Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chatav Ectabit

Sandy, his wife Julie, and their son Satya sleep across the stairwell from their second-floor atelier, housed in an otherwise nondescript concrete structure in Mumbai’s Santa Cruz district. The lane teems with the life of the suburbs: curbside hairdressers, betel vendors, short-haired dogs, children in their school uniforms.

The ironwork displays multiple representations of the Sanskrit om. The balconies are shaded by a tamarind tree, indifferently festooned with wayward kites. The building across the way bears the shingles of an advocate of the high court and a “maternity surgical home.”

Through the open windows, I can hear music, horns, shouts, the accelerating rasp of two-cycle engines, the raucous calls of crows. It is the end of January, and the air vibrates with falling leaves.

Sandy paces in and out of the room, on and off the balcony. Even when his feet pause in a doorway, his hands are in motion. He and Cliff are talking about details—buttons and zippers, invitations and order sheets—but they don’t shy away from philosophy.

Instead of communicating status by brand or emblem, they want their clothes to generate an inner sense of confidence and composure. Although Cliff says “I just like the idea of wearable,” I can tell that his notion of wearable incorporates hints of subversion as well as comfort.

At first, Cliff and Sandy resisted the idea of a brand name at all. Just a piece of red thread would be enough, they thought.

Enough for art, perhaps, but not enough for sales. If you don’t give people a name, how can they ask for your clothes?

So now the collection has a name, although it still isn’t sewn onto a traditional label. Instead, the words have been hand-carved onto a polished oblong of bone, a hefty bauble designed to be cut loose after purchase.

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