India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
May 16, 2009

Ladies of Luxe

Text by Sohiny Das. Photographed by Kaustav Saikia. Styling by Sohiny Das. Make-up and hair courtesy: Reshma Sambtani, Juice Salon, Kolkata.

In a bungalow bari live babus in starched dhutis. And tant sari-clad boudis with big red bindis – their house keys jingling jangling in harmony with the clink of bangles. Tradition, culture, Rabindrasangeet and paan. All this is still Kolkata, but there is also the modern, urban, cosmopolitan side. Verve and Louis Vuitton present the glamorous side of Kolkata – ladies who lunch, wine and dine. Verve learns more about their work, travels, spa addictions, indulgent husbands, canine appreciation, adult babysitting and wardrobe envy over many a tête-à-tête

Happy hippy
Ekta Puri, Hotelier

Ekta Puri has a large and extended family. Initially, it comprised only of her mother and sister (“my baby and best friend”). “Unfortunately, I lost my father when I was only five,” she tells us. Two years ago, a husband was added, and along with him came another set of parents and a sibling. “The term ‘in-law’ really doesn’t exist for me,” she says. “They are my Mom, Dad and Sis.” And hubby? “Vikram is more my boyfriend than a husband, even after two years of marriage,” she laughs. There are more in the parivaar. “Finally, my four dogs – Spencer, Stanley, Oliver and Marcus, who are an integral part of my life.”

Family tradition extends into work. “My father was an hotelier, and my mother works with the tourism department of the Government of West Bengal,” she gives us the history. “Vikram is an investment banker by profession, but he quit working at Wall Street to move back to India and is now an hotelier.” Ekta joined in, changing career track. “I am actually trained to be a film maker, but am currently playing the role of an hotelier,” says the lady with a master’s degree from New York
Film Academy.

Their properties in Kolkata and Agra, and a home in Delhi keep them shuttling between the three cities. Travel is not just a necessity, but a passion. “I am an obsessive globetrotter,” she admits. “I take off to travel whenever I get time. I love exploring.” Wanderlust also leads to another kind of lust. “Of course there is the eternal hunger for shoes!” she rationalises. “But I don’t have a guide book on how to dress. Comfort comes first, and I like the minimalist look. I can shop from flea markets or Harrods.” Trips to New York and London mean returning with goodies from Dior, Gucci, Alberta Ferreti and Louis Vuitton. “I love the exclusivity of LV. I associate with their new, fresh look, symbolising youth power and zest.” In India, she likes Gauri and Nainika. “I love dressing to seasons, and in Delhi, fortunately, I get winter.”

She keeps returning to Kolkata for home comfort and the food. “This is a city for foodies,” she states the obvious. “The street food culture rocks, especially the puchhkas!” Though she is warmed by the hospitality of the people, she is irked by the work culture. “Sometimes, it’s too laid back.” Not compatible with all her energy, but she channels it towards improving and maintaining the Astor hotel and its Plush lounge.

Films are not a bye bye, though. “I see myself working in my own production house,” she envisions her future. “Planning is already in progress.” She wants to continue helping in the hotel business, simultaneously. “As for personal life, I am looking towards building a family of my own,” she says, before adding, “And soon having double the number of dogs that I already have now!”

Knock on woof!

Flower child
Dimple Fouzdar, Homemaker

Sorry for saying this but Kolkata has no sense of style at all,” Dimple Fouzdar laments. “The glam quotient is zilch! The so called local celebrities are fashion disasters, and no effort goes into the way people dress here.” This statement may prick many a fierce Kolkatan, but there is truth in her words. The ethno arty handloom brigade dominates the city’s social and fashion scenario, mostly reluctant to venture away from the safety of über forgiving traditional shapes and styles. “Brand consciousness is just about beginning here and we have a long way to go.”

Dimple is a shining (also buffed and glowing) example of designer glamour – a rare specimen in the city – easily noticeable at gatherings. The owner of an enviable wardrobe has no qualms about proclaiming herself as a label lover. “Unbranded just doesn’t work for me, as the cuts and fits of international designers are perfect.” The “compulsive shopaholic” receives “a high” from buying beautiful things, especially from retail Meccas like London, San Francisco and Milan. “I don’t like experimenting too much,” she says. “I know what suits me and I stick to that.” Alberta Ferreti, Hervé Léger, Dior and BCBG Max Azria dresses are complemented by accessories from Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton. “LV is classic, timeless, and also very hardy,” she observes, while showing us her collection.

Having an indulgent husband like Partho Dey helps, of course. “He wants me to have a good time. I am really lucky to have him,” she gushes. “But he is the ultimate brand junkie! Louis Vuitton is his favourite.” The two travel a lot, with Bangkok, London, Dubai, Delhi and Mumbai being frequent pit stops. “I have to be away from Kolkata for at least 10 days a month,” Dimple tells us. “This city has always been home, but somehow, I could never connect with it. My husband’s work keeps us based here.”

But there are other reasons to stay. Her two “children”, Toffee the pug and Fendi the chihuaha are her pride and joy, and she cannot stop pampering and fawning over them. Husband and pooches apart, Dimple’s other loves are painting, health and wellness. “I am a fitness buff and a spa addict. So, half my day is spent at the spa or at the gym, almost every day.” I recall many phone conversations with her huffing and puffing on the other end, and I had guessed accurately that she was on the treadmill.

Though Dimple hopes to shift her base from Kolkata in future, she likes her relaxed and non-hassled lifestyle. “It is amazingly blissful at the moment,” she speaks like a flower child. “I do want to work in the coming years, but right now, it’s fun time!”

Bohemian diva
Rima de Mortemart, International Communications Consultant

My husband Alexandre’s family – de Mortemart – is the oldest French family going back to 980 AD.” Rima de Mortemart’s words pique my interest. A millennium old (and traceable) ancestry is not something that everyone can boast of. I am no genealogist, but I take her word (actually a torrent of words which do not all register at one go, and I struggle like a cat in water). “You must visit me in Paris,” she insists, and also insists that we open a bottle of wine before we shoot her, to “create the mood”. I am mortified. We are already two hours behind schedule! With masterful (and stressful) psychology which could be groundbreaking research in ‘mollify children studies’, I get her to perch on her gorgeous, vintage monogrammed Louis Vuitton suitcase. “Click away please,” I whisper to my photographer, “And fast!”

Rima is certainly a force of nature, albeit a “Bohemian” one, with a “sense of adventure” and once you get past the la-di-da, a cheeky sense of humour. (“I am guilty of watching music videos on my BlackBerry during corporate presentations!” or “Please Photoshop out the fat from my thighs” or “I was just working you up to see if you cope” – the last one being after my patient mollycoddling to get my shot!) The international communications consultant works with a French company, and dabbles in the study of art, sketching, tennis and recycling plastic as part of an environmental project. “Playing this uplifts a bad mood any day,” she says, pointing at her beautiful cottage piano. Ah, the essential vintage Kolkata life! What is a posh Bengali home without a piano?

Her larger than life personality is not the only thing that Rima has inherited from her mother; there are also vintage treasures from Dior, Balenciaga and a host of other names. Recent additions have been dresses from Roland Mouret, Adezzine Alaia’s tailored separates and Giussepe Zanotti shoes. “The cut and fit get primary importance for a curvaceous figure like mine.” (She is not averse to flaunting her curves, by the way.) She is drawn to discreetly luxurious European and Japanese designers – sans instantly recognizable logos, but those are a true fashionista’s secret aces.

A second home in Paris and her travel-heavy lifestyle prohibits long stays in Kolkata, “a city shrouded with decadence, yet there is a vibrant spirit in the local people and intellectual acumen.” Where else can you “party all night and then visit the Kali temple in the morning?” Also enjoy the excellent dishes created by her cook, whom she ‘rescued’ from an interesting but sad past. Her generosity is not put on, but genuine (whether with more offerings of wine to us or large tips to her help). And she has her opinions and ideas about most things in life. From “This is boring! Let’s have some fun and go French with the photos!” to “I want to find a solution for flood victims in Bengal and be involved with primary education”– I am guessing that life with Rima can never be boring!

Pedigree princess
Parvana Babaycon, Image Consultancy Founder

There is an aura of calm about Parvana Babaycon, but the petite young lady is a quiet force, projecting a forward thinking maturity that belie her years. The founder of Optimum Image Institute, a city based consultancy firm “specialising in personal branding, professional and corporate grooming, and also fashion makeovers”, Parvana is set to take family tradition to the next level. Her grandmother Threety Irani is a renowned beautician and salon owner in the city, while her mother Nilufer Babaycon runs a certified academy for beauticians. “They are a constant source of inspiration, as they are entrepreneurs who have always emphasised strong family values,” she says. “I wanted to add value to the vision that they have worked towards for the past three decades, of helping women to look and feel beautiful and empowering them to be independent.”

In a city where most confuse trends with style, while others are clueless regarding what suits them, Parvana spots a gap in the grooming market. The trained and internationally affiliated image consultant realises that it will take time to popularise this more advanced and technical concept than run of the mill ‘grooming schools’ around the corner. But she is optimistic and prepared to slog. “We work towards spreading awareness and setting high standards,” she says. “A lot of our clients are initially unaware, but as we deal with more people, my conviction in how we can help individuals and companies keeps getting stronger.”

She likes to embody the qualities that she propagates; thus, being particular about her appearance comes naturally. “Fashion to me is very personal. My style is refined, elegant and feminine,” she tells us. “I am intense about garments and accessories that I choose from budding designers or established houses.” Partial to Elie Saab for dresses, Giorgio Armani for suits and Louis Vuitton for handbags, Parvana appreciates precision and elegance in creation. She likes scouring the stores in Dubai, Singapore and Delhi, as she travels to these cities quite often.

But home is where the heart is. “I love Kolkata for its sense of architecture, the people and their customs,” she speaks of her city. But she has a complaint. “I detest our total disregard for the environment. Our river and air are highly polluted. Our garbage disposal methods are outdated. Piles of rubbish lie on the street and industrial wastes flow into the Hoogly.” Time for a metro makeover. Point noted.

Growing up in a home filled with artefacts, Parvana is also passionate about art and sculptures, and is keen to be a collector. “I recently purchased a copper and semiprecious stone artwork by an Iranian artist. It shows a bird flying over waves which gradually get bigger,” she describes. “It depicts that to find real love, one must overcome big hurdles.”

Classy belle
Namrata Ray, Events and Entertainment Manager

Everyone in the city knows Namrata Ray ‘of The Park’. It has somewhat become her tag, but she is not complaining. “It’s a great job that involves equal measures of networking and brainstorming, with a serious dollop of stress!” she says with a smile. The legendary hotel has been the pulse of the city for decades – the party hub – hosting various events in an almost non-stop schedule throughout the year. Thus, Namrata’s unpredictable and demanding work routine requires her to be perpetually poised and gracious, traits that she has mastered over half a decade as ‘The Face’ of The Park in Kolkata.

She is vocal about her love for the city. “My opinion is that if you don’t love Kolkata then you just don’t know the right people.” People make places, true, but it is easier for her to say, since this has always been home. With her father from an old tea family, an interior designer mother and a fashion designer (also “dreamer and philanthropist”) sister, the family is an enterprising lot. “They are a miscellaneous mix of extraordinary people,” she tells us. “I am the only normal one!”

Style lessons began at home. “I admire my grandmother for her unabashed vanity, my sister for the lack of it, and my mother for her incomparable beauty,” Namrata speaks of her influences. Simple elegance rules for her. “No over-accessorisation or over-embellishment for me.” Classic cuts in good fits dominate wardrobe space. “Satya Paul and Ritu Kumar for saris. My sister Priyanjali Ray’s dresses for a night out. Among international labels, I love Fendi, Armani and Louis Vuitton.” Subtlety is important, so no screaming logos here. “While I love labels, I hate to look like labels!” Even her prized, vintage Vuitton handbags are monotone, sans prints or monograms.

Though Namrata loves living in the “laid back” city, she visits Mumbai frequently “for work and play”. For longer holidays and shopping, “nothing compares to London! You can get the coolest shoes on Carnaby Street, if you know where to look.” But she will soon relocate to Canada, as her Latin American fiancée Alex works with the Canadian Government, and is settled there. More information please. “Basketball and weird foreign films get him all charged up,” she says, with an indulgent shake of her head, before clamming up.

As a new place and a new life await, does she have any visions regarding her future? This gets her pondering. “I want to be well balanced,” she says, thoughtfully. “A beautiful home with my husband and kids, a successful career and my peace of mind.”

Our fingers are crossed for you, Namrata.

Rooted fashionista
Shradha Murarka, Creative Director

Shradha Murarka, the soft spoken creative director of Kolkata based fashion and retail house Vizyon is rather camera shy. “Please don’t go too funky with my styling.” I assure that I will not pull a Manish Arora on her, and her initial hesitance and awkwardness soon dissolve.

Shradha has steadily taken on an active role in her husband Ayush Murarka’s company, involving herself in the various aspects of design, sourcing and surveys. It is a family run venture; therefore work and home overlap considerably. “We are a close knit family comprising my parents-in-law, my husband, my seven-year-old son Shashwat and myself,” she tells us. “We all live and work together.” The advantage of having someone cover for the other person during absences is great, and mutual support ensures a smoother business. Inspiration also comes from home. “My mother-in-law is my icon for style, personality and work ethics,” she says. The ideal saas-bahu pair? Real life inspiration for reel life.

A company office in Europe and market research require her to accompany Ayush during his frequent travels. “But I also enjoy some quality time with my husband,” she says with a smile. Nothing like business cum pleasure trips to give you value for money. Romance therapy equals soul therapy equals retail therapy. “I shop at Theresa in Munich, Colette in Paris and Via Montenapoleone in Milan,” Shradha informs us. “I also wear a lot of Vizyon.” Elegance must marry comfort in her personal dressing, and this reflects in the company’s designs as well.

A wardrobe full of designer dresses requires shoes to match and she admits to splurging more on footwear. “I have a shoe fetish,” she confesses. As proof, she lets me have a peek at her shoe closet, which is a haven of numerous delectable pairs. “I love my new wedges from Barbara Bui!” she exclaims with childlike enthusiasm. “Travel allows me to purchase separate summer and winter footwear, as some designs are seasonally restrictive.” For handbags, she invests in timeless quality. “Louis Vuitton is classic,” she states. “LV is just The bag and not just the It bag.” We agree.

Global, yet traditional, Shradha remains “rooted” to Kolkata, the place where she was born, raised and married. Vizyon supports a city NGO called Kolkata Swasthya Sankalp, and she views it as a way to give back. “This city offers me much warmth and joy. It has a strong soul and culture,” she says, loyally. “It is a base of creativity and talent which we have fully embraced in our life and our work.”

Holistic creator
Komal Sood, Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur

My nose is crooked. So please photograph me from a favourable angle,” requests Komal Sood. With the grace and poise that she possesses, no angle seems ‘unfavourable’. Plus her nose is not crooked, and I tell her so. Appeased, the tall and slender former Miss India International poses for our camera quite effortlessly, and we wrap up sooner than we had anticipated.

Winning the pageant in 1991 roused her interest in fashion, and coincidentally, she married into a fashion family. “My husband Ratul has interests in real estate, but also runs an accessories business,” she tells us. “His parents own a successful retail chain called Burlingtons of Kolkata, having stores in India’s major cities.” Komal, herself, has two labels under her – ‘Komal Sood’ and ‘Kyra’– creating ethnic ensembles, as well as chic, fun prêt.

“We all bond at work and it is a good journey as a family.” She hastens to add, “Touch wood!”

Being “a proud army child” and constantly on the move until her marriage, Komal’s exposure to various places and cultures has “nourished and moulded my free-spirited personality”. Somewhat holistic, her philosophy is simple. “The only thing constant in life is change. I live by the positive mantra.” A balanced lifestyle is supported by the guidance of her gurus from the Bihar school of yoga. “I also like adventure travel – hiking, diving, biking. In future, I want a lot more of that.”
Travel is second nature, for work and pleasure. Delhi, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Paris and Milan are places to catch up with friends and family. Shopping is imperative. “Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga in Milan,” she lists. “In Paris, I head to Le Bon Marché and Rue Saint Honoré. In Hong Kong, I explore the local young fashion.” Describing herself as “fit, sporty and chic”, Komal loves her denims from True Religion and Diesel. Dresses and accessories from Miu Miu, D&G, Shanghai Tang and Louis Vuitton are also treasured. “It is not what you wear, but how you wear it. Attitude and outlook count.”

The mother of two juggles work, travel, family and personal wellness – quite a task, but her management skills are admirable. Despite a successful career and supportive family, Komal still cannot “belong” to Kolkata. “It’s too chaotic a city,” she points out. “But a great place to bring up children. The country club-life infrastructure is fantastic.” Someday, though, she wants to build her own health spa resort by the sea and live there.  “I want to go away and educate myself more,” she says, wistfully. “Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am not so free…”

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