The opening night of Mélange Fashion House on September 25 1993 was a landmark event in Indian fashion. The brain behind this unique concept was petite Sangita Sinh Kathiwada a lover of art, design, textiles and craft.
Mélange was the first fashion house in the country that carried 100 per cent naturally dyed clothing, used only recycled wood for interiors and recycled paper for packaging.
“We were truly ahead of the times. Mumbai received the newness, the freshness with such generosity that I cannot be thankful enough.”
Born in Indore, Sangita’s love for beautiful things started with a Home Science course followed by graphic design and textiles art study at Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai. Marriage into the royal Family of Kathiwada further nurtured her desire for the crafts.
Sangita ran a design unit for jewellery with Richard Holkar, so the progression to Mélange was natural.
In 1991 Sangita purchased a wine cellar in a Mumbai heritage building, which she turned into the iconic Mélange Fashion House. The star designer line up on opening night included Sarah Epen, Ramesh Nair, Sujit Mukherjee, Hidden Harmony, Narendra Kumar, Mira Mehta, Meera Mahadevia, James Ferreira and Sudha Patel.
“We were sold out in the first 3 days. Within 6 months we added Wendell Rodricks and Hemant Trevedi. Mélange launched the careers of Savio Jon Fernandes, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Priyardarshini Rao, Priti Paul, Aki Narula, Taika and many others who are extremely successful designers in their own rights.
We chose exclusive collections by Anuradha Vakil, Anamika Khanna, and Anita Dongre who were not as well known 20 years ago. Mélange opened Rohit Bal’s first ever independent salon in India. We brought to the forefront unusual labels like Pero, Cell Design, Annavila, Tilla, Antar Agni, Pella, Flora and Fauna and several others.”
Soon Mélange was the fashion flavour in India with many clones mushrooming. The Indian fashion scene in the 90’s was a vibrant happening and Mélange blossomed into 6 outlets, which were the favourite haunts of Indian and global fashionistas.
“But I systematically shut down outlets at the peak of the business since I must enjoy my work instead the work started enjoyinging me,” confesses Sangita.
Now a little low key she admits “We are low key. Its owner who is in slow mode and fashion often governs Mélange. I am focused on wellness related activities. Fashion is what you “put on” beauty is what you “put in.” I am focusing on creating more and more beauty in people.
This whole thing about “broadcasting” literally is not our temperament. We whisper, we do not shout. The whispers were heard when fashion was not so loud. We are unable to shout and therefore not heard by all. The ones who are close to our slow mode find us.”
While Internet and ecommerce rule the fashion business yet Sangita has stayed away from virtual sales. “E-commerce makes sense for a designer who is a manufacturer. Mélange is a gallery that hosts curated designer collections in an experiential space. That’s our USP. We can’t make people “feel” online. To sell online some other manufacturer’s product does not make sense for a small business like ours.”
Promotions were as unique as the concept of the store. Discussions, workshops, previews, fashion soirees, collaborations with crafts people were the highlights of the fashion world.
On October 13 1994, Mélange had a sensational show at the Royal Opera House where the interiors were turned into a Khadi wonderland. The other memorable events were Khadi Show at NCPA on October 8 1997. There was the Framjee Caswasji Hall show and the Convocation Hall at Mumbai University show. But PR and publicity is not very important for Sangita.
“To me personally it’s not important. I have thoroughly been spoilt by the generosity of the media who bought into my unique story. But it’s high time I invested in some PR activities, now times have changed. New multi designer stores have opened making fashion industry more vibrant and an amazingly interesting space to be in.”
According to Sangita whose favourite designer is Comme de Garcon; a great designer is one who is willing to take risks, is a dreamer, creativity bordering on eccentricity, bold, brave, courageous to set the trend instead of following one.
“The new breed of designers has amazing talent, and are focused on their priorities. They are new and do not want to make mistakes so they take their work seriously The ration of demand and supply has totally tipped so to remain in business they have to be professional. Invoicing and accounting systems are in place, which was not the case 23 years ago. It’s great to see designers getting acclaimed internationally as well.”
Fond of Pan Asian food Sangita relaxes with yoga, meditation, silent sitting and loves Bhutan. “I am presently consumed by Wellness area, meeting amazing people and learning a lot. Yoga, meditation, developing wellness products are my most treasured hobbies.
“Busy 24 x 7 Sangita is connected with numerous projects including Mélange, Morarka Organic, Osian Arts, Kathiwada Raaj Mahal Retreats, creating a wellness space in Mumbai.
“I work on all these projects with a great challenge but with a super discipline, dedication and delegation. I have brilliant time management skills. Presently I am ONLY reading books by spiritual masters, most favourite being OSHO.”
Sangita while being artistic has a temperament that matches her personality. Both hot and cool tempered at different times of day, week or month. “I am short tempered but with meditation and awareness I have been able to change that.”
So who is the real Sangita Sinh Kathiwada and the lady answers, “Behind all this facade of the bold and beautiful, the brave and successful, Sangita is as vulnerable as any other woman. She is constantly questioning herself and redefining herself to keep up with the changing times and at times she finds it very difficult.”
Asked to describe herself, “It would be nice to know how other people perceive me.”