake up at 5.30am and walk groggily to drop the kid at the bus stop. You’re in it together, for better or worse. The blame games don’t make it any easier.

  1. Thou shall not stop having sex

Sex lowers your blood pressure, improves heart health, strengthens your pelvic muscles, counts as exercise, helps you bond, relieves pain, improves sleep, eases stress, and makes you feel better about life. In fact, parents of growing kids probably need more sex than the rest of the world. Just do it.

  1. Thou shall draw the line

Draw up a list of non-negotiable personal rules for yourself and your kids. Bedtime at 9pm. No work calls at home. Homework before playtime. Me-time every Sunday afternoon. Date night on the first Friday of every month. Only one spouse can be angry at any given time. Rules aren’t meant just for kids in school; they can also be used to keep your sanity intact and guilt at bay.

  1. Thou shall talk to your own mom

We begin to appreciate our parents when we become parents ourselves. And we need them more than ever when one kid has fever and the other has board exams at the same time. It pays to keep your parents happy – they are the best babysitters you could ask for. They deserve random gestures of affection every now and then.

  1. Thou shall have at least one belly laugh a day

Nothing diffuses a heated argument than a burst of shared laughter. Humour helps us put our problems in perspective and leave bitterness behind. A good ol’ belly laugh also triggers the release of endorphins, which heightens our sense of wellbeing and, some studies say, even helps us live longer. So the next time your son sprays ketchup all over the newly painted walls, or your teenage daughter steals your kajal pencil, grin and bear it. It’s good for you.

  1. Thou shall pat yourself on the back

Learn to savour the little achievements in life and you’ll ease your parenting guilt. There’s always something to celebrate. The look in your child’s eye when she sees you in the audience during a dance on stage, or when your preschooler manages to tie his own shoelace. You may not be the perfect parent but you’re doing the best you can, and that counts for much. It counts for everything, actually.

  1. Thou shall breathe

You are more than your role as a parent or a child or a spouse. You are also a spiritual being on a human journey. Follow the principle of ‘Sat-chit-ananda’, or ‘truth-consciousness-bliss’. Live your truth, live in awareness, and above all, follow your bliss. Even if it’s tempting to blame your spouse, parents, in-laws or kids for all your miseries in life, the fact is, your happiness is your own responsibility. Take a moment to breathe and focus on yourself. There’s no guilt in being you.

This article first appeared in Parent Circle magazine. Subscribe here.

Click Couture: The Rise and Rise of Designer E-commerce in India

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Pernia Qureshi

AS AN UNDERGRAD in the US, Pernia Qureshi had studied Criminal Justice, English literature and Dance, but when it came to internship, she went for fashion styling stints in Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. Soon, she landed her first “adult paying job”, a rather plum project— that of costume designer for Sonam Kapoor-starrer Aisha in 2010. The subsequent adulation and critical acclaim for the film’s costumes—which still tops the list of the most fashion-forward films Bollywood has ever produced—meant that Qureshi could afford to take risks with her career. And she did. She launched her own luxury e-boutique PerniasPopUpShop.com from a basement with a staff of three.

It went on to revolutionise designer e-commerce in India.

For someone with neither a technical background nor experience in online retail, Qureshi was nonetheless an avid online shopper influenced by global e-commerce giants like Net-a-Porter.com, NeimanMarcus.com and Barneys.com. “After returning to India from the US, it struck me that there was no equivalent of these sites here. It was a huge gap waiting to be filled,” says Qureshi, an alumna of Woodstook School, Mussoorie. It took her eight months to launch her website, a curated portal offering designer garments and accessories made in India. “When we started the website, there was no existing template. Now others follow ours, but we still have the first- mover advantage,” she says. Born to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother in Swat, Pakistan, Qureshi studied Kuchipudi and Kathak in childhood, and played the lead female role in Muzaffar Ali’s 2015 film, Jaanisaar. It was an interesting diversion, but the focus has always been her website, which has partnered with over 500 designers over the past four years. New collections are loaded every day, and she now leads a team of 60, including those handling logistics and editorial shoots. She has also launched her own eponymous line of clothing, offering designs she loves “to wear personally”.

What Qureshi did for Indian fashion was unparalleled. Her site was essentially a stylist’s boutique that carefully sifted through designers, adding Qureshi’s own personality and celebdom to the oeuvre. Unlike other larger websites at the time such as Exclusively.com—which has now been swallowed whole by Snapdeal—one would not only find established names on Pernia’s Pop Up Shop, but also unknown labels from upcoming designers. Such was her influence that she became the springboard for several newbies who went on to become established names within months, including Delhi-based designer Ridhi Mehra, now a favourite in Bollywood. It was, and still is, a major coup for a new designer to be handpicked by Qureshi; her editorial eye is still the USP of her portal, even if more commercial considerations guide collaborations.

Indeed, what sets designer e-commerce apart from mass fashion e-retail—besides the luxury price points—is the curation quotient, the fact that these products you see on your screen are the ‘chosen ones’ that have made the mark out of hundreds of others; it is the difference between editorial versus advertising, and between pull versus push models of promotion. No doubt fashion e-commerce has boomed in India in the past few years with the onset of Jabong and Myntra, both of which have now been taken over by Flipkart. Every third query on Google is related to fashion, a trend that is growing at 65 per cent annually, and online apparel sales are predicted to grow four times in the next five years. In fact, a Technopak report estimated that by 2020, a third of India’s online retail revenue would be generated from fashion e-commerce.

But this growth in mass fashion still does not address the needs of fashion elites who seek high-end designer garments delivered conveniently at home, matched with the courteous service, considerate touches, and fancy packaging that one would expect from a luxury product. Indian designers themselves do not know how to reach out to these customers—especially those from tier-2 cities or the diaspora, who can afford their designs but do not have access to physical stores in their cities. Regular e-commerce models do not suit their branding requirements and customisation needs. They need a different digital retail solution, and celebrity-curated content such as Qureshi’s fits the bill nicely, with buyers dropping in as much to ‘check out’ the latest trends as much as to actually shop them.

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Devangi Parekh at Aza

The digital revolution enveloped the Indian designer landscape around four years ago, with multi-label brick-and-mortar stores like the UK-based Aashni + Co and India-based Carma launching online outlets around the same time. Aza, a highly respected multi-designer store set up in Mumbai by Dr Alka Nishar in 2004, got a new identity when her daughter Devangi Parekh returned from the US armed with a Bachelor’s in entrepreneurship from Cornell University and an MBA from Wharton to launch AzaFashions.com in keeping with global omni-channel retail trends that she had observed abroad. “It’s the golden link— having both an online and offline presence,” she explains of her digital strategy in taking Aza to a global audience two years ago, and scaling rapidly with more than 25 per cent growth month- on-month. “The online store offers a larger catalogue to potential customers and makes them familiar with the brand, while the offline store adds credibility and trust. If a bride has to buy a Rs 5 lakh Sabyasachi lehenga online, she wants to be sure of getting the real deal,” says the 28-year-old second-generation entrepreneur, whose technocrat father Atul Nishar’s fame in founding Aptech Computers and Hexaware Technologies probably has something to do with her own ease in the digital space. For her, both models of retail need different management strategies. “Even if the merchandise is the same, driving traffic to a website is a different ballgame. People don’t just step into your store and look around; you need to learn the nuances of search engine optimisation and digital marketing. Plus, navigation is key,” she says, adding that the transparency of tracking online sales has given a fillip to Aza’s offline sales strategy and store placement as well. “Besides, gross margins are definitely higher online,” she says with a smile.

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Payal Singhal LFW SR17

Multi-brand e-stores such as Parekh’s have given Indian designers a taste of what online retail could do in terms of drawing in new audiences. Jyoti Sachdev Iyer, a designer who has been retailing out of Bangalore and Kolkata for almost two decades, finds that having a presence on PerniasPopUpShop.com has been profitable even in difficult times of demonetisation, since orders usually come in from abroad and are all cashless by default. “It’s a nascent industry, but it’s picking up; the past few months have been good,” she testifies. Some designers set up e-commerce options on their own websites, such as Mumbai-based Payal Singhal. Having launched her label in 1999, Singhal received so many unexpected orders through email that she decided to add a payment gateway three years ago on her website and now caters to customers worldwide. “Even though we retail through physical stores like Ogaan, Aza and Ensemble, the range you can offer online is almost unlimited,” she says, adding that all online sales are made-to-order, and no ready inventory is required. Her label is present on multi-brand websites as well as her own, both of which have their own advantages. “On shared platforms, we end up with less profits, but we also get greater visibility [among] new audiences who find us while searching for other designers. On our own website, we can control the customisation process better. We ask lots of questions about measurements, and even make new sketches if required,” Singhal says, narrating a case when a US-based bride could not choose between three sketches of cholis for her bridal lehenga that Singhal’s team had sent, and finally ordered all three of them.

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Tarini Nirula

But Singhal is one of the few established offline designers to have adopted the digital approach successfully. Websites of most Indian fashion bigwigs like Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi and JJ Valaya are disappointingly marked ‘under construction’ and unless they have a tie-up with a multi-brand e-store, it is difficult to shop for them online. Not surprisingly, digitally savvy designers are mostly from the younger crop, such as Tarini Nirula. The Delhi-based bag designer began her retail journey on Facebook in 2012, taking orders over messages and receiving payments directly through bank transfers for her first collection of minaudieres, which completely sold out. After retailing through online multi- brand majors such as PerniasPopUpShop.com and LimeRoad.com for two years, she launched her own portal in 2014, and has now mastered the art of digital retail through Instagram and Facebook targeted marketing and using the correct hashtags. With most customers in the age group 25 to 45, and coming in from as far as Turkey, South Africa and the UK, her online sales far outweigh offline ones through brick-and-mortar stores and local exhibitions. “This is definitely the best way going forward,” she avers.

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Mariya Khanji

Keeping in mind the needs and limitations of younger designers, Mariya Khanji, a Mumbai-based stylist who had worked in Elle and L’Officiel, and designed costumes for Karan Johar’s film Student of the Year, came up with Nete.in, a portal for the wired generation that thinks on its thumbs and is accustomed to swipe- through shopping. The 28-year-old fashion communications graduate launched her e-store in 2013 offering ‘sustainable fashion’ with an emphasis on recycled or ethically produced garments from lesser known designers. At present, she has 25 designers on board, many of whom create earthy, minimalistic lines exclusively for Nete (pronounced Netty), even if they retail elsewhere as well. “I focus on a younger clientele looking for exceptional everyday clothing that comes with certain values,” she says. Her buyers are mostly young Indian professionals who appreciate slow fashion, want to support Indian artisans, and also have an eye for design. Her small team conducts edgy-chic fashion shoots in Mumbai featuring regular women, not glamorous models or film stars.

One of her top-selling designers Doodlage, in fact, specialises in upcycled fashion made using industrial waste cloth. Kriti Tula, who founded the label in 2012 after completing her Master’s from London School of Economics, was hesitant about retailing online at first. “For online sales, you need to create several pieces of the same design. But in our work, no two pieces are ever exactly the same,” she says, adding that Nete ensured that the variability factor was made clear before a sale was made. She also now retails through the eclectic Jaypore.com and Arvind Lifestyle Brands’ NNNOW.com, launched in May last year. “The best part of online retail is that everything is transparent, and data is easily available. So we can target our marketing to specific audiences or cities, and find relevant customers,” says Tula.

ONLINE DESIGNER RETAIL isn’t just limited to garments; ease of customisation and digital innovation has made it possible for an established shoe designer like Nirali Ruparel to launch her own ‘design-your-own’ online shoe store called AchillesHeel.co. The only such website in India that offers 100 per cent customisable footwear, the label offers shoes starting Rs 10,000 with all details— colour, sole, pattern, design, material and so on—available in 3D visualisation so that the customer can see the final product before hitting the purchase button. The Mumbai-based designer was once a fitness consultant and later worked in Hello magazine until luxury men’s footwear beckoned. “There were lots of apparel designers but no Indian equivalent of Louboutin,” she says, explaining her reason for setting up her own bespoke label in this category. Focusing on handcrafted luxury footwear, she caters to the likes of Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan and Rana Daggubati, besides corporate honchos.

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Nirali Ruparel

Having learnt Italian footwear production techniques from Naples, 32-year-old Ruparel initially offered ready-to-wear shoes on her website like a “regular e-commerce portal”. However, inspired by the Burberry and Alexander McQueen stores in London, which offer gesture-based mirrors where you can see the entire catalogue on yourself, she decided to go in for a more advanced online offering. With support from her husband’s firm Trimension Labs, which specialises in augmented reality and 3D walk-throughs, she developed Achilles’ Heel over a year. The site needed over 1.5 million permutations in colours, material and design before it was complete. Even now, she adds four new designs every season. “Imagine how many new images are rendered for each shoe, and all of these are high- quality images so that you get the real look and feel,” she says. To minimise the return rate, the site has exact measurement parameters. “We’ve had no return till date,” affirms Ruparel.

CUSTOMISATION IS ALSO the buzzword in online designer jewellery retail, with the likes of VelvetCase.com offering 3D printed personalised jewellery and a ‘disruptive supply chain model’ with designer partners from around the world. Headed by Kapil Hetamsaria, the website has grown 2.8 times since last year in terms of revenue and 8.5 times in terms of units sold, and has already been written about as a case study by Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, published by Harvard Business Publishing. Hetamsaria had attended a training course for diamond manufacturing and trading when he was a Mechanical Engineering student. “It was an on-ground, unsexy way of learning,” says the entrepreneur. Having worked in the in the US for several years, including at McKinsey, Dell, British Telecom and Microsoft, Hetamsaria was keen to understand how a customer derives value and how technology can be an enabler. He launched his jewellery portal in 2013, after observing that jewellery purchase patterns in India had changed: millennials no longer relied on ‘family jewellers’, and were open to 100 per cent certified jewellery bought from respectable sources online. He also noticed that with escalating real-estate and gold prices, the cost of keeping a large inventory for a customer who would just make one or two purchases all through the year was not justified. “The jewellery landscape needed a change,” he decided, adding that his mother, a jewellery designer herself, was his biggest critic. “How can you make money out of just showing pictures?” she asked him. But Hetamsaria stuck to two principles. The first is ‘consumer’ focus instead of ‘product’ focus: “We offer customers individual choices based on budget, taste and need. We aren’t pushing an already existing product on to them. There’s a difference.” The second is to carry no inventory: “No inventory, no pressure to push a certain product.”

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Kapil Hetamsaria

In July 2016, the website took another big leap: it is now a hybrid marketplace for jewellery designers who can use it to host their individual stores, customise jewellery, offer the widest possible range, and even hire other vendors to manufacture their products. “The designers have their creativity, and the manufacturers have their machines and know-how. We are the platform that brings them together,” says Hetamsaria, who has gone from zero to 400 partners in just 15 months, and is looking to achieve a thousand this year. The site retails a whole range of jewels from gold, diamond and silver to fashion jewellery and even Swarovski products, and also offers style-based and look-based curation by an in-house stylist. “How does a Chroma still survive in the face of an Amazon or Flipkart?” he asks hypothetically, referring to the gadget retailer. “They specialise.”

With all the innovation going on in designer e-commerce, there is no doubt that the next retail revolution is upon us, starting from the computer and ending in our closets.

This article was first published in Open magazine

Keshav Suri: The Lalit Legacy

Hospitality comes naturally to the heir of the luxury Lalit group of hotels, but Keshav Suri has added his own brand of ambition to the fast-growing chain.

mr-keshav-suri-2-2-1He has been busy with the launch of The Lalit London in late November, so Keshav Suri is happy to talk about what’s on the top of his mind. “The Grade 2 listed building housed St Olave’s Grammar School and, more recently, Lambeth College. So you will get a blend of the best of Indian culture, hospitality and cuisine with the finest Victorian architecture,” he says about the new high-end luxury boutique hotel in London, which comes soon after the launch of The Lalit Mangar, the first of its kind eco-friendly luxury hotel in Haryana. Suri is also looking at the nitty-gritties of an upcoming hotel in Ahmedabad and a hospitality school next year, besides more hotels in The Lalit Traveller segment.

It is evident that the young baron of the The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group is on a roll. Having completed his graduation in law and business from the University of Warwick, Suri went on to do his Master’s in international management from King’s College, London, and got another law degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. After the demise of his father, the founder of the group Lalit Suri, in 2006, his mother Dr Jyotsna took over as chairperson of the hospitality chain, with his sisters Divya and Deeksha taking care of different divisions. Keshav himself got involved in developing strategies for expansion, while spearheading the chain’s operation, F&B and marketing divisions.

One of the first things the 31-year-old did after coming on board was to launch the nightclub Kitty Su, the only Indian nightclub to be featured in DJ Mag’s list of the top 100 nightclubs in the world, and by GQ as one of the top six nightclubs in the world. “Having established Kitty Su in Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh, I now plan to expand it to Kolkata and Bangalore, where we have monthly pop ups which are a hit,” Suri says. He is also the force behind the launch of The Lalit Food Truck Company in 2014, which runs three Mexican food trucks and one pizza truck across India. From its first hotel in 1988, the chain now runs 14 luxury hotels across India and the world. “All our hotels celebrate the cultural ethos of the destination they are in,” Suri adds.

But even after all the success, Suri is aware of the contribution of his parents in his journey. “My parents have always been my role models. I never studied hospitality, but thanks to them, it was already in my DNA. They always taught me to give attention to every detail and respect to every individual,” he says with sincerity, adding that he shares a great bond with his mother. “Our different approaches bring about a great balance to the table. We share a common goal and can understand each other’s vision,” he says.

Suri admits he did not set out to be a leader, but to make a difference. “It’s been more about the goal than the role for me. I like to lead by example, follow an open-door policy and inspire and support my team,” he shares of his management style. He likes the fact that travel is everyone’s favourite hobby and people want to explore new places. “With better infrastructure, there has been a rise in inbound travel. There is a lot of fresh talent in the industry and most importantly an acceptance amongst the masses for innovations. This gives us more room for experimentation,” he says, adding that he envisions a future when more homegrown hospitality brands can compete with the international giants to make India the top global destination.

Suri admits to having inherited a lot of his father’s qualities and learning much by simply observing him during his formative years. “It can be daunting to be compared to a visionary like him. I simply want to be the one to realise his dreams and make him proud,” he signs off.

This article was first published in Blackbook magazine. Subscribe here.

Karishma Grover: Wine and Wonderful

A feisty woman and a fastidious winemaker in the same heady package, Karishma Grover has changed the flavour and raised the bar at Grover Zampa wines.

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Karishma Grover and her father Kapil Grover

The third generation in a family of winemakers, Karishma Grover was 16 when she decided to master the art herself. She headed to California’s Napa Valley, where she studied viticulture at University of California at Davis, picking up the nuances of wine production from the experts. Her family’s firm Grover Vineyards, which is India’s oldest winery, appeared to be an “exciting business” and the young girl couldn’t wait to get her hands dirty. “It’s a passion for my grandfather, father and for me,” she says with youthful enthusiasm that hasn’t dimmed even after eight years in the business. And they have been eventful. The company has bagged 74 Indian and international wine awards in the past three years alone, and much of the credit goes to this woman on top.

“There has been a measurable change in the quality of our wines in the past few years,” Grover affirms. The winery has standardized processes ever since she has come on board, bringing with her the experience and knowledge she gained in the US. With two vineyards, one in Nandi Hills near Bangalore and the other in Nashik, her father Kapil Grover has mostly left the business operations to the company’s CEO Sumedh Singh Mandla, while Karishma handles the wine production and creation.

“This year, Grover Zampa released India’s most expensive wine ever,” she says in her down-to-earth way. The super premium Shiraz-based wine, priced at Rs 5,000 per magnum, went on sale around Diwali to a select group of 200 connoisseurs by invitation. Another 100 bottles have been committed to overseas markets. “This was not a commercial venture, it was a ‘passion’ wine. We wanted to see how far we could go with it,” says Grover, adding that the response to their wines over the past few years has been “amazing”. Two lakh cases of Grover Zampa wines were shipped to 22 countries last year, and demand is growing in healthy double digits as their quality gets better and better. A new range of sparkling wine is on the cards too.

gz_bottle-renders_la-res-red_hires_mar-2016A woman of the earth, Grover spends much of her time in the vineyards amongst the plants and farmhands, supervising close to 70 workers across the two properties. “It’s not difficult to train Indian workers about grape quality and wine production, even though it’s a new industry in India,” she asserts, adding that winemaking goes back only about four decades even in California. “My teachers had seen the Napa Valley wine industry in its nascent stages. We are at the same stage in India today, so their training is very useful for us,” the 32-year-old points out. All the wine consultants they have on board now are French and, eight years on, her workers are able to match her ardour for international quality.

Since father and daughter handle different aspects of the business, Grover has never had to worry about overlapping responsibilities and generational conflicts with him. “He defers to me in my department, I defer to him in his,” she says matter-of-factly. Having different skill sets also means they are very open to listening to each other’s point of view. “Working with him in Grover Zampa has opened my eyes about the reality of India,” she admits. “Even though we work just an hour’s drive away from the big city, it’s a completely different world in the rural interior.”

Profit is too small a goal; the young woman has also inherited her father’s ambition: “We are very clear: we want to be the first name that comes to mind when you think of quality Indian wine.” With all the awards coming their way, it’s already time for a toast.

This article was first published in Blackbook magazine. Subscribe here.

Kirat Young: The Jewelled Journey of India’s First Supermodel

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Kirat Young shot by Rohit Chawla for Open magazine

YVES SAINT LAURENT was in the middle of a busy day. It was 1976 and the then 40-year-old fashion designer, already at the peak of his profession, was meeting scores of models who had stopped by his Paris studio to audition for his upcoming haute couture collection. The pretty girls—for most of them were barely 20 years old—vied with one another for his personal attention. In walked Kirat Bhinder, a tall, dusky, wide-eyed teenager from India with no ramp experience, who had just months ago arrived in London to study Fashion and was on a holiday in the French capital. A journalist friend in the city had advised her to meet Saint Laurent, and, eager to meet the game changer in global fashion, the sassy beauty had agreed. A natural ‘chatterbox’, Kirat ‘parked herself’ in front of the shy but charming Algerian-born designer, talking animatedly about her life in India as he observed her twirl about in his gowns. A few minutes later, as she walked down the stairs to exit his opulent kingdom, she was told, “You’re hired.”

What happened next is the stuff of supermodel dreams. The collection, Ballet Russes, was a watershed moment in fashion history. Not only was it the first haute couture collection to be presented outside of a top designer’s own couture house—the fashion show was held at the luxurious InterContinental Hotel instead—it also sparked the age of ‘ethnically inspired’ fashion, replete with swathes of metallics and a riot of colours rarely seen on Parisian runways. Coming from the legendary designer of‘Le Smoking’ line of—hold your breath—tuxedos for women, Ballet Russes went all the way to Russia and back, bringing with it bright, feathery, flamboyant displays of decadence that would set the tone of high fashion in the coming decade.

And the face that launched a thousand flashbulbs? That was Kirat. “I had the perfect exotic look they needed for such an out- of-the-box collection,” says the former model now known as Kirat Young, the first Indian supermodel on the world’s most prestigious ramps and Yves Saint Laurent’s muse for the next 12 years. Her journey would take her across Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia, as she sashayed with her own inimitable joie de vivre and haughty grace on runways for designers such as Saint Laurent, Versace, Armani, Valentino and Chanel, eventually leading her to launch her own eponymous line of eclectic jewellery.

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A cobra ring by Kirat Young

Kirat’s jewels—made in Thailand and India—are sold worldwide through select retailers, and she counts several celebrities among her private clients. She jetsets between her homes in London, Paris, Bangkok and Delhi, frequently entertaining her famous guests with chic cocktail nights that invariably end up on page three of local newspapers. She has an exclusive fine-jewellery line for fashion legend Oscar de la Renta—the late designer was a dear friend and, as one of his favourite muses, Kirat was part of a gala to celebrate a retrospective of his works earlier this year. She has also collaborated with luxury retail baroness Tory Burch, who often wears Kirat’s designs. A profile and photo shoot of Kirat published in the New York Times in December 2016 quotes the popular American designer as saying, “Kirat Young is incredibly chic and talented. Her intricate designs reflect an extraordinary attention to detail and a worldly sophistication.”

Whether for her parties and social network or her influence in the world of fashion, the designer is accustomed to being in the news. With ethnic identity being the buzzword in recent fashion trends worldwide, Kirat’s unique brand of fusion jewellery is ever more attractive to consumers looking for a ‘story’ or cultural motifs in what they buy and wear. She uses materials such as silver, polki diamonds, and precious and semi-precious gems from India, and stingray leather from fish farms in Thailand, and gives them her own stamp of sophistication. “My aesthetic is French, but my influences are Asian. I am a changeling. My strength is that I can adapt,” says the former model, whose life choices have been just as spunky and charmed as her career landmarks.

The daughter of an Indian Air Force officer and a doctor in the Ministry of Health, Kirat was born to an open-minded, progressive Indian household in Punjab. When she was a few years old, her mother joined the World Health Organization, and soon won a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. Kirat was packed off in the 1960s to Welham Girls’ School in Dehradun, where she spent the rest of her school years. The period was bittersweet: her parents separated (“My mother was too independent- minded; they didn’t get along”), but the teenaged Kirat also loved her time in boarding school. She has no patience for those—like filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Kirat’s senior in Welham—who complain about growing up away from home. “We were so much freer there than at home, even if we had to read Gone with the Wind with a torch under our blankets in the dead of night,” she says in her characteristic blunt way, sipping on black tea in a friend’s palatial home on Feroze Shah Road in central Delhi while on a short trip en route from Paris to Bangkok. She is wearing a black wrap dress by Oscar de la Renta and her own jewellery on the day we meet. It is apparent that, even after all these years, she has not lost an iota of her youthful exuberance and enthusiasm for new adventures.

KIRAT FINISHED HER A-levels from London and was propelled into modelling soon after. With stardom came love, and she ran headlong into nuptials with the son of a wine merchant when she was just 20. “We had an exotic Indian wedding at Christian’s cousin’s castle,” she reminisces. “The family was typical French bourgeoisie, and they have respect for culture. My mother-in-law gifted me a Chanel bag—back then, I thought it was old-fashioned and boring, but now I realise its value. My father-in-law called me his ‘petit Indienne’, and took me on as his ‘cultural’ protégé from day one.” The first step in her French education was wine-tasting in Bordeaux, followed by many other such introductions to the French way of life, including culinary skills and the habit of sitting for hours in quaint roadside cafes. “You adopt their clothes, you speak their language, you accept their wine and food, and they are happy to accept you into their midst,” she notes, contrasting her experience in France, where she became one with the French, with her years in England, where she was always conscious of her foreignness.

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Yves Saint Laurent with Kirat Young

Kirat’s first marriage lasted eight exciting years—she had wings on her feet and was at the peak of her modelling career, jumping from continent to continent in the best clothes and staying at the best places money could buy. But the edges of the relationship began to fray when Christian demanded they “settle down and have kids”. “I hate the term ‘settle down’. I liked living different lives,” she recalls with an exasperated shake of her well- coiffed head. “He dared me to divorce him, and I did.” (Ironically, she adds, he had a short marriage and painful divorce with another “femme Indienne exotique” soon after, and he never did have kids.) “But we are great friends and we meet often. We live in the same city, after all,” Kirat says in her husky voice, with the worldly wisdom of one who has been there, done pretty much all that.

Kirat continued modelling for a few years and then decided to quit the profession—she was in her early thirties, retiring age for supermodels back then. But her designer friends Oscar de la Renta and Gianni Versace convinced her to do one last show in Australia—it was the year 1988 and the country was celebrating the bicentenary of its founding. The Australian Wool Corporation and the International Wool Secretariat had planned a fashion extravaganza to showcase the nation’s famous Merino wool. The event was to be held at the Sydney Opera House with Princess Diana and Prince Charles as guests of honour. Nine of the world’s greatest fashion designers would show their collections for the first time on the same runway: Donna Karan, Kenzo, Missoni, Versace, Oscar de la Renta, Montana, Bruce Oldfield, Sonia Rykiel and Jean Muir. The event was to be telecast live throughout the world.

“One last show? Why not,” Kirat decided, and set off to see a new land. It was a fortuitous step. The event turned out to be “a very big deal”, spread over several days of parties, sports events and cultural presentations—even protests and controversy—and was attended by the who’s who from around the world. By “sheer fluke”, Kirat met Australian hotelier Tony Young at one of the several parties, and immediately fell in love. Tony was almost a decade older than her and had a daughter from a previous marriage. They had a whirlwind romance, living and travelling together from Europe to Australia, until the CEO and president of the Southern Pacific Hotel Corporation finally asked her to marry him. “A French friend asked, ‘Are you really going to marry that savage?’ It was incomprehensible to him that I would leave Paris high society for an unknown new civilisation,” she laughs, explaining that she had turned down a marriage proposal from a French baron a short while earlier. France was familiar—and boring— turf while the idea of a brand new life down under was irresistible.

Kirat moved to Sydney, accompanying her busy spouse on his trips across the boonies of Australia, to Fareast Asia, Fiji and New Zealand, where he ran his chain of hotels. “We went to Tahiti 20 times in 13 years,” she laughs in remembrance. It was an affluent, exciting life, and she was a fun, cheerful partner to her doting husband. She did up his various homes with all the flair of a consummate Parisian aesthete, organising elegant, elite soirees for their powerful friends, and managing his day-to-day affairs with her vivacious charm. He never reined her in; she was free to fly to Paris to meet her friends, London to meet her mother (who lived alone), or Delhi to meet her father (who had married again by then) over a weekend or two.

Tragedy struck on February 21st, 2000, while the couple was in Bangkok. A fit man otherwise, Tony had a cardiac arrest and passed away in a matter of minutes. “I have done much research on this now,” Kirat says, a slight mist over her eyes the only giveaway of emotion in her otherwise strong, expressive demeanour. “He was 52, and at that age, you have a heart attack and that’s it.” Kirat was left alone, away from her friends and family in a foreign land. Tony’s business associates insisted on a funeral service in English for him—“Do you know how hard it is to find an English- speaking Christian priest in a Buddhist non-English-speaking country at a day’s notice?”—and Kirat found herself in the unenviable position of organising three memorials over the next 12 days, one in Bangkok, the next in his birthplace in New Zealand where his daughter requested his body be buried, and finally in Sydney. Tony’s will was executed, and his daughter and wife sold off his business interests before leaving Australia to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Kirat flew back to Bangkok, and, after weeks of the frenetic activity that death brings in its wake, finally collapsed in grief and depression. She called her father and stepmother in Delhi to come and live with her; she could not bear being alone. “You know, I had been hospitalised before and I had survived my own personal tragedies all by myself. I had broken an elbow as a model and needed a four-hour operation. I had had a miscarriage in my second trimester while I was married to Tony, and had to stay in hospital for a month. Both times, I was alone in Paris; there was no one with me. But I did it, I am a survivor, I came out bruised but alive,” she mulls. And yet, at 43, the sorrow of losing a loved husband broke Kirat. She could not face the desolation alone.

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Kirat Young wearing self-designed earrings

It took a while for the diva to pick up the pieces of her life and move back to Paris. She began dabbling in jewellery design, making pieces for herself and friends. One day, de la Renta saw her designs and decided to buy the entire range for his wife Annette. “It was an organic start,” Kirat recalls, sharing another incident with an amused grin: “I was at a St Moritz resort wearing an emerald pendant I had made and a senior Cartier executive just bought it off me.” Soon, it became her full-time profession and, with a little help from her well-connected friends, she became an international brand, patronised by the likes of actor-businessman-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late New York socialite Nan Kempner.

Love came knocking for a third time at Kirat’s door during a holiday in Miami in 2002. She was introduced at a party by an Italian-French couple to Élie de Dampierre, a French Marquis. The long-distance relationship finally culminated in their buying a home together in Thailand, besides her own existing apartments in London and central Paris. They now shuttle to each location every few months. Her mother, now in her nineties, lives by herself in London. Her father passed away last year at the age of 96, but she meets her stepfamily every time she visits Delhi. She arrived here in late November to check on her jewellery production—this time, however, demonetisation played dampener and her usual workers had left for their villages for lack of work and income before she came. A business associate suggested that she hold an exhibition for her latest collection; but wealthy Indian matrons were sceptical when they realised some of the pieces were made using stingray skin. “I will have to put a vegetarian and non- vegetarian tag next time I show in Delhi,” Kirat jokes.

Her svelte, sprightly frame and buoyant spirit defying her age, Kirat is not averse to marrying Élie even now: “Many of our friends are getting married in their sixties and seventies after decades of being together,” she laughs, “It is a thing these days. Who knows, maybe we will too.” As long as it doesn’t involve ‘settling down’, she is still game for new adventures.

This article first appeared in Open magazine

Samrath Bedi: The Art and Science of Luxury Ayurveda

His mother started a premium Ayurvedic beauty brand, he made it an icon for Indian luxury. For Samrath Bedi, there’s no other place for Forest Essentials than the top.

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Samrath Bedi, Executive Director, Forest Essentials

After completing his under-graduation in Economics and Psychology from the University of Rochester in New York, Samrath Bedi had set out for a career in corporate banking when his mother Mira Kulkarni began dabbling in premium Ayurvedic skincare back home in India. Intrigued, Bedi returned to New Delhi in 2002 to check out what looked like “an interesting project”. He never left.

Starting from a single flagship store in Khan Market, New Delhi, Forest Essentials is now one of India’s top beauty brands, retailing from almost 50 points of sale in 15 cities. Though the brand concept was Kulkarni’s idea, it took Bedi’s execution skills to scale it up. “We are a yin-and-yang combination,” smiles Bedi about their relationship. “She’s impulsive, I’m logic-driven. She has the vision, I take care of the implementation. We have different personalities and that works, because we end up doing things correctly, with maximum long-term impact.”

The mother-son duo were clear about the division of responsibilities very early in the business. While Kulkarni looks after the R&D and branding, Bedi handles the business operations and ensures processes are in place. “We played to our strengths,” he says. The Indian skincare major is known for its traditional techniques of formula preparation using organic cold-pressed oils, plant extracts, herb infusions and steam-distilled pure essential oils. The products are made in accordance with 6000-year-old Ayurvedic techniques, including the chanting of Vedic mantras while they are being processed.

Ayurvedic principles suggest that every person has a different ‘prakriti’ or body type, which determines their skin and hair quality, and which necessitates different treatments. When you buy a Forest Essentials product, you are also educated about your prakriti and your body’s needs. For this reason, Kulkarni and Bedi decided to retail mostly from their own showrooms, even if that meant more investment. “The shop-in-shop model isn’t very viable; there are too many external variables. We need the retail staff to be informed about Ayurveda and the ingredients that go into every product; we need a certain luxury ambience. That’s just not possible if we have to deal with different department stores with changing staff,” he explains.

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Forest Essentials store in Khan Market, New Delhi

These past 16 years have just been about setting up a base, he believes. “We’ve had exponential growth but there is plenty of ground to cover. We have to keep raising the bar and keep the momentum going,” says the 42-year-old, referring to the proliferation of me-too brands in the market. Their lineup includes about 250 products across hair care, skin care, mother and baby care, and wellness. They have tied up with about 220 hotels to supply toiletries for guest rooms, including the Taj Group, Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton, and employ more than 400 people across the country. “The luxury beauty market is still very nascent in India, and we are very small compared to what we could have been, say, in China where infrastructure would have given me access to 45 cities, not just 15,” he says. Bedi is unconcerned about “disrupters” like Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru who has made waves with his low-cost beauty products: “Patanjali is creating new consumers from rural areas. It’s helping grow the Indian beauty market,” he says. When those customers graduate to luxury goods, Forest Essentials will be among the brands that benefit.

Working with his mother was challenging initially, but in the long run, it has only taught Bedi the skills of listening and patience. “I have evolved along the way,” he admits, “I realise the importance of understanding and respecting the other’s point of view.” It helps that he loves what he does. “It’s not work for me,” he laughs.

Exactly the words his mother would have used.

This article was first published in Blackbook magazine’s December 2016 anniversary issue. Subscribe here.

Devangi Parekh: Taking Fashion Retail to Stylish New Shores

As the fashion landscape booms with more designers, retailers and e-commerce players, Devangi Parekh of Aza Fashions plans to be a critical part of this expansion.

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Devangi Parekh in a dress by Nachiket Barve at Aza, Bandra

Love what you do and immerse yourself in it, or you will not enjoy the long hours and hard work that goes into starting a venture. This business lesson is not something that Devangi Parekh learnt in graduate school, but in life. After doing her Bachelor’s in entrepreneurship from Cornell University, this daughter of two successful entrepreneurs wanted to gain global experience in diverse industries. So she took up a job at Deloitte Consulting in New York as an analyst. But Parekh was her mother’s daughter and a fashion addict at heart; she would spend hours outside office analyzing designer collections, reading about textiles, and examining the rack display and store layout at departments stores without ever buying anything.

She decided to head home and put in two years in the fashion universe that her mother had created. Launched in 2005 by Dr. Alka Nishar, Aza today is one of India’s most respected chain of multi-designer stores. “I really learned about the operations side of the retail industry, and the day-to-day challenges,” Parekh recalls. She went back to the US to do an MBA at Wharton, after which she returned to India to launch azafashions.com, Aza’s global ecommerce portal for Indian designer wear, which now carries over 150 designers. Over the past two years, Aza has improved its global outreach through an online presence and a robust digital strategy. As creative director of Aza, Parekh has also rapidly scaled its social media presence, creating and implementing a digital marketing plan, and raising brand awareness through designer collaborations and PR activities.

“My focus has been on shifting to an omni-channel retail strategy. Successful retailers worldwide employ a strategy that benefits from both offline and online channels,” shares Parekh. Her father Atul Nishar is the founder of Aptech Computers and Hexaware Technologies, and the 28-year-old was always clear she wanted to start something of her own. “But the best teacher is experience. Entrepreneurship is about having a vision, and also about building a strong team of talented, proactive individuals,” she shares, adding that while reading about business cases helps, implementation and tackling operational challenges is something one can really only learn on the job. “I make a lot of mistakes, and my communication style has improved over time (with lots of room for improvement left!),” she laughs, “but the journey itself enables immense personal and professional growth, which makes it thoroughly worthwhile.”

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Devangi Parekh (centre) with her parents Dr Alka Nishar and Atul Nishar

Parekh feels blessed to be the daughter of highly supportive parents. “They push me to make mistakes and learn from situations, and they’re honest and upfront with constructive criticism,” she admits. The young heiress has quickly learnt the difference in a day job and a family business. “Your mind is always on work, and discussions at home are often focused on business growth and idea generation. But that’s fun,” she says.

Unlike her mother, Parekh is more prone to experimenting and integrating new technology. “But I have much to learn from my mother in terms of leading and managing an organization. I tend to get hyper and think a situation is the end of the world until I discuss it with my parents,” she smiles. “They are inevitably calm since they’ve been through the issue and help me realize that one can find a way to approach every problem!”

If there’s one thing Parekh has learnt, it’s that one has to be shameless about asking for what you want (as long as it’s ethical): “Without asking, it’s unlikely that you’ll get it.” No doubt, that’s a wise head on young shoulders.

This article was first published in Blackbook magazine’s December 2016 anniversary issue. Subscribe here.

Anand Tahiliani and Jahan Tahiliani: Taking Forward a Design Legacy

The young sons of renowned designer Tarun Tahiliani are striding in their father’s shoes, one careful, confident step at a time.

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Cover story, Blackbook magazine December 2016. Photo shoot by Paroma Mukherjee

It’s not easy to be the scion of a design legend. It’s harder still to take on the mantle of his business and manage the unending scope of his famed creativity that transcends fashion and spills on to homes, weddings, watches, carpets, jewellery and even a fragrance. But Anand and Jahan, sons of one of India’s best-known fashion designers Tarun Tahiliani, are doing just that – while still keeping their sanity, humility and playfulness intact. “Handling our dad’s crazy creativity is actually the biggest challenge,” says Anand, adding cheekily, “While growing up, we were sent for a lot of art classes in a bid to perhaps unlock our inner creative selves. But it was pretty evident that it just wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, the gene is just skipping a generation.” Jahan explains in a more sober tone, “I think for creative people like my father when you are getting inspiration from the world around you, it is difficult to curtail your artistic expression to any one field.”

With a large empire on their hands, the two brothers, alumni of the British School in Delhi, have split up their management roles in different verticals. Anand, 28, is the head of operations at Tahiliani Design and handles the garment business, taking care of the brand’s five major standalone retail outlets and the manufacturing business. “I am working towards consolidating and protecting the legacy of the brand,” says the firstborn Tahiliani, who graduated in management retail from the University of Pennsylvania and worked independently in sports management for three years before joining his father’s business. “There’s no better education than (one gained at) work,” he says. At 6’7”, with a shock of long hair and a scraggy beard, the older son has an arresting personality coupled with a sincerity that is endearing, even vulnerable. “It is my self-appointed mission to ensure that this company transforms into an entity that outlives all of us,” he says. Anand is hesitant to ‘tinker around’ with the brand’s creative processes, adding that he has immense respect for how much his father, one of the first five Indian fashion designers to start out 25 years ago, has toiled to get to this point: “I do not need to shuffle things around just to put my stamp on things. I still have a long way to go in developing my eye and hence tend to keep my commentary on product mix and depth to a minimum.”

On his part, Jahan, 26, has taken his initial steps into the brand’s real-estate business. Though the focus of his work is mostly in Goa, where they design and build turnkey holiday homes, he also handles the firm’s other projects such as the interiors of homes of former Google executive Nikesh Arora and film star Chiranjeevi in Hyderabad. “I take responsibility for everything outside of the creative realm,” he says, adding, “So in the lifecycle of a typical project this will include land services, legal oversight, financial forecasting, fund raising, business development, sales and marketing, and post-sales services.” Having studied economics at George Washington University, he worked in capital markets at CBRE before joining his father’s firm on the same day as Anand in August 2014. Tall, lanky, with a well-trimmed beard and a contained demeanour, the younger of the two brothers is also the more careful, tempering his words and life decisions with pragmatism and a sense of responsibility. “Belonging to a design house first known for its fashion is definitely a double-edged sword,” he admits. “Of course, having a brand to back your product is reassuring in a market where builders lack credibility and are infamous for various reasons. But I would never ride on the brand’s name to sell the product. The product must merit itself and stand out to consumers as the best value for their money.”

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The Tahiliani brothers behind the scenes of the Blackbook cover shoot

The brothers make roguish eye contact with one another before admitting that their relationship has improved over time. Being in the US at similar points in their education meant that they could meet and hang out on weekends, and handling separate verticals in the family firm has given them common ground without having to step on each other’s toes. Both sports junkies, they go on holidays together every two years to watch a football event – alternating the World Cup and Euro Cup – somewhere in the world, and share their love for their five dogs, including three cheerful Shih Tzu puppies that clamber over their feet and a befuddled old mongrel they adopted from Friendicoes 17 years ago. Both are indifferent to fashion labels. Anand mostly dresses in casuals he makes for himself at his father’s workshop, or else shops at Nike. “I appreciate my father’s aesthetic but I wouldn’t wear all that elaborate couture. I am a huge fan of Suket Dhir, Antar Agni, Rahul Mishra, Rajesh Pratap, and Peachoo – I like that people are not just focusing on bridal wear and that they are reinventing boundaries,” he says. His younger brother, too, doesn’t toe the style line. Jahan can’t remember the last time he bought a suit, and can only name maverick designer Bhane – who retailed from a Facebook page before setting up a store in the boho-chic Meherchand market in Delhi – as his go-to fashion label.

After initial hiccups, both share a healthy working relationship with their father. Says Anand, “There are moments we laugh together, and moments when just the sight of each other makes us blow a fuse. But it is important to never lose sight of the fact that we share a common vision and goal. Business should never come in between family.” Jahan shares a similar perspective: “I was initially reluctant to join the family business as I wanted to work on my own but now that we have started on this path together we have a good dynamic between us. My main objective is to reduce my father’s burden as much as possible and let him focus solely on the design side of the business.”

Both brothers are clear on their future vision and their own contributions to the growth of the conglomerate. Anand is bullish on the potential of Tarun Tahiliani couture in the Middle East and North America: “Hopefully, we will get many more opportunities to interact with our patrons in these regions – initially through trunk shows and, in the not-so-distant future, through setting up our own stores.” Jahan wants to make sure that the brand is associated with the premier interior and architecture firms in the country. “Our challenge has been getting the right exposure as we are fairly new in the market, but I think people are more familiar with our work now. Indians have very sophisticated taste when it comes to home furnishings and are not looking for cookie-cutter homes that are being produced in the masses at ridiculous ticket sizes. And so each of our villas is personally curated and maintains a homely ethos without compromising on the aesthetic,” he affirms.

Their definition of what luxury means to them is telling as much as of their own individual personalities as their exposure to being both consumers and producers of luxury. Says Anand: “To me luxury is the story behind the product, the hours and the effort that goes into the creation of a single item.” He adds, somewhat wistfully, “It is also being able to do what you really want to do, knowing your work or brand will go on even if you aren’t physically there to manage it.” Sitting next to his sibling on a sofa in their large museum-like south Delhi estate stacked with collectibles and intriguing, ornate corners, Jahan speaks up, unhesitatingly, “Luxury is peace of mind. It means taking comfort in the knowledge that someone has put in heart and soul in the creation of the product you just purchased, that no corners were cut, and the artistic impression has been given equal importance as the business value.”

They may have their father’s large shoes to fill but Anand and Jahan Tahiliani are reaching out for the stars, their feet firmly on the ground.

This article was first published in Blackbook magazine‘s December 2016 anniversary issue. Subscribe here.

The Day of the Jacket

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Moschino AW16

THIS IS GOING to be a cold, harsh, smoggy (if you live in Delhi) and largely cashless winter. Except for Donald Trump supporters, the rest of the world has relatively little to cheer about this season, so it’s befitting that the jackets, at least, should light up your eyes. Winter 2016 runways promised enough drama to last through the chill. From metallic, spacey blazers in New York, to jackets being worn inside out in Milan, to hems left unfinished in Delhi, there was never a dull moment. And the stories! Take for instance the psychedelic prints and the supersaturated jackets at Moschino’s agitprop fall 2016 collection that was designed in collaboration with London-based artists Gilbert & George. Jeremy Scott, creative director of Moschino, hit upon the vivid concept over tea with the duo who are known for their propagandist, graphic art. He wanted his collection to pay homage to their provocative images; they, in turn, offered him the images themselves. And thus, the two-dimensional, cartoon-like sheen to the pop-coloured menswear, a sense of painted clothing, or clothes in a painting, if you like.

Here’s another. A pair of Salvatore Ferragamo oxfords worn by American artist Andy Warhol were bought back by the Italian design house after his death, complete with random paint splatters on them. This priceless pair served as the inspiration for their winter 2016 footwear collection, designed by creative director Massimiliano Giornetti. So this season, you can wear a hand-painted, replicated slice of history along with Ferragamo’s single-breasted tweed-effect top coat in wool, silk and cashmere. Nothing like a legend to add class.

It’s not so easy to group Indian winter trends in the same category as their Western counterparts, mostly because winter in India is synonymous with the festive season—think Diwali, weddings, Christmas, weddings, New Year, and did I mention weddings?—and designers must play to the galleries as well. “You can sense that designers are aligned to their own sensibilities in summer, but to the market demands in winter,” points out image consultant and TV host Neeraj Gaba, who dabbles with quirky silhouettes in his personal style. He notes that the one thing that unites both Indian and Western style this winter is the anti-fit phenomenon, with layering and accessories being used to add versatility to both formal and casual jackets.

Delhi-based fashion designer Dhruv Kapoor, whose famously experimental clients even ask for mutations on his women’s wear, agrees: “‘Trend’ for me is a dirty word. It boils down to who you are and what you want to project. Our brand is working on soft structure and a lot of shoulder. The current favourites are oversize coats in fine suiting, probably in Prince of Wales checks (or glen checks) and excessive shoulder pads.” He shares that he always has a couple of ‘boom’ pieces, which normally start selling a season later, once the market has figured how to style them differently after browsing celebrity looks and magazines.

If the sheer ingenuity of the designs isn’t enough, it’s the stories behind the inspirations that make this season of jackets all the more interesting. You may have to change your old ways of viewing the world, though, because the boundaries have been pushed to places you may not expect.

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Ralph Lauren AW16

SUITS & BLAZERS

BUSINESS wear has a decidedly ‘business-unusual’ vibe this season. Many international designers went easy on the trouser fits, experimenting with textures and colours you are unlikely to have ever seen in a boardroom before. The more conservative collections feature sharp, slim silhouettes and a healthy obsession for checks. Ralph Lauren’s formal business looks under ‘Purple Label’ feature strong-shouldered, single-breasted jackets in 100 per cent wool. If you’re looking to make a real power statement, the three-piece slim herringbone suit comes in a wool-and-cashmere blend developed especially for the Italian label. Versace showed a zany, space-inspired lineup on the menswear runway but its in-store collection is more toned down, featuring Italian-made slim fits with traditional tailoring.

Designer Gaurav Jai Gupta, whose label Akaaro is known for his ‘India Modern’ sensibility, finds that many customers are now looking for day clothes that are an extension of their personality. His autumn-winter 2016 ‘Mumuksha ‘collection features unlikely pairing such as a tussar-silk engineered shirt with a stainless steel merino wool jacket. He has used stainless steel, in fact, in a lot of his fabrics: “I like the structure, the play of it. It has an interesting drape quality,” he says. His customers go for classic, versatile pieces that they can pair with different accessories depending on the kind of look they want. “The charcoal blazer from the collection, for instance, will have a completely different appeal with white sneakers versus with black oxfords,” he says.

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Louis Vuitton AW16

BOMBER JACKETS

THE one jacket style that has consistently been taken up by every serious menswear designer this season is the bomber. A term used for a short jacket that is tightly gathered at the waist and cuffs with elasticated bands, a bomber typically has a zipped front and is perfect for casual daywear. With ‘athleisure’ being the buzzword for a while now, the bomber jacket is a must- have in every urban dweller’s wardrobe. And worry not if you are a fastidious formal dresser, this season’s designers will make sure you have exactly the look you want.

In Paris, Dries Van Noten—who had to wait 15 years before he got the permission to hold his winter 2016 fashion show in Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera—came up with a pinstriped bomber jacket for those who prefer a more sophisticated look even for a stroll about town. In Milan, Bottega Veneta offered a supple, crinkled lambskin version for the tall and lanky; creative head Tomas Maier’s tone-on-tone three- pocket style blouson defines luxe this winter. Indeed, leather was a favourite addition to this otherwise rugged outerwear: the British label Burberry even added leather trims to its otherwise relaxed polyamide classic flying jackets in block-coloured and checks variants. Fabrics have also been played around with and you can expect unlikely sensations under your fingers. At Louis Vuitton, a vintage shearling zipped blouson made with multiple pockets has a military feel. The other French luxury major, Hermès, has a zipped high-collar jacket in 100 per cent cashmere, with two slanted zip front pockets: you won’t be able to get your hands off it.

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Manish Malhotra couture 2016

OCCASION WEAR

EMBROIDERIES and brocades are on top of the Indian mind when it comes to occasion wear or party dressing. Traditional silhouettes like bandhgalas and kurtas are essential for weddings and festive occasions, and Indian designers have left no stone unturned. Rohit Bal’s couture 2016 show ‘Kehkashan’ was inspired by Russian aristocracy and the Netflix series Tudors. His velvet, short bandhgalas and long embroidered coats in black or white worn with heavy kundan necklaces and headpieces were meant to showcase his love for Kashmir along with the madness of King Henry VIII and the decadence of the czars. A similar opulence was on display at Balmain’s fall-winter 2016 show in Paris, where you would find military-inspired regalia with all of Olivier Rousteing’s aggressive genius. The navy blue cotton blazer with a shawl collar, gold decorative buttons, three welt pockets and buttoned cuffs will ensure all eyes are on you this wedding season.

Designers want you to experiment with colours too. Indian biggies Manish Malhotra and Varun Bahl came up with bright red, heavily embroidered pieces in their couture collections for this season. The hue was also a key theme in international ramps and red-and-black checks are a thing now. Gucci’s new artistic director Alessandro Michele played with colours on his suits and jackets, so you can wear a heritage red tartan suit for Christmas. Also check out Dior Homme’s winter 2016 sleek two-button fitted jacket with red-and-black micro checks in virgin wool. The French luxury fashion label also has a blue blazer made with spray fabric dye that gives it a ‘self-textured’ look, a trend that’s firmly in place, even in India. Ashish Soni, one of India’s top names in menswear, says his all-over self-textured suits are flying off the shelves this season; Ranveer Singh wore one for Karan Johar’s talk show Koffee with Karan recently. “I’ve been using silk-velvet as my choice of fabric because it goes both with the ‘festive’ needs of this season, and is also lightweight, soft and malleable enough for those parts of India that don’t have cold weather,” he says. The Nehru jacket, he adds, has become a style statement for all ages and all seasons now that our Prime Minister has made it a fashion favourite—customers buy at least two in different colours, Soni says.

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Dhruv Kapoor AW16

PUFFER JACKETS

Though patented in 1939 by Eddie Bauer, the puffer jacket took many decades to reach its fashionable new heights—you could in fact call 2016 the year of the puffer jacket considering how many designers have included it in their collections from West to East. With a signature quilted design to keep the down insulation or synthetic fibres in place, puffer jackets offer both warmth and lightness, so they are the perfect choice for active, outdoorsy people or just those who jet-set around the world a lot. This season, it’s not just the functionality of this garment that will catch your eye but the sheer beauty of it, from high-shine textures to shearling or leather touches.

Swiss label Bally will have you nice and cozy in an exquisite bright teal down parka. Made in Italy with lamb nappa treated with a waterproof finish and trimmed with murmasky fur on the hood, it’s the stuff stylish winters are made of. Head over to Burberry if you’re looking for natty warmth: their winter 2016 collection is about jackets in all shapes and sizes—there are 27 variants on the puffers alone. India’s Dhruv Kapoor finds them to be one of his top-selling items this winter. Metallic sheens are also big this year— from Calvin Klein Collection’s gold parkas to Astrid Andersen’s shearling-collared ones in copper.

But if trendy chic is the top criteria, Ermenegildo Zegna is your go-to store. A navy shirt blouson with ultralight nylon filling and a front panel in tonal mélange wool, to waxed wool quilted jackets, you’ll be surprised to see what an Italian icon of men’s luxury fashion can do with puffers.

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Fendi AW16

OVERCOATS

There’s no fixed rule for the overcoat this year. It can go from shiny to sober faster than you can unbutton it. At his massive 93-look Los Angeles winter 2016 show, his last for Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane showed a double-breasted, A-line coat with gold cording above the cuffs and a wide, pick-stitched peak lapel that would look as good indoors as outdoors. If you want to make an impression at the next board meeting, try on a continental double-breasted long coat in mohair wool or cashmere from Italian menswear couture house Brioni—which is formal suiting at its very best. The other Italian menswear label that well- suited men usually have in their wardrobes, Canali, also has a similar long, sleek silhouette that speaks business: the double-breasted wool-alpaca coat with applied flap pockets can be worn over both casual and formal wear.

For more fashionable looks outside of the workplace, Etro’s unstructured coat crafted from bouclé in a blue-white mélange is unlined for a comfortable fit. Fendi has a huge oeuvre of overcoats, from sane checks to crazy-cool fur numbers with those perpetually frowning ‘Fendi eyes’ at the elbows. French label Givenchy has a black leather trench coat with fringes on the back for men with a penchant for late-night sojourns—think Kanye West with a lace-clad Kim Kardashian on his arm. If you want to play it safe with greys and blacks, Valentino is where to go: the cabochon single-breasted wool coat has a black-and-white herringbone pattern and is embellished with studs on the yoke—a perfect combination of festive and winter.

This article was first published in Open magazine

Bibhu Mohapatra: A Dreamer in Manhattan

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When Bibhu Mohapatra first met Michelle Obama at a White House event a couple of years ago, he humbly joined his hands and thanked her for helping him fulfill his American dream. The US First Lady had then just begun wearing the Indian fashion designer’s creations, and he had become a celebrity in the long shadow of her grace. Mohapatra’s gratitude was justified: such is Obama’s fashion influence that she even inspired a 2010 study by Finance Professor David Yermack at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who calculated that an apparel brand’s stock prices increased by an average of $14 million every time she appeared in public dressed in its clothes. In one case, after she wore a J Crew dress on a TV show, the group’s stock rose 25 per cent by the end of the week, and 175 per cent in the next 14 months, a gain of about $1.8 billion in market capitalisation.

Michelle Obama responded by telling Mohapatra, “Bibhu, you and I are going to do big things together.” She was true to her word. She not only wore his design on TV—leading it to sell out within days—but also at official events. Then, in 2015, in a triumphant homecoming for the Odisha-born designer, she exited Air Force One in a dress designed by him on her first visit to India with US President Barack Obama. The blue printed floral crepe dress with a cut-way silk and wool jacket was splashed across the front page of Indian newspapers as the Obamas shook hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was there on the tarmac to welcome them. Mohapatra doesn’t know much about the rise in his stock value, but the pictures doing the rounds on social media sure left him pretty high. “She’s humble, funny and grounded—she’s just the role model who can teach you how to work hard and become successful and still be a nice person,” says the 44-year-old designer of his most important client.

For a boy from small-town India with New York Fashion Week far from his wildest dreams, Mohapatra has traversed an unlikely journey. His mother, Sashikala, was the youngest of three children whose mother died when she was a child. Raised in Kolha, a picturesque coastal village in the Balasore district of Odisha on India’s east coast, she was married in the early 1960s to Chittaranjan, an engineering student and the son of her father’s close friend. She practically grew up in her marital home, learning lessons in life from her gregarious mother-in-law whose philosophy was “to be an instrument of giving”, even if she had to borrow food from the neighbours to feed the beggar at her doorstep. With her young husband away at work at the Rourkela Steel Plant, Sashikala took on the responsibilities of the home and family, caring for his younger siblings as their ‘deputy mother’. “It was a modest upbringing,” recalls Mohapatra. “We didn’t have a car or a fridge, only books. My mum had only two ‘good’ saris, so she avoided going to weddings. And yet my father absolutely adored her and our family was the most revered in the village—there would always be warm food if you showed up.” Sashikala taught Bibhu how to sew—his first ‘couture’ dress was one he made for his sister, which won several compliments at a family wedding. “I think my earliest image of womanhood is equated with the committed, hard-working, affectionate and giving personality of my mother,” Mohapatra says.

Decades later, Mohapatra would celebrate a similar undaunted womanhood in his designs. The muses for his collections were strong, defiant women with interesting lives at the turn of the 20th century, from China’s controversial power-hungry Empress Dowager Cixi to Swiss photo-journalist Annemarie Schwarzenbach who inspired him as much with her writing as with her androgynous personal style. “It’s important to give women their due,” says Mohapatra, narrating the story of writer-activist Nancy Cunard whose biography he read while on a transatlantic cruise from New York to Southampton. “Nancy believed in women’s equality at a time when women had no rights, she inspired legions of writers, belonged to an aristocratic family and yet travelled to France and raised funds for a refugee camp. And she was incredibly dressed. Oh, that’s magic to me! I collect stories of people, and stories like this inspire me—not so much the fashion but the strength, the drive, the confidence, the compassion.”

Mohapatra’s father too played a pivotal role in shaping his personality. Having set up his own engineering business in Rourkela in the 1980s, Chittaranjan was famously generous in both spirit and deed. Mohapatra recalls him lugging home bags of fresh vegetables only to give them away to his employees: “He did that all the time; it was his joy.” The young Bibhu and his brother could not fathom how their father could be so unselfish when they themselves struggled with a meagre income. “My father once paid the staff with my brother’s pocket money; it was a huge lesson in the sacrifice and responsibility required to run an enterprise,” says Mohapatra.

An incident stands out in Mohapatra’s memories of his father. During the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, the Mohapatras lived in Rourkela in a single-storey home that shared a wall with a Muslim family next door. When communal riots broke out in eastern India, the Muslim family began to pack up their few belongings and rush back to their hometown Lucknow with their little children. The neighbour begged Chittaranjan to take care of his eldest son, promising to come back for him later. A short while later, a mob charged in to burn down all Muslim homes in the vicinity, and an informer led them to the Mohapatras’ home, pointing out the young boy in their refuge. Armed with sticks and knives, the mob demanded that Bibhu’s father send the boy out. But Chittaranjan stood firm and said, unfazed, “You will have to kill five of us Hindus first before you can kill this one Muslim boy.” The mob left them alone.

Decades later, the Mohapatras crossed paths with an old man with a long grey beard in an elevator in modern Rourkela with a younger man by his side. The older gentleman recognised Bibhu’s parents instantly: “Do you remember me? I was your neighbour years ago, and this here, my son, is the young boy whose life you saved,” he said with tears in his eyes.

“That’s the kind of man my father was,” says Mohapatra, looking back. “His lessons stay with me, especially today when tolerance and kindness are in such scarce supply.” In December 2014, when Mohapatra’s father passed away after a long illness in Odisha, the designer altered his Fall 2015 collection at New York Fashion Week in his dad’s memory, stripping away the original flowers in the digital prints and replacing them with brushstrokes and feathers, the shades of white, black and indigo endowing restraint and seriousness. “I never let the memories blur; I never forget where I come from,” says Mohapatra in his cheery, large, well-lit studio in Manhattan’s bustling Garment District on a rainy fall morning. He is now a wealthy man and lives with his partner Bobby Beard in a swish Upper West Side apartment in the city, taking frequent rejuvenation breaks at his 1820s country house in upstate New York (where he used to keep chickens he called his ‘Supermodels’ before they were killed in a fox attack). His clothes are worn by the likes of Glenn Close, Hillary Swank, Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, Freida Pinto, Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Jane Krakowski, besides Bollywood fashionistas Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor Khan—but when he faces challenges, Mohapatra still reminds himself of his father and his roots. “He took voluntary retirement to follow his dream of running his own business, cycling to work in winter in a sweater my mum had made for him. He is the man I compare myself to—can I follow my dreams while also fulfilling my responsibilities?” he asks.

It was a dream that led Mohapatra from Odisha to Utah on a scholarship to do his masters in Economics in 1996. “I was very sure I wanted to move to the US, but there were practical challenges, and I could only come here with financial assistance,” he explains of his choice of college and degree. While in college, his professor noticed his sketches and designs, and convinced him he was on the wrong path. With her help, he was able to develop a portfolio and get admitted to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for a one-year degree in fashion design. “I was on a student loan and had to budget my daily needs. I calculated that after accounting for rent and other expenses, I had $1.75 to spend on food every day. Which was excellent because it wasn’t a negative figure,” he laughs, adding that he managed to get by on discipline and the sheer thrill of living his dream in Manhattan.

After an internship at American fashion label Halston where he jokes he learnt to lug large rolls of fabric around the streets of New York among other things, Mohapatra set off on a successful nine-year-stint with iconic French fur house J Mendel, right up to the post of design director. “That’s where I learnt to balance creativity and commerce, how to develop a language in luxury, and how to stay focused,” he recalls. In 2009, he launched his own eponymous label, offering his clients daywear and evening glamour in rich prints, colours and patterns on structured silhouettes. “It’s all about keeping in mind the client’s lifestyle and choices, and using social media to stay current. You have to be ‘into’ people to do what I do,” smiles Mohapatra, who has been a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America since 2010. For his spring-summer 2017 show, he was inspired by the Belle Époque, a period of relative prosperity before World War I. “It was an interesting time—we were trying to find ourselves. Norms were being developed and defined, technology and science were evolving, migration became possible, art and music found place in respectable society. I’m a romantic, I value the past,” he avers, the exquisite silks, tulles and pearl-encrusted embroidery of the collection sparkling on the racks behind him.

Mohapatra’s clothes now retail at high-end stores in India, the US, UK, Canada, Middle East, Russia, China, Europe, Latin America and South America. He has a core team who handle his marketing and business aspects, besides a large team of tailors and artisans who work out of his expansive Manhattan studio. He runs his fingers through his latest collection on hangers in his studio, pointing out at the details that excited him—embroidery from India, fabric from Japan, prints from Europe, patterns from Morocco—each one with a story to tell. He has experimented with a line of handbags in the past, and this month, he will also launch in India his first fine-jewellery collection in collaboration with Forevermark. Called Artemis, it is inspired by Vedic astronomy and will retail from six major jewellery stores across the country. “Each piece means something, each one is designed to be a family heirloom,” he states enthusiastically about the line and his upcoming trip to India.

WHILE BUSINESS IS good, Mohapatra is always keen to give forward the way his father did. Having won a spate of awards over the past few years, including the sought-after Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award, he is proactive about mentoring younger designers and helping them follow their dreams. “Two words of kindness—that’s all it took to help me find my true calling. I am driven to pass it on,” he explains of his work with his young protégés, such as those he worked with as a judge in the Supima Design Competition held annually in New York, where fashion-design students vie for a cash prize and an opportunity to work with the top creative minds in the world. He has also been involved in handloom revival projects in India, such as one with the Odisha government, which took him to five villages a couple of years ago. “My heart was broken,” he says of his experience. “Here are people who have the responsibility of keeping alive a craft that is thousands of years old and yet they are languishing in poverty, encouraging their next of kin to take on other professions instead.” Mohapatra has always been inspired by ikat—his mother’s simple handwoven ikat saris would have something to do with it—and was only too happy to develop textiles and saris that were later retailed from prominent stores across the state. “But I am not sure how much the sales helped the artisans themselves, so now I am seeking to cultivate teams of weavers on my own,” he says. He also worked on a project with the Tata Group, designing Benarasi saris for the staff at Taj Hotels and further giving work to entire artisan communities. “I would be a dead person if I didn’t get involved. This is my calling—I can create beautiful clothes that enrich someone’s life while also helping someone else grow along the journey,” he says in characteristic humility that one guesses is unlikely to change even once he grows twice as successful.

“Fame has helped amplify my voice, people listen to me more. So I must be careful about what I say,” Mohapatra admits, “but at the same time, my work has to come from a place of truthfulness. My voice has to be honest.” His Indianness intact, his American dream fulfilled, Mohapatra can take heart in his beautiful contribution to the world, one gracious design, one gentle touch at a time.

This article was first published in Open magazine.