25 Years Of Mélange: Sangita Kathiwada Takes A Walk Down Memory Lane

Verve People


As told to Sadaf Shaikh

The year was 1992. As someone who was always encouraged to pursue her creative musings, investing my energies in a place where I would be surrounded by design seemed like a great idea. And so I went about setting up Mélange which awarded me the perfect opportunity to bridge my values and qualifications with the modern concepts of fashion and design. I allowed my own creativity to get nurtured along with that of other undiscovered young talents, who are now names to reckon with: Wendell Rodricks, Narendra Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Anuradha Vakil, Sunita Shanker, Aki Narula. I always envisioned that Mélange would rise above its primary role of being a multi-designer store and ascend to a platform that would bring design and culture to the eyes of the connoisseur in the most natural way possible.

With the idea firmly entrenched in my mind, I had to look for a place where I could realise my dreams. It took months of struggle to find what I was looking for. When I was close to giving up, I chanced upon a property at Altamount Road in the form of a radio service centre that was established in a beautiful 100-year-old wine cellar. Setting up a design house from scratch was a lot of  hard work; right from getting designers on board to procuring the right hangers, each detail required a lot of thought. I saw the potential of converting that place – then covered with vinyl and plastic flooring – into one of the most unique and fashionable design houses.

The very first thing I did was go to Udaipur and order the water maze (a filtration system) along with a contemporary painting by Laxman Shrestha — both still exist at the store, 25 years down the line. When everything was set up, I went about looking for designers whose inventive philosophies aligned with those of my own. Narendra Kumar was one of the first designers whose ensembles made it to my racks. I still remember how quiet he was when he first walked in. I didn’t know anything about the kind of collection we would be doing, or how we were going to launch him. Finally, after many weeks of research, he crafted a recycled jacket made out of tin caps. His experiments continued and birthed a first-of-its-kind bralette made out of a mat, very similar to Madonna’s conical bras, which were iconic at the time.

At a time when sustainability wasn’t the watchword du jour yet, my store enjoyed meteoric success by taking an eco-friendly approach to fashion with unstructured garments and minimalist ideas that sat proudly amidst a sophisticated backdrop. With consciousness at its heart and an active focus on the environment, Mélange carved a definitive ethos that stood for quality and style with a strong emphasis on authenticity. One of the biggest challenges we had to circumvent was all the plastic packaging we would receive from the designers. Even today, we request people to use cloth bags instead of plastic or paper bags. At the time, technology was not advanced as it is today and we did not have computers, so invoices were written by hand. We would urge our vendors to use only one sheet of paper besides ensuring we never bought paper ourselves – we’d recycle and use the envelopes numerous times until they were completely spent. Even sourcing bamboo hangers for the store was a task as they were not easily available all those years ago. But it was something I fervently believed in and wanted others to subscribe to, so there were no shortcuts.

Anyone who is acquainted with what Mélange stands for knows of my affinity for Khadi owing to its role of being the fabric that won us our freedom. It is not only the patriotic feeling I have towards it; Khadi truly is a fabulous material. It has its own unique texture and can be woven into either a really fine count or a thick count and therefore extends itself to various kinds of possibilities in creation and surface texturization. When I visited the rural areas, I realised that Khadi played such an important role for the women and children. It really bound people as a community and generated a lot of employment. Weaving khadi provided artisans with the opportunity to earn their own dignity through self-employment and every time I come across a designer that shares my love for Khadi, even all these years later, I am immediately drawn to them.

My celebratory exhibit at Mélange today has been christened ‘Past Continuous’ and explores the idea of present-day fashion by juxtaposing it with stories from the past. We have brought together memories of all the designers and patrons that have been closely associated with us over the years and have helped create a dialogue for the new generations to be made aware of. We’ve completely transformed the space to make it look like a gallery where guests can walk through the timeline of the brand with archival material, photographs and old garments stocked at Mélange and peruse heartfelt notes from people who share a long-standing relationship with us.

When I started Mélange, I did not have a plan. I just wanted to bring fashion and design to the actual user in the most organic and natural way possible. 25 years later, I still do not have a plan. I am a person of the moment. Things are ever-evolving and I have learnt to adapt to change. My passion for design, art, craft, culture and fashion is one constant which has lasted – and grown – over the years and will continue to do so. I founded Mélange to create a dialogue with the community we were living in and would like to continue the dialogue through the medium of fashion for the millennials to learn the importance of sustainability. It’s like my own little school of fashion where I am allowed to preach what I love and make a living out of it.

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