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February 21, 2016

Confessions of an Unapologetic Mall-Rat

Text by Riaan Jacob George. Photographs by Tejal Pandey and Prateek Patel

One man breaks free of gender stereotypes to indulge in what he loves most — shopping

Here’s my chance to lobby against blatant sexism. “Treating oneself to a day out at the mall is usually the preserve of the female gender” is a repulsively sexist statement that I hear so often. I couldn’t disagree more. And, in today’s day and age, the belief that a ‘day out at the mall’ is an unmentionably feminine activity is a fallacy. From the looks of it, 21st century gentlemen across the country are becoming unapologetic mall rats and I couldn’t be happier about this trend. Leading the pack of the label-obsessed, fashion-conscious, dapper brigade, is yours truly, breaking away from the shackles of outdated gender stereotypes.

So here I am, comfortably seated in a quiet corner of the 212 All Day Cafe & Bar, sniffing the heady aroma of a double espresso, before I proceed to knock back the contents of my demitasse. My task at hand today, is to scout through Phoenix Marketcity Kurla, in the style of a fashion-obsessed Grooming Guru, enjoying a few hours of pure indulgence, and proving to the world that shopping is an art that even a gentleman can — and must — cultivate. As I savour the New York-style baked cheesecake, I can’t help but look outside the cafe, at the mall, spread out before me. It is an endless labyrinth of my favourite things in the world — clothes and accessories, grooming essentials, gizmos, coffee and food. Just before I leave, I chart out a course of action for the afternoon, and some key stores that I’d like to visit. My confessions start here.

But first, a little pampering never hurt anybody — after all, I can’t possibly be trying on piqué polos and chambray shirts looking ill-kempt. First stop, the Juice salon. I get my hair snipped, my sideburns tidied up and my beard trimmed to perfection. Sunil, my stylist, slaps on a bit of Tigi Bed Head Matte Separation Wax to add a bit of texture to my hair and, with a friendly slap on my back, packs me off for my shopping mission. Confession: I just pampered myself silly.

Sufficiently primped, I go in search of basic denims and, as I discovered, the Celio store has the best collection in the house. I have been a loyal patron of this quintessentially Parisian brand for over 15 years and I find that their minimalist, trendy, easy-to-wear creations are perfectly suited to Indian men. After years of patronising the tried and tested denim brands, it was only recently that I learnt that Celio has a very strong and high-quality denim offering. This season, Celio’s stretch denims get my vote for the best denims in the market, and that’s exactly what I got myself today, choosing from a huge floor-to-ceiling denim wall, with an impressive selection of styles and colours. Confession: I just bought myself two pairs of jeans — one stretch, the other regular.

Next stop: the Red Fleece by Brooks Brothers store. In terms of decor, this preppy-meets-nautical chic space is one of my favourites in the city. The store is dotted with vintage paraphernalia and quirky bric-a-brac including old photo frames, vintage wooden racks, a quilted leather couch and sports trophies dotting the space. I’m here to shop for a few essentials for the ongoing horse racing season. Fuelled by the dilemma of what I will sport at the upcoming Derby, I longingly browse through the collection, dominated by preppy hues of navy, light blue, grey, white, red and the likes. I pick a sports jacket, a chambray shirt and a polka dotted bow-tie, paired with a pair of simple beige chinos, the perfect daytime look to call the bets. Interestingly, I am particularly fond of this Red Fleece store as I find it to be an easier, lighter and younger version of the more formal, high-end offering of the regular Brooks Brothers line. Confession: I think I’m ready for derby season.

What good is a Grooming Guru, if he doesn’t scout the mall for the best grooming products? I succumbed to the charm of the earthy aromas wafting from the Forest Essentials store, where an elegant sari-clad store attendant talked me through the collection. I found myself mesmerised by this homegrown luxury brand’s range of lotions and potions, trying to figure out which ones would best suit me. I picked up a few of my staples like the Ayurvedic hair cleansers, shower gels and fragrant powders. I was happy to learn that Forest Essentials has an entire men’s range, with products such as shaving creams, facial cleansers, after shave sprays and a face moisturiser, all under the Sandalwood & Orange Peel fragrance range. Products by Forest Essentials stand out with their quality and are characterised by their inherent Indianness, which is what convinces me to pay a premium over other grooming brands. That said, if an Indian luxury brand’s offering is of such good quality, I have no reason but to buy it. Confession: I’ve stepped out with a bagful of grooming products, and I smell like a spa.

As I walk through the mall, my first reflex, an obvious occupational hazard, is to scour for ongoing trends in the collections of each brand. This season, my pick for the brand with the strongest trend stories is the Italian fashion giant United Colors of Benetton, who seem to be the dark horses of Indian high-street fashion, consistently improving their offering, season after season. This season, I have been particularly impressed by their denims, their basics, their houndstooth motifs and staggering selection of jackets. An often overlooked aspect of Benetton’s offerings is their footwear, which, in my opinion, merits a few minutes in my mall-rat itinerary. Confession: I just bought myself a few more basics.

And of course, there are the usual suspects that I make my mandatory visits to — Gant for their ginghams, Tommy Hilfiger for printed boxers, Jack & Jones for some graphic tees, GAS for some denim shirts and I’m good to go.

The day whizzed past me like a flash of lightning. I’ve plonked myself into an armchair at Dublin Square, a gorgeous courtyard lined with cafes and restaurants, which cuts me off from the noisy buzz of the mall. I feel like I’ve stepped into a European town square, what with all the cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. I could get used to this life.  Enjoying this haven of peace and tranquility, I sip on yet another espresso, and gleefully rummage through my shopping bags. That’s when I think to myself…

Maybe it’s time for me to head back to Juice for a pedicure, to soothe my aching heels. One last dose of indulgence before I call it a day.
Confession: I am a mall-rat and as a modern, 21st century Mumbai boy, I wear my shopping list on my sleeve.

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