‘My work is past continuous’

Anagha Khare
Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Sangita Sinh Kathiwada, the founder of one of the country’s first multi-designer stores — Melange — was in the city for a book launch last week. We caught up with her prior to the event

Sangita Kathiwada seems to be living by the maxim ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ “Fashion, fitness, art, culture, wellness… there are no unfulfilled wishes,” says the owner of the prominent fashion house Mélange, which completed 25 glorious years last month. She sees beauty in design, be it clothes or architecture. Not surprising then, she conducts the prestigious Mélange shows at (often long-forgotten) heritage buildings. She explains, “The rationale is to put the spotlight on the buildings, to give them the attention that they rightfully deserve. So here you have a beautifully done up old heritage architecture that nobody was looking at, and then it suddenly draws their attention to the building and makes them go ‘Wowww… We have been driving past this area everyday but we didn’t even look up’.” 

Of course, the drama and charm that come along with such structures are hard to resist. Prod her further and she says with that unmistakable excitement in her voice, “The Royal Opera House wasn’t even open for 30 years. I opened it on our first anniversary in 1994 for that one evening for showing the collection and then for 20 years nothing happened there and now it has opened. So, in like 50 years, the one evening that it opened was for the Mélange fashion show. Even Prithviraj Kapoor has performed there, so it has quite a history.”

A true-blue artist at heart, Kathiwada sees beauty in everything, be it textiles, architecture or the purity of one’s intentions. As the Director of Morarka Foundation, she was eager to publish the book When Seeing Is Believing by Bina Sarkar Ellias, the proceeds of which would be sent to the MISSING project, a campaign that addresses issues pertaining to sex trafficking. She explains, “To be able to save girls from being trafficked...it’s such a wonderful cause. I immediately agreed to publish the book when Bina told me about it.”

Through Morarka Foundation, which is funded by her uncle Kamal Morarka, she has given wings to many projects and supports causes she strongly believes in. Her work at Mélange was garnering a lot of attention from the time she started but she was not too happy since she wanted to do something for the artisans who made all this possible for her. Her restlessness gave birth to the Foundation. As she reminisces, “That was a year after I opened Mélange and I got a lot of attention — there were 45 articles written on me and I hadn’t expected that and that was also not the intention.” She continues, everything still fresh in her memory, “So I went to see my uncle almost teary-eyed and said 80 per cent of this work is thanks to the crafts people, who are producing such beautiful things for us despite living in dire circumstances. And how come I get away with this? On Altamount Road… expensive real estate, old wine cellar…heritage buildings…the glamour of being Sangita Kathiwada…” 

Her uncle told her, “Do something about it, being upset is not good enough.” And that made her think. He gave her a cheque to set up the foundation that has been instrumental in supporting some incredible initiatives and causes, largely rural. She initially operated out of the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), though now she manages it independently, from Mumbai, Kathiwada or wherever she feels there are skilled people who are capable of doing great things but lack the necessary support. 

Despite experimenting with several styles and fabrics, her love for khadi has been constant. She considers it as an egalitarian fabric and has donned it with amazing grace at several events. Her outfit Mélange has always been immensely popular and a favourite of the rich and famous. The pricing has been equally premium and for a good reason too. Ask her and she’s quick to agree, “The price range was high from the very beginning. Why sell cheap? In Japan, we are willing to pay a thousand dollars for a Kimono, so why not in India for something that involves the same effort? Why are we devaluing it? We have to value our crafts and make them so superior that they hold their rightful place as the finest textiles in the world. I don’t cater to the masses. We do lot of handwork, artisanal work. We don’t compromise on quality.”

Clearly, she has firm values and visions. Perhaps that’s why she chooses to describe her work as ‘Past Continuous’. “You can’t sit on your laurels and glory of the past. Who I am today is because of the past that I have lived. But, that must continue with the freshness…with the current…constantly,” she concludes.

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