FDCI’S INDIA MEN’S WEEKEND 2023 COMMENCED WITH A RUNWAY ON THE RIVER MANDOVI IN GOA

The first edition of the India Men’s Weekend 2023 curated by the Fashion Design Council of India was held on January 14th in Goa at a location most unwonted, yet astoundingly beautiful – the state’s former largest prison, Aguada Central Jail. The India Men’s Weekend showcased the works of eleven Indian designers with six ensembles each – Rajesh Pratap Singh, Abraham and Thakore, Varun Bahl, Abhishek Gupta, Arjun Khanna, Ashish N Soni, J J Valaya, Manoviraj Khosla, Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna and Shantnu and Nikhil and Rohit Bal’s Alexander jeans for men.

The jetty of the Aguad Port and Jail Complex in Sinquerim turned into a runway on the river Mandovi’s calm, turquoise waters, with a ball of fire setting the blue skies ablaze with its molten glory, making the India Men’s Weekend show the first of its kind to held in a jail in India. Talk about a crime of fashion that no one could be imprisoned for! Some of the clothes on the runway maybe, and their respective designers!

The Aguada Jail made for a fashionably bewitching scene for the show, and was supported by the Aguad Port and Jail Complex in Sinquerim. The Aguada Central Jail, the largest prison in Goa till 2015, is a part of the famed and impregnable Fort Aguada built by the Portuguese from 1609 CE to 1612 CE. The 17th-century Portuguese structure has been renovated and repurposed since by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation at a cost of approximately Rs 22 crore and is open to the public. It is now a heritage site, that pays homage to the freedom fighters of India, and houses a museum and viewing galleries since the redevelopment. Interestingly, água means water in Portuguese.

The India Men’s Weekend will be an annual event on the FDCI calendar in Goa, and possibly other cities in India December 2023 onwards.

©Rubina A Khan 2023

CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND AT THE DORCHESTER, LONDON

It’s a Christmas Wonderland at The Dorchester Rooftop in London, with the hotel’s first ever festive pop-up in full sway this holiday season. Inspired by the Frost Fairs that were held on the frozen River Thames between the 17th and 19th centuries when the river froze over, yesteryear Londoners celebrated the season by building markets, playing games, and cooking hearty dishes on its icy surface. It is not surprising that the hotel chose a historic theme for its traditional festivities this season, given it has an extraordinary history of its own.

It is hard to believe that the grand dame of London, The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair (the Money Mile as I like to call it), was once just square miles of strawberry fields. The area began to take shape in May 1686, when King James II granted permission for a fortnight of festivities. The festival ran for another 78 years and thus, born the name May Fair. The origins of the hotel go back to 1792 when the Earl of Dorchester, Joseph Damer, bought a house, and named it the Dorchester House. By 1910, the house had evolved into the American Embassy, as well as a hospital during World War I, before being demolished in 1929. It was then rebuilt into the world’s first hotel to be constructed with reinforced concrete, when it opened its doors on April 20, 1931 as the hotel we all know and love, The Dorchester.

The rooftop terrace, overlooking Hyde Park, has three Winter Globes for pod-style dining. With a choice of two set menus – a party menu of shared delights and a three-course Chef’s menu, both of which include a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, given the pop-up is in collaboration with LVMH.

“We have created tantalising plates inspired by the finest flavours of the Frost Fairs including Lobster Stockings, Vacherin Fondue, Alpine Salad, Smoked Trout with Warm Potato Salad, Venison Wellington and Chestnut Mandarin Baked Alaska that is flamed table side, to name a few. The Winter Globes have been incredibly popular so far. People are excited to cosy up with friends and family with great views and traditional food this festive season,” says Martyn Nail, Culinary Director at The Dorchester.

You either get cosy or cosy up on the Dorchester’s rooftop, but there’s a warm inside too. Inviting hot drinks, a nibbles menu and wintry cocktails are available along with live entertainment, whilst you enjoy a cigar on the smoking terrace, sip on whiskey and port pairings, and savour classic cocktails with a twist such as a Bourbon Espresso Martini, Islay Hot Toddy, Hot Buttered Brandy and a Rosemary Negroni. Frost Fair themed cocktails like Thames Mead and the Golden Elephant will pique your interest – apparently, an elephant was seen on the Thames as a highlight of the very last Frost Fair (this elephant sure wasn’t treading on thin ice by the sound of it)!

The Christmas Wonderland remains open through to New Years and can be booked till January 3rd, 2023. You can also see the very first festive celebrations filled with holiday decorations by in-house designer florist Philip Hammond, within the transformed Promenade of The Dorchester and the new Artists’ Bar after an expansive renovation by designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

The best time to go to the Christmas Wonderland is at sunset to watch all of London come alive with the holiday decorations and lights – the twinkling night scape is breathtakingly beautiful.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Business Princess Paris Hilton In Mumbai On October 19 | Hindustan Times

The most famous American platinum blonde in the world, after Marilyn Monroe of course, is hotel heiress, beauty entrepreneur, DJ and singer, Paris Hilton, who is coming to Mumbai on October 19th, her fourth trip to India so far. Fresh off closing Donatella Versace’s Spring Summer ’23 runway show in Milan as Bridal Barbie, in her favourite shade of pink (which should really be called Paris pink by now) replete with a fantasy veil, the original influencer and reality TV star of the Noughties, will be flying in to Mumbai via Dubai, to promote her latest 2022 fragrance, Ruby Rush, at a launch event to be held in the city on Thursday, October 20th. The rush for selfies with her on the night of the launch might just eclipse the fragrance for a haute second though.

The fashion forward Hilton has been in the beauty industry since 2004 when she launched her first fragrance called Paris Hilton, the success of which led to a fragrance empire of over 25 perfumes that brought in $3billion in revenues.

Hilton first came to India in September 2011 to launch her accessories and handbag line, with another trip soon after in December 2012 when she turned tables in Goa as a DJ, and December 2014. During these past trips, her itinerary wasn’t only about work. She made time to go to the Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi to pray, visited Ashray, a children’s orphanage in Bandra, and partied with Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and jewellery designer and beauty entrepreneur, Queenie Singh, who’d hosted a party for Hilton on her maiden trip in 2011. “Paris is a very affectionate person. She loves people, music and fashion. She’s a star. I meet her once in a while at Cannes and she’s always very cordial,” says Queenie Singh from London.

The business princess of all things pink, glam, haute and blonde loves Indian fashion and Indian food, but regrets not being able to visit New Delhi or the Taj Mahal in Agra on her past trips as she always stayed for about three days each time. Perhaps, a visit to the monument of love is on her itinerary this time around, eight years since her last visit to India in 2014. And more so if her husband, venture capitalist Carter Reum, who she wed on November 11, 2021, in Bel Air, wearing an ethereal Oscar de la Renta wedding gown, accompanies her, given their first year anniversary is just around the corner. And, if they do make it to the Taj in Agra, it’ll be on the ‘gram.

Like she’d say, ‘That’s hot, India’s hot!’ 

This feature first appeared in Hindustan Times on October 9th, 2022

©Rubina A Khan 2022

RUBINA’S REVIEW | MANDARIN ORIENTAL BANGKOK’S AUTHORS’ LOUNGE AFTERNOON TEA IS DELICIOUSLY ROYAL

In the mid-nineteeth century, when Thailand was still known as Siam, a rest house established for travelling foreigners on the banks of the Menam River (Chao Praya River), became one of the greatest hotels in the world – The Oriental. The Oriental, now Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, was the first luxury hotel in the Kingdom of Siam. In 1865 the hotel’s original structure was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by the current structure in 1876. It was a Danish-born sailor, H.N. Andersen, who gave the Siamese capital a new hotel, a modern, luxurious Oriental Hotel. On 17 December 1890, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn paid a private visit to The Oriental to assess the ability of the hotel to host royal guests. The King was so impressed that he decided to accommodate the Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia, who became Tsar in 1894, at The Oriental in April 1891. It was the beginning of a long lasting relationship between the legendary hotel and Thailand’s Royal Palace. Today, 146 years later, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is a proud landmark in Bangkok, a beautiful building that links the glorious years past, present and those to come in Thailand.

The Authors’ Lounge, on the ground floor of the original Oriental Hotel, lends an old world charm, reminiscent of the early 1900s, with turn-of-the-century style wicker furniture and hand-painted fabrics, alongside framed photographs of the famous writers who have stayed at the hotel since the late nineteenth century. Apart from the telling literary history of yesteryear Siam and its people, The Authors’ Lounge is renowned for its traditional afternoon tea, and is also one of the most photographed locations in Bangkok, if not Thailand. It was a beautiful rainy afternoon, with the sun playing hide and seek, that I sat down to experience the Summer Afternoon Tea Set at the Authors’ Lounge. A beautiful hostess, Parichat, led the way and I chose a table overlooking the garden and the Chao Praya river. The distinguished jewel jade and white tones of the lounge add serenity to the regal elegance of this historic lounge.

The afternoon started off with the most delicious Earl Grey infused peach sorbet and Champagne foam, followed by the setting down of the Somerset book on the table by the elegant Pansamon – an event in itself – sliding out the most decadent pastries and savouries from the mock book, with theatrical precision and sophistication. The Prawn roll brioche bun, Spicy tuna salad wafer, Charcoal choux with smoked salmon and sunflower seed crème and Egg salad with Avruga caviar sandwich and the selection of pastries – Blackberry flower cake and coconut cloud, Green coffee bean tiramisu, tangerine marmalade and cardamom, Charlotte cake apricot, pistachio and thyme, Raspberries and yuzu New York cheesecake, Hazelnut and milk chocolate textures, Brioche feuillette, strawberries and vanilla custard – they all looked too pretty to eat, but eat I did. You could measure each sandwich and pastry and they’d be the exact same size and dimension, just like they came out of a royal kitchen for high tea. Then came the warm traditional scones with a selection of home-made jams, Devonshire clotted cream, mascarpone and butter. Everything tastes divine and it’s hard to pick a favourite from the tea set. I went with an iced coffee, instead of tea and it was just as fine, watching the rain come down, from the warm confines of the Authors’ Lounge, thinking of all those writers and travellers who stayed here before, and created literary legacies.

You need to reserve a table on Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for the Afternoon Tea and the team very graciously accommodates your food specifications. They also have an Oriental Afternoon Tea Set as well as a Vegan and Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea Set.

Through its 146 years of existence, The Oriental’s grandiose façade has greeted travellers, dignitaries and literary figures from around the world like The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Queen of Sweden, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. British spy novelist John le Carré, wrote The Honourable Schoolboy at the hotel and Barbara Cartland named one of the heroines in Sapphires in Siam after an Oriental employee. Others, like Noël Coward, simply admired the riverine views, declaring: “It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.” Joseph Conrad, the sea captain and writer, was a frequent visitor to the bar of The Oriental and Vaslav Nijinsky danced in the ballroom in 1916. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s affinity with the literary world is best exemplified in the Authors’ Wing, which houses the Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener Lounges. In these specially created salons, images of these literary greats are juxtaposed with scenes from The Oriental during those eras, as well as quotations from the authors’ books. Khun Ankana’s Study, also situated of The Authors’ Lounge, pays a pictorial tribute to the inimitable Ankana Kalantananda, The Oriental’s longest-serving employee who joined the hotel in 1947 and worked there for over 60 years.

The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s staff, right from Jed at the entrance to the hostesses, servers and spa staff are all marvellous and wonderful, and exemplary in their service. It’s a beautiful world they have all created inside this grand dame of a hotel in Bangkok.

Like W. Somerset Maugham said in The Mixture of Before, “Now it is a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

Rubina’s Rating: 10/10

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2022

Mumbai’s Money Is Moving In Realty, Despite The Calamitous Second Wave In India

Mumbai’s got money and it’s moving in realty, despite the Maharashtra government not extending the stamp duty waiver on property registrations in March earlier this year. INR 420 CR was collected in stamp duties in June 2021 as 7,850 properties were registered in the month compared to 5,640 units registered in June 2019, indicating a growth of 39 percent. However, in May 2021, INR 268 CR was collected in stamp duties due to the calamitous second wave across India – which was roughly half of the INR 534 CR collected in May 2019. Evidently, people have been buying property in Mumbai, albeit in an undefined, heterogeneous pattern. 

In fact, prices have increased too, if you can call a slash in prices from a sharp 30% in 2020 to a 20% in 2021. Actor Ajay Devgan bought a bungalow in June spread over 5000 square feet in Juhu, Mumbai for INR 47.5 crore (which would have sold for over INR 60 CR easy, pre-Covid) and he paid a stamp duty of INR 2.37 crore on the purchase. A South Mumbai apartment that was priced at 15 CR went on to sell at 9 CR in the first phase of the pandemic in 2020 with the stamp duty waiver, but commands a selling price of 11 CR now. The reason for the upswing in the most expensive, not to mention glamorous city in India, is that builders and developers have smaller inventories now and they are trying to make some cash whilst the demand is still on the rise, given the pandemic has made forecasts and predictability highly unreliable and inaccurate during these times. Who would’ve thought there’d be 7,850 property buys in a strained and stretched economy, right? Even though it is not a seller’s market, the seller is making some kind of profit. 

But property sells in North Mumbai are taking place in a very contrasting pattern to the realty index in South Mumbai. No, it has nothing to do with Bollywood’s residential dominance in the ‘burbs. In Bandra West, a two-bedroom apartment, measuring a 1000 square feet, that lists for INR 4.5 CR, sells at INR 4CR. Clearly the 20% drop in listing prices in South Mumbai are not at play in North Mumbai as there is a paucity of developments in the suburbs and the supply does not match the extensive demand, yet. So, the seller is more rigid with the pricing and gets whatever he/she asks for without having to conform to the South Mumbai pricing index. 

Recently, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had set off a dampener with its proposal to increase property tax by at least 14 percent based on ready reckoner rates as on April 1, 2021. Property tax rates are calculated based on the ready reckoner rates of 2015 in Mumbai and the BMC wanted to revise the rates following the current ready reckoner rate. But on June 18th, the Maharashtra government announced that there would be no change in property tax till the pandemic continued, as it did not seem fair to burden people with an increase in the tax. The announcement didn’t just come as a huge relief to home-owners and stakeholders, but assuaged buyer sentiments, leading to a spike in buys in June. It remains to be seen what the next 6 months of 2021 will bring to the realty table, and at what cost, and more importantly, will a structured buying and selling pattern emerge from it all? 

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on July 20th, 2021

©Rubina A Khan 2021

RUBINA’S RADAR | REEL IS WHAT’S REAL TODAY

We humans thought we lived in an adamantine world controlled by us, until an invisible contagion microbe – the Coronavirus – showed us all we obviously don’t. The virus is killing humans harder and faster than any missile across the planet, halting an extremely self-serving, consumerist world, dead in its Earth-abusive tracks. The Earth seems to have quit us, albeit temporarily, leaving us to quarantine in our designated spaces and countries for a while – a while that feels more like an infinite uncertainty than a finite timeline with each passing day.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a home to quarantine in, and socially distance ourselves from our families in separate rooms, with running water, food and the familiar warmth of our beds – it is an ineffable bespoke luxury, one that is incomparable to any in the world. Millions of our fellow humans across are homeless, with no roof over their heads, jobless with no money for food or clean running water to drink, let alone to sanitize and wash their hands with, multiple times a day.

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Opera singer Andrea Bocelli looks on before his Easter concert at the Duomo on April 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy. Members of the public were not allowed in Milan’s Duomo Cathedral due to the ongoing lockdown to control the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Luca Rossetti, Courtesy Sugar SRL, DECCA Records via Getty Images)

I think the Coronavirus outbreak is the biggest performance art show of all time, where all human beings are a live act, me included, going about our lives in our tangible spaces and our paces. And, the world – a large canvas of pristine natural beauty and sounds stands still, watching us – the performative art on display. The lockdown takes me back to the first ever performance art exhibit I attended in the Hamptons in New York in 2013. It was Robert Wilson’s 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit called Devil’s Heaven. This was held at his performance lab for arts and humanities at the Watermill Center in Long Island. Devil’s Heaven was an unimaginable reality for me, with Lady Gaga, who I think is the quintessence of performance art herself and Marina Abramović, the most lasting of all performance art legends, in attendance.

Watching the various intense acts of stillness and exertion across the eight acre grounds, especially Trina Merry’s Magnolias and her Enchanted Forest silent performers slithering seductively around tree trunks, left me awe-struck, and wide-eyed. At the entrance of the event, two naked figures, stood statuesquely on a pedestal, embracing each other in silence, in glorious consonance, their male and female bodies painted with an almost Avatar-esque shade of teal with a pink floral design akin to the Indian lotus. This was Merry’s Magnolias that explored the clash between culture and nature – exactly what we are experiencing in the real world today.

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Trina Merry’s Magnolias at Robert Wilson’s Devil’s Heaven at the Watermill Centre, Long Island, New York. (Photo by ©Rubina A Khan 2013)

The Earth’s revolt – a silent warzone of microbial and economic devastation – has the human race feeling endangered for the very first time since its existence. Some of the models’ bodies, painted on to look like furniture, further conflated with material objects on the performer’s naked bodies, was Merry’s way of questioning human self-identities in relation to objects and the things humans own. Consumerist attitudes and human identities based on material things was almost entirely how the world ran before the Coronavirus outbreak. Merry seems to have latently manifested today’s unthinkable reality when it was anything but, seven odd years ago, when she created the series in New York, where she is based. Her artistic expression is a dominant, painful reality today and she flipped Oscar Wilde’s ancient notion from Life Imitates Art more than Art Imitates Life into Art Forsees Life perhaps! Never did I think, ever, that I would be living out my own performance act of a lifetime in these times. And, I am a non-conformist.

Art has always provoked us into a reactive state – be it shock, rage, bewilderment, exultation, agony, poignancy, exhilaration or just good ol’ gladdening. The Earth seems to have taken a break from us humans, to catch its own breath, whilst we are coming to terms with a new world – one that is brought to us by the eyes and the lenses of photographers across the world. Photography is art, frozen in time – almost like an entr’acte between the time when the photograph was taken to the current time of its viewing. Except today, all the photographs that we see are in real time of a very unreal, very unknown world that has fallen deafeningly silent and empty. In due course, these pictures will make for a historical archive for centuries to come.

The ability of a photograph to let one’s mind go back and forth, with meandering thoughts and shifting perspectives, never once losing the original, intrinsic essence of its frame is incredulous – it can be as active and as passive as you want it to be. Reel life is what’s real today. Apart from our first responders being doctors and health care workers who are on the front lines saving lives, it is the photographers who are risking their lives to bring the world to us, every single day. Images of empty streets and subways, empty places of worship, planes parked like Lego blocks in airport hangars, images of the heroic, live-saving first responders across the world from Wuhan to Italy to India to the US… are a reality thanks to the photographers out there, doing their job relentlessly, and serving humanity.

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An aerial view of the illuminated statue of Christ the Redeemer that reads “Thank you” as Archbishop of the city of Rio de Janeiro Dom Orani Tempesta performs a mass in honor of Act of Consecration of Brazil and tribute to medical workers amidst the Coronavirus pandemic on April 12, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Mumbai-based photographer, Satyajit Desai’s imagery of the Janta Curfew in India on March 22nd to the stark containment zones in Worli after Mumbai’s lockdown from March 25th to the make-shift quarantine shelters in bus stands tells you the story of my city, and how the virus is affecting our lives, and our livelihoods, wherever you might be in the world.

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A bus stand in Versova, Mumbai, is converted into a temporary shelter for the homeless to quarantine and social distance in on April 5th, 2020. (Photo by Satyajit Desai / Mumbai Mirror)

SL Shanth Kumar’s shots Mumbai’s pride, the Queen’s Necklace, our Marine Drive – the most beautiful stretch of concrete, that languidly hugs 3.6kms of the Arabian Sea’s shoreline are breath taking. Gary Hershorn’s pictures of an empty Times Square and a lone Brooklyn Bridge in New York seem like the people have been photo-shopped out of it. Ollie Millington’s shots of the Shard skyscraper in London, lit up in blue in thanks and support of the National Health Service of the UK on March 28th as well as images of all landmarks in the US lighting up in blue from Boston to Vegas to thank their healthcare workers speak volumes of the intense work being done to contain the catastrophic virus everywhere.

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TD Garden is lit in blue on April 09, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts, to show support for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Right from the handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace of Queen Elizabeth II addressing the nation from Windsor Castle on April 5th in a special broadcast to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations pertaining to the virus outbreak to Abdel Ghani Bashir’s sombre image of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, devoid of any human life and movement, on March 5th is very telling of the Earth and the Universe calling time on humans.

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Queen Elizabeth II addresses the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in a special broadcast in relation to the Coronavirus outbreak at Windsor Castle on April 5, 2020 in Windsor, England.(Photo by Buckingham Palace via Getty Images)

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The white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba, inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, empty of worshippers on March 5th, 2020. Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage. (Photo by Abdel Ghani Bashir/AFP via Getty Images)

Lillian Suwanrumpha’s pictures of new-born babies in Bangkok, Thailand wearing mini face shields are as endearing as they are frightening of a new world, of a new reality upon us. The heart-wrenching photos taken by every news photographer, of India’s migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the lockdown, walking miles from cities to reach their homes in their villages tell you the story of India’s divided landscape of the haves and the have-nots – the have-nots that make up for the largest portion of our 1.3 billion people. Unsettling, but devastatingly true.

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A newborn baby wearing a face shield at Praram 9 Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand on April 9, 2020. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images)

Before Corona, advertisers paid top dollar to creative photography for digitally altered images of an empty Times Square or the Eiffel Tower for a fashion model to strike a pose against, but editorial news photography could never ever imagine shooting any architectural or historical landmark in the world, without people milling about in hundreds and thousands. I remember trying to take a frame in Beijing, China, of the Forbidden City without any people in it, and it was exhausting, and next to impossible! I cannot imagine not seeing the world with my own eyes, and I’m ever so grateful to my global community of photographers for bringing the evolving new world to us, at a personal cost to them that’s immeasurably invaluable, and very appreciated. This is art in motion, that’s unfolding every minute and every hour of every new day.

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Hagia Sophia and its surrounds are empty during a two-day lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on April 11, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Once there is some semblance of the familiar to our new world that none of us have any inkling of right now, there are some things that will have changed forever, that we will be seeing through the eyes of photographers and their cameras yet again. For instance, a picture of two people shaking hands or kissing in public will be a coveted, unusual image as will that of aeroplanes taking to the open skies again. We might just feel like one of the Wright brothers when they sent up their first plane into the sky! Public spaces with people jammed in or huddled closely will make for unusual imagery too as will sport stars greeting each other without backslaps and hugs on a playing field when the games come back on. Bollywood’s come hither song and dance routines and Hollywood’s sex sequences will smack of sanitized physicality at its creative best, or worst, we don’t know. Personal space will be big on behavioural social etiquette amongst the human race, and it will be a prized priority that will dictate relationships at home, and at work.

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Grounded British Airways planes at Cardiff Airport on March 25, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

We stand stripped of our acquired behavioural nuances, our excessive indulgences, our obsessions with power and control and in the adorning of our external selves, in our raw, bare skin – bereft of any mask, in our private spaces. This reaffirms that we are all the same, never mind if you’re black, white or brown – if you are human, then you’re a locked target for the virus. We need to stop saying that we are stuck at home, and wonder when life will go back to normal because firstly, how can you feel stuck or bored in your chosen space that you call home, that you have nurtured over the years to make it a home, and secondly, life is never going back to what is was – it’s like wishing we could go back to our babyhood and giggle and gurgle at inanities with our parents. The world pre Corona has ended as we knew it, and we will all emerge as one human race, altered forever in world that will have evolved since the first outbreak, whenever that might be.

NOTE: The photograph of the Versova quarantine shelter for the homeless in Mumbai shot by Satyajit Desai (Mumbai Mirror) have been used only after procuring rightful editorial consent and permissions.  

©Rubina A Khan 2020

RUBINA’S RADAR | THE SABYASACHI INTERVIEW

Sabyasachi is India’s most exalted fashion designer, and he knows that. But he’s not lost to his own nous in vanilla vanities and egotism, with the veneration around his fashion métier. Sabyasachi the person, remains grounded, but Sabyasachi the brand, has taken flight, kissing open skies, with the launch of Sabyasachi Jewellery on October 22, 2019 in Mumbai. Sabyasachi Jewelry is his first standalone jewellery store in the country, located three flights up from the Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing store in Kala Ghoda. His bridal collections have played the role of a bride’s confidant for two odd decades, but his jewelry, in his own words, has turned Sabyasachi into a girl’s best friend today. His business smarts have expanded the realms of his brand rather successfully as his couture loyalists can’t quite get enough of the bejeweled lust box he’s opened up. They’re now seeking appointments for couture and carats, both.
gettyimages-1194484606-2048x2048Life-sized giraffes, fresh red roses, vintage artefacts, armoires and furniture in brass and solid wood, glimmering chandeliers, floral carpets, velvet drapes, tchotchke, conversational wall art in Hindi and Arabic make up the grandiloquent design speak of the store, alongside his framed jewelry sketches, Chinese, African and Indian art and design collectibles.  In the artistic polarity of it all, the pièce de résistance are the gleaming emeralds, sapphires and rubies that seem to be telling stories of empresses and emperors of sovereign worlds gone by. Lilting American soul plays in the background at Sabyasachi Jewellery, which is in sharp contrast to the melancholic strains of Indian music that waft through his Sabyasachi Calcutta clothing stores across India. Invoking nostalgia is the couturier’s masterstroke, and it works.
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Edging steadily onto the global playing field with heterogeneous collaborations with Christian Louboutin (Paris) in 2015, Pottery Barn (USA) in 2016, L’Oreal Paris (France) in 2018 and Thomas Goode (UK) in 2019, Sabyasachi is an insatiable man, seeking immortality through his work. In a world where commitment is precious luxury, he’s the only Indian designer to have committed fans – a hallowed dominion so far reserved for Bollywood and cricket personalities in India. Sabyasachi can neither play cricket nor act, though at best, he thinks he’s a good mimic. And he is indeed.

Rubina A Khan converses with Bengal’s very own tiger, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, at Sabyasachi Jewellery in Mumbai:

The opening of Sabyasachi Jewellery is a portentous moment in Indian jewelry history. How are you feeling?
I feel relieved as the store is finally done – it took us about eight months to, actually not to do the store, but to collect everything, all the collectibles because I wanted Sabyasachi Jewellery to look like a modern museum…a bit of Indian art and craft, a bit of global craft, furniture from all over the world. We had a 16-foot Ming vase that had to hoisted up into the store through a crane as it couldn’t come through the elevator or the staircase. And I was very worried that it would break. It’s a very fragile, temperamental store. And I’m glad that the grand end worked out.
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What attracted you towards the business of making jewellery in an economy where clothing giants are shutting shop globally due to slack sales?
I have a theory that when the economy is down, people do what is called smart shopping – they don’t shop in depth; they shop in width, which means they buy new things. But they shop in exceptional width, which means they will buy something that is really important and something that is spectacular and I think my jewelry brand, Sabyasachi Jewellery has all of that to offer people.
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Are successful luxury brands like Sabyasachi Calcutta immune to the economic slowdown? Or do you think inherent brain genius and strategic marketing can override anything?
You know when there is a slowdown, like I said, people don’t stop spending money, they’re just careful about how they spend it.  And if you give exceptional value to them, no amount of marketing bullshit is going to help you override a failing economy. But if you give your customer great value and a unique, bespoke product, you will be able to convince them to spend their money.
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What made you invest your mind, and your own money into this opulent jewellery store?
When you sell important things, you have to give your customers respect. I think today, shopping for something that will stay with you probably for the rest of your life, because jewellery is not really perishable, the experience needs to also leave an indelible impression in your mind. It needs to create a beautiful experience, full of wonderment, that you’ll never forget. When you’re shopping for weddings or special occasions, where you shop and how you shop is as important as what you shop.
gettyimages-1194525486-2048x2048Do you have a favourite stone yet for your jewellery?
I love sapphires, yellow sapphires because old Indian jadau jewellery used to made with pukhraj, even white sapphires for that matter. I love rose cut diamonds – I love mutual cuts (old mine cuts) they are not brilliant cuts, so they have a little bit of softness and warmth in them – rounded and beautiful and soft. I don’t like jewellery with too much bling and shine as it takes the personality out of the jewellery. As us Indians have brown skin, I hate diamonds set in white gold because I think Indian people need warmth because it makes your face glow. When you wear diamonds set in white gold it makes your face ashen, but when you wear diamonds, actually mutual diamonds, which are slightly more softer, set in yellow gold, not rose gold… it just gives you that old world, rounded beauty. I think the problem with jewellery and stones in India is that people just want to blindly ape a tradition that has been created by the West and they don’t really buy what looks good on them. So if you ask me, I prefer stones with warmth that’s why I like sapphires. I don’t like the rubies that you find in the market right now, because once you start liking Burmese rubies, not even pigeon blood, the pomegranate color with a slight brown tinge in it, it’s like having good wine. It’s a one-way education and once you get exposed to good things in life, there’s no turning back.
gettyimages-1194495289-2048x2048Do you sketch your pieces like your clothes?
Absolutely. You can’t make mistakes with jewellery, but what I also do is that I keep my sketches in my jewellery very organic. A lot of jewellery is completely dependent on produce. When I make jewellery, I don’t assemble the piece till the last moment because there’s always a little tweaking, which I call the ‘Sabyasachi tweaking’ that I like to do. I’d love to combine emeralds which are expensive with aquamarines and turquoise, same color family, but with a huge difference in prices, or I’d like to put rock crystals and diamonds, which is a little unheard of, with white sapphires, all together because beautiful jewellery is also about audacity and courage. Otherwise you’re just one of the pack and that doesn’t interest me.

What is the most desirable piece of jewellery in the store? And what does this desirable piece of art sell at?
Desirable always doesn’t have to be very expensive. I am not a jewellery person – but it’s something that I would wear – it’s an old pendant, an old mutual cut diamond pendant with a single line of basra pearls and it’s not very expensive – it’s about INR 9.5 lakh, but it’s just so delicious and evolved. It’s like a character that comes without a pedigree, but someone that you’d love to marry and take back home because it’s just so special.
gettyimages-1194491248-2048x2048Are diamonds still a girl’s best friend?
Rubina, ask the ladies. Many of them tell me Sabya is a girl’s best friend.

How does it feel to be the biggest Indian designer brand, and perhaps the only one to succeed on the global playing field?
I don’t know if I am the most influential or the most popular, but I just know that I am onto something big in my life and I will work very hard till that dream comes true.

What would be the reason for you to seek outside investment in your company?
Strategy. I would never pick up investment for money because I think the business generates enough cash-flow for us to be able to fund ourselves for the next 20 years and grow. But, I am not going to be there forever, so I want to consolidate this business in such a way that it lives far beyond my lifetime. Nandana Sen had given me an issue of Vogue for my birthday, a 1920 issue I think… 150 odd pages and the only name I recognised in it was Tiffany and I realised that in 100 years, so many brands have come and gone, and I don’t want that to happen to my brand. I love the way Chanel has been built beyond Coco Chanel’s lifetime and I think that I’ll find my own Karl Lagerfeld along the way who’s going to take the business from me, to future generations.
gettyimages-1194478437-2048x2048You’ve reached a stage where your creativity is not dependent or driven by money anymore. So what makes you chase the next new collaboration or expand your revenues streams with your creative energies?
I want to grow the business in such a way that it can help consolidate craft and create a lot of employment, and also probably help communities and enable us make the world a better place to live in. The beautiful thing about being in design is the fact that you create tremendous positive inspiration for people; you create hope. Beautiful design makes people happy and there’s a big debate about whether so much is necessary or not, but I think as long as you can create a brand that inspires people to become better versions of themselves, you should keep growing and that’s how I want to grow Sabyasachi Calcutta.

You’re the dream couture designer, definitely in India. Having seen so many blushing brides and grooms, do you know what the color of love is? Or what it even feels like?
Well, they say that the color of love is Sabaysachi red but I am just being arrogant! But I’ll you, I am personally touched by love every day of my life because I am a very positive person. Love does not have to come from one person. It can come from everything that you touch and everything you do and everything that I imbibe around me. I am a very loved person is all I’ll say.
gettyimages-1194480317-2048x2048Would you describe yourself as a ruthless businessman who loves the arts but is uninhibited and unabashed about stating and claiming his creative price?
I don’t know if I would call myself ruthless, but I would probably call myself exacting. And when you call yourself exacting, a lot of people label you ruthless. I wouldn’t have it any other way actually, because for me, if I have to do something I have to do it well or I wouldn’t do it at all. There’s no price to my creativity – I would do something for you if I was inspired enough to do it. Money is inconsequential for me, but of course, the money that we charge, if it helps us create something that can build a larger community or create bigger businesses that employ more and more people, it’s very exciting. For a lot of people who think that because I make such lavish clothing and jewels, truth be told, I wear a lot of simple clothes. Money is just a number for me and it feels great to make money, because in many ways it is a marker of success. But I don’t do things for money. I do things for growth – tangible and intangible. And intangible growth is far more important to me.
gettyimages-1194477822-2048x2048Given your heart and soul are not for sale by what you just said, what would you sell your brain for?
I’d sell my brain for a minority stake at Apple or a majority stake at Amazon!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2019

Indian Real Estate Has A Toxic Problem | Gulf News

The cardinal constituent in realty is location and it has been dictating the price index and value of developments, with unmatched absoluteness. But that seems to be going up in the air now, quite literally, in India. The hazardous concentrations of particulate pollution that engulfed Mumbai in November this year, measured a PM 2.5 of 320. But Delhi witnessed a PM 2.5 of above 900, that was way beyond the maximum of 500 and went into “extreme mode” terrain, compelling the government to declare a public health emergency in the capital.

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Red Fort in New Delhi | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images

When inhaled, PM 2.5 affects the human body’s natural defence, going deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, causing serious health disorders like asthma and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Clean air and water is a constitutional human right, but that right seems to have been drowned out by the drilling drone of the innumerable developments and their construction dust, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions that make up the toxicity in the air. State governments ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders to limit agricultural burning isn’t helping either, endangering human lives even further.

Air quality is the new “prime location” and health is the new “amenity” that people are starting to look at when it comes to real estate today, not just an exclusive address or city. It is their lives at stake after all. ‘What good is buying a home in an elite neighbourhood in a metropolis that will leave you breathless’ is the common refrain in India since. The address people choose to buy in, or rent in, needs to be healthy and fit for human living, and conducive to their mental health and overall well-being, not herald a life ahead with disease and hospital bills. Sustainable is the word of 2019 – forget the fashion industry being the biggest pollutant globally – it has come down to sustaining human life in India in 2020 with fresh air and water and taking measures to rein it in. Instead of developers selling spaces highlighting the ‘heart’ of a city, it’s time they advertised the ‘lungs’ of a city to get people to buy.

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Peddar Road in Mumbai | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images

Newer realty developments are definitely hit with the unprecedented pollution levels in Delhi, and it will be a detriment going forward in 2020 for buys in the capital. Mumbai is not far behind either. Unless of course, the deals are lucratively priced to lure people in, with the promise of fresh air and improved Air Quality Index by the government. Non-Resident-Indians have a choice to wait it out and not invest in India till the air clears up, especially the ones living in the United States, that has some of the cleanest air in the world, but do resident Indians have a choice? Not really, barring buying homes in Goa and Rishikesh and that is quite indicative of the buying trend in 2020 for resident Indians.

Indian realty is obviously unprepared for the AQI factor that will very soon be a dominant determiner for property buys and sells in the country. After all the regulatory laws that shook up the business since 2016, this is another deterrent for the sector, especially with the large unsold inventories in the country. A war on pollution needs to commence in India now to accord  its taxpaying citizens a basic human right to breathe clean air and stay healthy.

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Lonavla | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images

2019 saw the introduction of the Model Tenancy Act 2019 as part of the first budget of the second term of the Narendra Modi government. Like its earlier reformist counterpart, RERA, introduced in 2016, the Model Tenancy Act 2019 too reads great on paper, but has yet to step up on accelerating the implementation of the same. I see an Air Quality Act being passed in 2020 but then again, it’s the implementation of it that looks hazy, just like the Mumbai and Delhi skies right now.  

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on December 13, 2019

Thank you AD Kilachand and Bina Ramani for your time and thoughts. 

©Rubina A Khan 2019

RUBINA’S RADAR | FASHION DESIGN COUNCIL OF INDIA’S QUATERNITY FINALE AT LMIFW SS 2020

The Spring Summer 2020 edition of India Fashion Week, presented by the Fashion Design Council of India, culminated with a grand finale on the 12th of October, 2019 at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi. Rajesh Pratap Singh, Manish Arora, Schulen Fernandes for Wendell Rodricks and Anamika Khanna made up the finale quaternity that was as disparate a show as it was a rousing one.

All four designers showcased lines that were quintessentially reflective of their unequivocal fashion nucleus. Actor Kangana Ranaut broke Rodricks’ tribal whites and blues, Khanna’s embroidered conglomerations, Singh’s effervescent fluoro pops and Arora’s pink-dominant psychedelic synchronisation, in a black and white number, with leather accessories. Ranaut’s runway strut in the crisp ensemble lent the very coveted Bollywood sheen to the inherent shimmer of the polki diamonds around her neck.

Getting them to close an inclusive week (four days actually!) of fashion together, was spearheaded by Sunil Sethi, President of the FDCI. “I feel it worked out well. It is difficult to please everyone but LMIFW SS 20 was definitely a success. I am very happy,” said an obviously elated Sethi from Bhutan, where he’s keeping royal company with the ruling family of the mountain kingdom.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – OCTOBER 12: Schulen Fernandes, Anamika Khanna, Wendell Rodricks, Kangana Ranaut, Sunil Sethi, Nitin Passi, Manish Arora, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Dipin Passi at the Lotus Make-Up India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2020 Finale presented by the FDCI on October 12, 2019 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

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NEW DELHI, INDIA – OCTOBER 12: Kangana Ranaut at the Lotus Make-Up India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2020 Finale presented by the FDCI on October 12, 2019 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images)

Inclusivity, with the hashtag MyFashionMyTribe sent out an assured energy to everyone that fashion is really about you exercising your power to express yourself just the way you are, and want to, without any fear or inhibitions. Every kind of person was celebrated by the designers on the runway in their collections – acid burn victims, curves, transgender… and that is really what the world is rightfully leaning in towards, steadily.

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Here is the FDCI presented Lotus MakeUp India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2020 finale in pictures:

SCHULEN FERNANDES FOR WENDELL RODRICKS

RAJESH PRATAP SINGH

ANAMIKA KHANNA

MANISH ARORA

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2019

RUBINA’S RADAR | INDIAN FASHION’S NEW CURRENCY – COUTURE CARATS

This month has been rather august for Sabyasachi with his jewellery line pulling in some colossal coin for the fashion house. And, I am not using the word ‘colossal’ airily here. An exhibition of heritage and fine jewellery by Sabyasachi, comprising of gold, uncut and fine diamonds and coloured stones was held at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel (a favourite Taj of mine!) in Mumbai on the 13th & 14th of August, 2019. Over the two day exhibit, the jewellery sales brought in an unexpected and staggering double digits for the label. “We had good sales at the jewellery exhibit, but it’s not dignified for us to flaunt figures and it’s not a good business practice either,” says Sabyasachi.

Ever since he launched his jewellery line, it has compelled every fashion designer in India to view diamonds and precious stones with a design perspective, never mind the naysaying and economic slowdown whinging all around. Sabyasachi brides and grooms now have the added luxury of getting their bridal dreams realised in totality, in both fabric and stones, at any one of his flagship stores across India. And with the high numbers that the Mumbai jewellery exhibit brought in, it goes without saying that Sabyasachi definitely knows how to pull his weight not just in khadi and chiffons, but in molten gold and diamonds too! And his loyalists are only queuing up for more.

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Sabyasachi Heritage Jewellery | Photo: Sabyasachi Instagram 

Emboldened by the response to his private jewellery viewings over the past two years and the multiple city exhibits across India this year, the couturier is now ready to open his first jewellery store, situated on the third level of his flagship store in Kala Ghoda in the festive quarter of 2019 in Mumbai. If the bejewelled whispers are anything to go by, the store will be a blinding sight to behold.

Manish Malhotra, fresh off Maahrumysha, a shimmering velveteen of an alluring show, that kicked off Lakme Fashion Week’s Winter/Festive 2019 edition, is launching his new jewellery line this year. Malhotra’s show on August 20th at Famous Studios, Mumbai had models wearing Raniwala 1181 jewels on the runway, including his showstopper, actor Katrina Kaif, and some of his favoured Bollywood front row regulars and social lights. It was a lucent teaser of what is to come from his jewellery design board.

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Katrina Kaif in Manish Malhotra’s Maahrumysha line | Photo: Katrina Kaif’s Instagram

“I have been carrying a Raniwala 1881 line, curated by me, in my Mumbai store since August 3rd, 2019, with some pieces at the Delhi store. But our next collection together will be the one I am designing for them. I chose to collaborate with Raniwala 1881 as they have years of expertise behind them, making genuine, good quality jewels,” says Malhotra of his upcoming jewellery line that will be available come November 2019.

Not one to conform to perform, Tarun Tahiliani is not launching an eponymous jewellery line this season, but he intends to. Having had a peripheral jewellery collection in the past, not a full-fledged one per se, he is serious about launching one going forward.

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Tarun Tahiliani’s Tarakanna couture collection | Photo: Rubina A Khan

“I am always wary of selling things that I can’t verify unless there is a buyback guarantee. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people who are buying things that are not what they claim to be. The problem lies in the quality of coloured stones and heating versus natural and the like. So I approached the World Gold Council as they took the guarantee, and they also have a buyback guarantee with the person I dabble and work with. Only if the World Gold Council and the Gold Standard have certified something, will I lend my name to it. My reputation and brand integrity are of paramount importance to me and if I don’t have the necessary tools to verify something, I don’t want to sell it bearing my name,” says Tahiliani.

As far as jewellery lines go, not surprisingly, Rohit Bal has been there and done that. “I’ve done a jewellery line before, though it wasn’t an entire collection. And I am not saying no to launching one either in the coming months,” says Bal of a possible jewellery collection.

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A model in Rohit Bal couture | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Given that India’s biggest couturiers have successfully launched their own jewellery collections, or are planning to soon, it won’t be long before every designer in the country will be selling a bridal outfit, replete with its own essential accoutrements in couture carats. No doubt some of them will be decidedly questionable on the couture and carat fronts, but it definitely won’t be a deterrent for any designer aspiring to follow the successful business expansion models of India’s biggest couture houses in a bid to rise up in the fashion ranks.

Jewellery collaborations have always been a part of India’s bridal business, but couture carat collections seem to be the new fashion currency for Indian designers. In a business that is as plagiarised with a knock-off on every street as it is, designing couture carats is a fiscally viable way forward, complementing their couture collections. Couture and carats designed by your favourite designer is a win-win for everyone. Brides and grooms couldn’t ask for more now or could they?

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2019