Chennai is the city of soaring temple gopurrams, white veshti's (dhoti's), shining black braids and fragrant flowers. It's also the setting for a fashion scene that embraces tradition while creating its own brand of Indian ready-to-wear. The second in our three-part series, Paromita Naidu from Lotus Eye brings us Style Notes on what trends are emerging in haute cities across India.

White beaches, tropical heat, vivid colors, black mustard seeds, fleshy coconuts and Carnatic music and dance – clearly my first impressions upon arrival in Chennai (the old Madras) were vivid and totally sensory! The natural environment, the devout nature of its people, the respect for the classical arts, the pristine vegetarianism – they all hit me in a serious way. This place was distinct and something about compelled me to delve deeper into its culture, and of course, its style.

 

Tradition: Kumaran Silks

It's all about silk and color in this tropical city. Kanjivaram, silk-cotton blends, crepe, tussar and raw silks fill the shelves of Chennai fabric and sari shops. Some of the stores are giant multi-level stone edifices, some established over 75 years ago. On any given day the Chennai shopper can walk into a store like Kumaran Silks and see at least 200 people per floor shopping to their hearts delight. Say hello to the Chennai shopaholic!

Kumaran Silks smells like incense, with fresh flowers adorning the entry-ways, and giant stone sculptures of Murugan, Shiva and Parvati mounted on the walls of the multi-level, multi-boutique department store. And to give you an idea of the complexity and enormity of this shopper's paradise, at the end of our purchasing frenzy we asked for the owner of the store and were told it would take him 15 minutes to make his way from his end of the store to ours. Wow. But don't worry, a complimentary cup of freshly brewed Indian coffee will help you pass the time.

Insider Tip: Once you leave the store, make sure you have all your purchases with you and do not make the mistake of forgetting an item. Walking back throught the crowds to your part of the shop is a serious workout. Trust.

This "shopaholic" gives Kumaran Silks a thumbs up for a real authentic South Indian fabric/sari shopping experience. The quality is high and the ambiance even higher.

 

Organics and Sustainability: Kalpa Druma

Aryurveda, organic vegetarian foods and a holistic lifestyle are very much a part of the Chennai lifestyle. And stores are popping up everywhere in Chennai that reflect this lifestyle. Silkworm offers a small collection of sustainable fabrics and saris and will even take you on a guided tour of sustainable cotton and silkworm farms in nearby areas. Shilpi houses rare artisan sari's; the owner is determined to educate fashionistas about sustainable fabrics and maintaining traditional modes of weaving and dying – but in a very chic way of course! If you are interested (and I was), she will personally walk you through various pieces and explain in detail each design story.

Another must see store is Kalpa Druma. This really empitomizes the organic luxury branding that has become famous with stores like FabIndia. My finely honed shopping skills were working overtime as I realized this was far more luxurious and much better quality than the competitors in this field. Kalpa Druma houses home fabrics, decor and furniture, men's women's and children's kurtas/saris/scarves/suit pieces and jewelry that are all in pure fabrics and pure metals – but very subtley colored. The design is what I call: The New Indian Eco-Chic!

 

Indian Haute Couture: Evoluzione

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for high-end drama, do not miss Evoluzione. I stumbled upon this store and was blown away. A 3-level Holt Renfrew of contemporary Indian design. Floor 1: Indo-Western glamour – drapes, georgettes, sexy lines and minimal embellishement. Floor 2: Indian ethnic wear – Sabyasachi, Ritu Kumar, Rana Gill, Anita Dongre, Shantanu and Nikhil, and dozens more for the designer-obsessed bride and her entire entourage. Floor 3: Mens – modern graphics and ethnic, with Rajesh Pratap Singh and Narendra Kumar to name a few.

I wasn't sure how this could kind of store could survive in Chennai. Delhi and Mumbai, yes, but Chennai? But as I walked through, I was convinced there was most definitely an established clientelle. Why? Every piece displayed was from the latest season and collection. Straight off the 2011 ramps people. Needless to say, my heart was palpitating the entire time. My weakness that day? An exquistly draped lime green backless kurta with kimono sleeves. My damage: INR 13,000. Yikes! Time to visit the next stylish city on my list…

Style observations by this Chennai fan: respect for the classical and modern exemplifies the signature Chennai style.

 

Read Paromita's Style Notes from Kolkata here, and lookout for her upcoming escapades in the city of haute Indian fashion, Mumbai – only at Jugni Style.

Story By: Paromita Naidu