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April 26, 2018

A Fine Equilibrium: Radhika Poddar Of Cinnamon

Text by Tina Dastur. Photographs by Pallon Daruwala

Bengaluru-based lifestyle store Cinnamon shows how a shopping experience can often be as much about the ambience, interiors and decor as it is about the products. Founder Radhika Poddar lets us in on how her boutique has become the definitive destination for all things related to fashion and art

Founded close to two decades ago, in 1999, by Radhika Poddar — wife of art collector and founder of Tasveer Gallery, Abhishek Poddar — Bengaluru-based lifestyle store Cinnamon has become a sort of tourist attraction for those with a discerning eye, stocking everything from clothes and jewellery to home linen and kitchenware. Cinnamon is even known to host many an interesting art exhibition, in addition to exciting fashion showcases by some of the country’s upcoming designers. Housed in a colonial bungalow (built sometime in the 1890s) that previously served as an orphanage in the quiet bylanes of Ulsoor, Cinnamon stocks both vintage and contemporary products by niche brands that are classic in design and timeless in appeal. What’s more, the back of the bungalow is home to standalone spaces for brands like Raw Mango, Almirah and Sacred Lotus, among others. The property also houses the quaint Cafe Cassia & Deli in its courtyard, which offers visitors the opportunity to grab some coffee and enjoy a meal after they are through browsing the expansive space.

Excerpts from an interview with Radhika Poddar:

On how Cinnamon came to be “Two decades ago, the Indian market was a completely different place, and it was very hard to come by contemporary designs in the lifestyle sector. Cinnamon was born out of a desire for a retail space that would sell the kind of products that I was looking for — products for home and lifestyle, with an Indian aesthetic, but which were driven by a strong sense of modern design values. Cinnamon is a spice that entices more than one sense, with its unique taste, smell and texture. So, we thought it would be an appropriate and fitting name for a store that customers would find appealing in more than one sense.”

On how interiors can impact sales “In much the way that window displays revolutionised the nature of shopping in the industrial age, the arrangement and display of a store space is particularly significant to the experience of shopping and engaging the customer in the age of the internet. An interestingly-done-up space is both welcoming and enjoyable. Shopping should be an overall experience that one takes pleasure in, and space certainly adds to that experience.”

On Cinnamon’s aesthetic and her own “I’m extremely interested in the intersections between the traditional and modern in design. Cinnamon’s aesthetic, therefore, is focused on contemporary interpretations and reinterpretations of traditional forms and practices. The merchandise at Cinnamon is primarily an extension of my aesthetic. Whatever appeals to me, and if it fits in with the price point, finds shelf space at the store. As for my personal sense of style, I prefer simple and basic designs — I find these are often the most elegant.”

On balancing the traditional with the contemporary “A dedication to traditional Indian art lies at the heart of Cinnamon’s design principles. Apart from stocking handmade products that are increasingly valuable at a time when most products are mass-produced and machine-made, we are also committed to nurturing traditional arts and craft communities and practices. To bridge the gap between customers’ interests in traditional forms and their desire for modern content, we often provide craftspeople with contemporary designs to be produced using traditional techniques.”

On Cinnamon’s product choices “I have never been interested in, or driven by, brands. My choices have always been informed by questions of fabric, silhouette and design, in conjunction with price and utility…and, ultimately, of course, what I find appealing.”

On Cinnamon’s visual merchandising strategies “The displays in the store are not streamlined in the manner of a departmental store, so products of the same kind or type are not placed in a single area. Instead, the displays emphasise design compatibility
and contrast. This kind of mix-and-match and variety makes it visually engaging, of course, but also makes browsing through the merchandise more interesting.”

On fast fashion and trends “At Cinnamon, we don’t carry very expensive lines of fashion and are more focused on clothes that are easy to wear. We stock a lot of relatively new designers — and that, I believe, gives our collections a freshness and keeps us relevant. Personally, I have little belief in trends, as I have always looked at fashion as what I am comfortable wearing and what I enjoy.”

On art influencing fashion and vice versa “There has always been an exchange of ideas and forms between fashion and art. If Yves St Laurent designed a shift dress in 1965 that replicated Piet Mondrian’s famous painting, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, Rohit Chawla’s contemporary fashion photo World of Wearable Art flirts with kitsch and pop to highlight the silhouettes and forms of clothes. The audience for both art and fashion are of a similar profile. The kind of aesthetic and sensibility that Cinnamon promotes is particularly appealing to people who are discerning connoisseurs of both. In encouraging this sort of exchange between the two fields, we have been collaborating with artists for many years to create designs that could translate into unique products for Cinnamon. For example, Jogen Chowdhury and Arpita Singh have designed crockery for us in the past, which have been big attractions at the store. Some of the artists who are a part of Martand Singh’s Vishwakarma exhibitions have also created works for Cinnamon. Cinnamon does host a few art exhibitions, but it is not an art gallery. Our courtyard space, which houses the cafe, simply lends itself well to such exhibitions, and we try to choose works that reflect our aesthetic sensibility.”

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