For most of my adult life, I had thought that New York City sample sales — in which harried women argue over who grabbed an item first and, in the absence of fitting rooms, strip down between racks — were about as unique as shopping experiences get. Until I shopped in Delhi.
For the uninitiated, a day of casual browsing in Delhi can involve undergoing airport security-style inspection to enter endless, sterile mega-malls like DLF Promenade; being chased by mangy stray dogs in Khari Baoli, the bustling spice market packed with slivers of stalls; descending underground at Connaught Place to be greeted by an army of cacophonous vendors hawking discount electronics, perfume, scarves, and denim in Palika Bazaar; and encountering, in a former war infirmary, Lodhi Colony Main Market, where stunning monobrand shops carry designer fashion.
Like most travelers to India, I was prepared to be surprised by pretty much everything that came my way, so the first three of these retail experiences failed to faze me. (Maybe I was ever-so-slightly terrified of the dogs.) The fourth, however, piqued my interest. In the alternate universe that is India, I could ponder the possibility of contracting rabies while shopping for cardamom or chili peppers. But a Madison Avenue/Rodeo Drive approximation? Maybe because I hadn't been to India since 1994, before its incredible economic growth, it seemed impossible. This was a country that didn't even have a standardized traffic control system. How could it have several fashion weeks?
Lodhi Colony Main Market seems like another contradiction: an upscale shopping strip bordering a park in a quiet, residential section of Delhi (yes, they exist). Upon first glance, nothing about Lodhi screams luxury (perhaps not surprising for a two-story infirmary constructed in 1945), especially not the kitschy souvenir shops. On the ground floor is a row of equidistant columns; yellow, green, and brown signs between columns indicate the business residing within: a beauty salon, a fabric store/tailor, a fitness equipment retailer, a British jewelry shop, or the eponymous stores of two very distinctive fashion designers, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Manish Arora.
Rajesh Pratap Singh designs for men and women in a clean, simple style — and his stark, all-white store reflects his design philosophy. I admired the sharp, Balenciaga-esque cut of a satin coat in black, the dominant color of his autumn/winter collection. The shop is meant to evoke a public hospital in a nod to Lodhi’s history. The wheeled table carrying knits and other casual pieces is actually an operating table; hospital lighting hangs overhead. Behind the cash register rests a wall of lockers. Seen from the other side, the lockers form a backdrop for the single antique sewing machine in the store’s window.
Manish Arora, often called the John Galliano of India, is the antithesis of his Lodhi Colony neighbor. He designs womenswear with an unparalleled vivacity and fearlessness. Hallmarks of his work include all-over sequins (on dresses as well as skintight pants); kaleidoscopic prints; bold, unexpected color combinations; and intricate, three-dimensional embellishments. Arora's flair for the theatrical was evident at his spring/summer ’11 runway show in Paris, which began with a model sporting fluorescent lights and concluded with one in striped sequin hot shorts, a crop top covered with small, rubbery taxicabs and a seemingly Cubist-inspired taxicab hat.
Arora’s work would be striking in any environment, but it takes on an added dimension at Lodhi Colony where the floor consists of a mishmash of traditional Indian tiles and bright wall colors are par for the course. My burrow-like fitting room was lime green. Walk up the black-and-white back staircase; you will be greeted by stunning murals on all four walls and a large, subtly glittering chandelier-like hanging. It looks like it's been decorated by a very religious graffiti artist with a penchant for bubblegum pink. As a bonus for shoppers who aren’t looking to drop thousands (of dollars, mind you, not just rupees), the store also contains merchandise from Arora’s diffusion line, Fish Fry, as well as from his collaborations, including one with MAC Cosmetics.
Entering and leaving Arora’s store, I noticed a relaxed-looking man hunched in a plastic lawn chair just outside the door. A doorman, perhaps? Lodhi Colony Main Market is no Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. But it’s just as exciting to get to know a growing luxury fashion industry as it is to marvel at one that’s been around for years.
Rajesh Pratap Singh
9 Main Market, Lodhi Colony
Delhi, India 110 003
Manish Arora Fish Fry
3 Main Market, Lodhi Colony
Delhi, India 110 003