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October 11, 2013

House Of Treasures

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Sukil Tarnas and Khushboo Agarwal.

Inspired by her belief that a house should be a beautiful expression of its owner’s sensibilities, Tina Malhotra’s abode in Chennai is a synergy of eclectic art and stylish influences. The owner of the fashion store Evoluzione lets Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena into her personal space and speaks of the way she and her home have evolved

The sunlight streams in through the huge windows of the living room of her home on Cenotaph Lane in Chennai. As I stand in the open doorway that leads to the spacious living room, my eyes are instinctively drawn to the shiny Ravinder Reddy that dominates the artistically created space. A Chintan Upadhyaya – dwarfed in size but not in creative sensibility – is located strategically on a table. And, through the corner of my eye, I can still see the statuette of a female form that stands large in the outer hall. A few minutes earlier, I have walked in through the main gates of the bungalow, across the paved path that guided me into the warm environs to discover that the home of the owner of Evoluzione – the fashion destination in Chennai – is a fusion of style, class and art.

The house help bustles around quietly in the background, offering first glasses of coolers and then cups of chai – as I wait for Tina Malhotra who has been slightly delayed by an appointment. I use the time fruitfully – and with my photographer – stroll around her multi-storied home taking in the art effect of her abode. A small, but interesting element that has had me instantly take a second look is a door handle. It is, as I learn later, an anklet worn by a tribal woman that has found its way to this well-appointed space in an unusual avatar. Another door knob is in the shape of a hand. On a wall in the dining area there is a collection of small glasses mounted on one side – the glasses are intended to hold candles that will magically light up the place at night. Above the centre of the dining table a creation by Gautam Seth and Prateek Jain of Klove hangs delicately.

Small touches like this make the Malhotra home what it is. She walks in soon, accompanied by her daughter, Ananya, and after the initial greetings, hopes that we have been well taken care of. Both mother and daughter swiftly disappear up the teakwood flight of steps to their rooms and return, ready to face the camera. Malhotra is clad elegantly in an Issey Miyake jumpsuit that complements the earthy colours of the room. In an aside, she jokingly states that her son, Arnav, had pulled her daughter’s leg asking her why she had been asked to be a part of the frame. But, with Ananya learning jewellery designing (she has done a stint at Central St Martins, London) it is obvious that she has inherited her mother’s – and her father, Atul’s – eye and flair for the beautiful.

We are soon ensconced at the dining table; plates of sandwiches and cookies have also made a hospitable appearance. Malhotra – for the uninitiated – is Delhi-based designer Rohit Gandhi’s sister. Gandhi, along with Rahul Khanna, is the brain behind the fashion and art brands, Cue and H2O.

Both the sister and brother are players in the world of fashion – in their own way. Malhotra points out, “Rohit is my pillar of strength. He has always been there to guide and support me through the challenges. He is the one who is always telling me to invest in art. My parents’ family was not into fashion as we come from an industrial background. But Atul’s family has been in the fashion business for over three decades. He studied in Boston and had an exposure to this industry since his college days. He also has a keen eye for design. All of us consult and support each other as one great family.”

Malhotra who has also studied fashion illustration with Suneet Varma believes in the relevance of style and grace in one’s life – and the qualities get seamlessly carried forward into one’s lifestyle. She says, “Style is something you carry off very beautifully; it is about the way you conduct yourself. It could be the way you live. It reflects in the way you live, in your home, the way you dress. Grace is all about the way you carry off your style with elegance.”

So, how did Evoluzione come about? Malhotra rewinds, “I have always loved fashion as we grew up in the company of several designers. For me, fashion is a passion. I might not dress up in the slinkiest of dresses, but I believe in a classic dress sense. This passion has now turned into my business with a goal to excel. The brand Evoluzione was first launched in Singapore in the mid ’90s as a private label retailing out of several stores in South Asia. Our first store was launched in Singapore and we re-launched the brand in India in early 2000. We opened the first store with our own branded merchandise. It was a small elegant store by the beach front and then we moved on to a bigger space on Khader Nawaz Khan Road. We first launched three designers Cue, Rohit Bal and Pratap in the Chennai store in 2002 and since then we have added over 50 designers in our current stores. As we had outgrown our existing space, we opened the current multi-level space in 2009 in Chennai and two stores in Delhi and Bengaluru.” The Delhi store in Mehrauli has been nominated this year by WGSN as one of the best designed stores in the World for 2013 along with likes of Colette in Paris, Harrods in London and Kate Spade in New York.

This growth in her professional sphere and the expression of style in her personal spaces are a result of her own personality and the people around her. “Rohit and I grew up in Delhi in a family that was active on the social circuit,” she says. “When I moved to Chennai post my marriage in 1990, Atul’s family was more traditional, but having studied in Boston he had been exposed to an international design sensibility. Over the years, we have learnt a lot together. Through our travelling we honed our eye for design.”

She recalls humorously that if she or Rohit wanted to change the interiors of their rooms in New Delhi, their mother would often give their request a veto. But her Chennai home has seen changes over the years – evolving as their sensibilities evolved. Malhotra adds, “It has been in the family for almost four decades and has transformed over the years. We live in a joint family with my in-laws who have been very supportive in our expansions and given us a free hand in recreating our personal spaces. We have also built a new holiday home with the same passion and it even surpasses our own expectations of design and is a perfect example of a family collaboration. I would like to emphasise that all of our spaces are related to our inner sensibility. Our home and the stores have evolved over time and nothing was planned in a strict cookie cutter fashion.”

It is little wonder then that the Cenotaph abode is filled with things memorabilia both she and Atul have collected over the years – as they travelled in India and abroad. There is a place in Thailand where she has found the most amazing artefacts. She loves London too and whenever she goes there she finds something that she has to bring home. “We have worked very hard to create intimate and yet eclectic spaces,” she states. “When we return home, it has to be to a warm, inviting and always attractive ambience. So, when we travel it is about discovering new places, food and design and we bring back new ideas into our spaces. ‘Less is always more’ is our philosophy. We do not pick up any object or art just because it is by a ‘name’. The energy in the space has to be balanced with these elements and it always has some meaning behind it. A lot of people say that they can feel positive energies from our home environment and the whole effect is very calming to the senses.”

Surrounded as she is by a variety of colours and fabrics in her store, did those impact her choice of hues at home? Malhotra points out, “We basically used a lot of dark wood and red. There is also a great deal of metallics at home. But, our rooms are all in neutral shades. It is the accessories that give a hint of colour to each space. My favourite place at home is my bedroom suite. All the elements fell into place to create a harmony of a black and white canvas. We transform it every now and then with soft touches and new objects of art. Though I revel in beautiful spaces, nothing should be too excessive as I do not like clutter. Everything that is here is there for a reason.”

The home has taken its cue from the city in which it lives for Malhotra has learnt a great deal from her work in the store. She says, “Sensibilities differ from person to person, from city to city. What I like most is getting the right thing to the right person. That is what gives me a high. I hate a boring day. Anyone who needs an outfit that same day gives me a challenge. Till you don’t have challenges your blood does not get churned. Being in Chennai you are dealing with a cultured client. They don’t want the prices on the garments to be visible in the store. They are private people. And they believe in us.”

Since fashion and style is what defines her – both at home and at work – I cannot resist asking her what her wardrobe is filled with. Like her home, it is “primarily filled with all things ivory, beige and blacks. There is perhaps a hint of colour. I am obsessed with shoes. I do dress up and I love taking pains about the way I look when I go out. But I am a very safe dresser. I have my classic black sweaters and jackets. I do not like to show too much not because I am orthodox but because I do not have the body. I like shopping, picking up good things. My kids have got that from me. I am major high maintenance. And I live for the day!”

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